A library is so much more than a room full of books: knowledge sizzles on its shelves within texts that hide stories and facts and mysteries, all waiting to be discovered. A library is also a sanctuary for the child who has nowhere to go; the access point to technology for the student without internet at home; and the meeting place for the book lover who can make unlikely friends.
But cuts to the education budget have meant that libraries are short on resources, space and, most importantly, staff.
Is a library really a library without a librarian? Reliable figures on the number of schools without a librarian are not to be found, but last April, a survey of 485 ATL teaching union members found that a third of respondents’ schools were operating libraries without librarians.
These cuts should be fought and many talk a good game. But how many of you use the library to its full potential? Not enough, is my guess. The most effective way to save libraries is to show how essential libraries – and librarians – are to school life. How do we do that?
Spread the love
Start with the librarian. They are the oracle of the library; the wisdom and divine foresight that they provide can turn a room full of books into a magical and wonderful sanctuary; all schools should strive to achieve this.
Make friends with your librarian – they are a member of your department just as much as any other teacher. And don’t just email them. Show your face in the library – and not just when you have a lesson scheduled in there.
If you are a head of department, then you should have arranged to have your librarian included on departmental emails, if only so they can be kept abreast of text changes and important dates, and so that the library can prepare and guide students in line with departmental plans.
Synchronise your diaries
Plan with the library in mind and with the librarian in the loop. If you enjoy a teaching and learning responsibility, then you should always consider how the library might enhance any initiative or subject-specific activity.
For example, if you are currently planning your revision sessions for Year 11, then on a very basic level, the librarian should have a copy of the times and dates; even better, coordinate the storage of study guides; and if you can provide the librarian with copies of the resources being used, they can assist Year 11s with their private study.
With English in particular, it is wasteful to forget that the librarian has a wealth of their own knowledge and experience of the texts being taught. Ask them what is their expertise – you never know, you might find that they too want to lead revision sessions on their specialist texts.
The first rule about Library Club is you have to talk about the library. Every lesson, every day, with every class. Imagine, if you will, your lesson is a YouTube video: you make those kids listen to your library plug while you buffer away the main part of the lesson.
Drop in how you noticed they’ve just had a new delivery of young adult novels; pop into conversation how the next meeting of the Carnegie Medal Winner Book Club is this lunchtime; ask if anyone has seen the new magazine choice in the non-fiction section. Really, it matters very little what you say – what matters is you are talking about the library and, in doing so, you’re promoting it.
Writing competitions, book launches, funny book jokes, giveaways: anything you think might come in handy, you can forward to your librarian with an appropriate subject title, so they can look at it when they have the time or delete it if they are busy. It is always good to check in with your librarian to see if they are happy for you to do this – and so that they understand you’re looking to help with their workload, not create more of it.
Show your appreciation
Say thank you. The librarian is always going to be more inclined to assist and help those staff members who take the time to appreciate their efforts.
A display using materials suggested by the English department? Take a photo and email it out with a special acknowledgement of the hard-working staff who made it.
If you have subject prefects, make sure you share them with the library, so that they can make use of an extra pair of hands if they need it.
Go down and find the librarian and say thank you. We are all part of a team and we all want the same thing. It can be isolating when you work as part of a smaller team; as a member of staff in a school, you have a responsibility to make all staff feel valued and appreciated.
Five things to do right now
* Share your subject reading lists with the librarian, so that they can order copies of the text.
* Book a visit or a research session in the library for all of your classes and your form.
* Put a reminder on your phone to drop into the library next week.
* Email your librarian and compliment them on a display you thought was particularly good.
* Plan into your lessons a chance to talk about what is happening this term in the library.
Libraries cannot be magical places of knowledge and wonder if no one uses them. Don’t let your objections to library closures just be lip service to the cause. If you love your library, then use it before you lose it.
Grainne Hallahan has been teaching English in Essex for 10 years. She is part of the #TeamEnglish Twitter group