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Library lessons

Elaine Williams checks in with the monitors to check out a computerised system of self-service book loans.

James Searson had a problem. He'd lost his book. He'd had it just a moment ago but someone had cleared it away and he couldn't remember what it was called and he couldn't find it.

Emer Skehan, who was managing the library issue desk, gave a knowing sigh and looking into her computer screen gave a few clicks of the mouse. Seconds later James's name and the book issued to him with its classification code was before her: Getting Even by M Jukes. The book had been reshelved by an enthusiastic library monitor and, after finding it in its correct place, James sat down to read, his anxiety over.

This was the weekly library session for Year 6 at St Benedict's RC School, a village primary in Ampleforth, North Yorkshire. All pupils, and particularly library monitors like Emer, are enjoying their new automated system which allows them to manage the library for themselves.

As with many primaries, teacher supervision of the library is not always possible at St Benedict's, a small school with 63 pupils on roll, and a simple, child-proof, computerised system designed for self-service is proving a boon.

Not only is Junior Librarian intended to make the issuing and returning of books a process simple enough for children to manage, it aims to turn them into independent searchers of information. The latest package includes worksheets which provide children with the skills to retrieve appropriate books and information.

Junior Librarian is the product of Micro Librarian Systems, a company run by John O'Brien, a retired teacher, and Lynn Stevens, a library consultant and former school librarian. Having devised a professional system for use in secondary schools, the company produced this self-service system for primaries which is now used by 375 schools across the country and which has won praise from the Office for Standards in Education.

Catalogued books are issued with five-digit bar codes and as reader tickets are also bar-coded, the use of a scanner (much like those in supermarkets), makes the issuing and returning of books instant and easy, and means that books can be easily tracked.

Regular print-outs of overdue lists can lead to the recovery of many books that in the days of written entries would have been given up for lost. Alan French oversees the library at Stocksfield Avenue Primary School in Fenham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne which piloted Junior Librarian in its non-fiction library three years ago.

"With the best will in the world," he says, "not every book taken out was written down. Books did go missing."

Now, after every playtime and lunchtime, Year 5 library monitors run off a list of who's borrowed what and issue it to the appropriate member of staff. On entering the library, children return books to a Return Book box and monitors scan them in, check for damage and return them to the shelves.

Intended for use on Acorn hardware, Junior Librarian includes two programs for specific use by children - Circulation, which covers the issuing and returning of books, and Enquiry, a facility for searching the catalogue.

As pupils' names can be easily transferred from school administrative systems, Junior Librarian enables all kinds of useful records to be kept. A utilities disc for library housekeeping can hold vital statistics such as a list of the most popular books, so that schools can review their book-buying policy and assess how they might need to stimulate children's reading in other areas. It can also provide a record of all the books a child has read, which some schools see as an enormous benefit when compiling pupil profiles.

Shan Gallagher, the head of St Benedict's says: "I can check on what every child in the school is reading. At the end of the year I would hope to print off a list and give it to each child for their reading record."

The latest Version 2 includes a package called Ofsted, which enables schools to collate most of the statistics on total book issue or average loans to each borrower information required by OFSTED.

Children seeking a book not on the shelves, can, through some simple IT detective work, find out who is currently holding it. The programs are robust and child friendly, icons are easily understood and a quick click on the mouse seems to clear most errors.

Using Enquiry, a child with only a vague idea of a book's title, its author and the spelling of both, by typing in some key words and letters can usually find it. When searching for books children can call up relevant publications in stock by typing in key words.

Ten-year-old Ines Soria, a Year 5 library monitor at Stocksfield, was seeking as much information as she could on Tudor costume. By typing in the key word "clothes" she was able to call up a whole range of possible sources and was able to print out the list.

Micro Librarian Systems recommends that alongside Junior Librarian, schools also purchase the MagiCat cataloguing database, which is claimed to hold 96 per cent of all titles likely to be held by primary schools nationally. By typing in a book's ISBN number, MagiCat provides the author, title, keywords and Dewey classification code which can then be easily transferred, thereby saving time.

St Benedict's timed the installation of Junior Librarian with a total library refurbishment, three-quarters of the cost coming from funds raised by parents. At every stage pupils have been involved in the exercise, including the entering of stock into the automated system. With some stock they have also registered their own key words.

Shan Gallagher says: "It teaches them to assess books in a way they have not been required to previously. They feel it really is their library. They run it and they really enjoy it."

* The Junior Librarian package with software, bar-code reader, bar-code labels, reader cards and a user guide costs Pounds 445.

* Version 2 with worksheets, a Thesaurus, a tutorial package for teachers, Ofsted and a book reviewing option costs Pounds 495.

* The MagiCat database costs Pounds 120.Micro Librarian Systems, 1st floor, Priory House, Ellesmere Avenue, Marple, Stockport, SK6 7ANTel: 0161 449 9357. Stand IT15

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