A librarian with ideas and drive

10th March 2006 at 00:00
A love of books and a sense of humour are key assets, but it is for her innovative activities that Katie McGivern is the sole Scottish candidate for School Librarian of the Year, writes Douglas Blane

If Katie McGivern had pursued her earliest ambition, she would not now be on the School Librarian of the Year shortlist, up against four librarians in English schools.

"The first thing I wanted to be was a lorry driver," explains the library resource centre manager at Abronhill High in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire. "It wasn't until I left university six years ago with an arts degree that the idea of becoming a librarian occurred to me. So I did the postgraduate year in librarianship."

Long before then, however, the magic of books had fired her imagination.

"My Dad's a teacher but he is also a fantastic storyteller. He first inspired me with the power of stories, the fact that you can be dragged in and taken somewhere else just by words on a page.

"Biggles of 266 squadron was the first one I remember him reading to us with all the voices and aeroplane actions. Then there was The Saga of Eric the Viking, which he used to act out with teddy bears."

The School Librarian of the Year award was launched in 2005 by the School Library Association to honour the frequently overlooked role these key staff can play in raising attainment, creating readers and developing skills for life.

North Lanarkshire's principal librarian, Russell Brown, nominated Ms McGivern for her drive and initiative. "It's the level of innovation and ideas she shows, and her ability to communicate with kids on their level, that make her an outstanding librarian," he says.

Appointed to Abronhill High just a month ago, Ms McGivern is already setting up clubs and activities, as she did at St Patrick's High in Coatbridge, where she had worked for five years.

"There was a wide variety of these," says Mr Brown, "research and study skills groups, reading groups, homework and supported study clubs I "World Book Day was celebrated with a reading marathon involving the whole school. Then there was Hallowe'en arts and crafts, murder mysteries, books in black, and the one I particularly like, Talk Like a Pirate Day."

This is a themed lunchtime, Ms McGivern explains, with clues, buried treasure, a pirate word-search, and making a pirate flag. "I also dressed up as a pirate," she confesses with a smile.

"I like humour, not to laugh at kids, which is too easy for an adult to do.

It's fine if they laugh at me, though. Sometimes they even laugh at my bad jokes, such as: "Why did the librarian slip?

"Because she was in the non-friction section."

Sure enough, a group of second year girls sitting nearby chuckles appreciatively at the punchline.

"She is very nice," says Vicky Krikken. "It's quiet here now and people enjoy it more. It's fun too."

"There are posters up now and you know where to find books," says Kirsty Munro. "Ms McGivern is usually doing something but she's never too busy to help you."

It can often be hard to keep the balance between letting pupils enjoy themselves and maintaining an orderly environment where others can work and study. By all accounts Ms McGivern is surefooted.

"She has great ideas and has made an impact on the school already," says the headteacher, Margaret McCallum. "There is a focus on learning in all the activities she organises - even if it's sometimes well disguised - which I particularly like."

The good humour is a means to an end, explains Ms McGivern, the whole purpose of a school library being to support learning and teaching. "You can be slightly more relaxed than a teacher. People might come into the library and think it's loud, with lots of things going on. But there's a foundation of discipline and the kids know the rules: no eating or drinking; return books on time in good condition; behave as you would elsewhere in the school; keep the library tidy."

She laughs again: "I hate tidying library shelves."

The work of school librarians and the resources available to them are changing, so continuing professional development is essential, says Ms McGivern. "There's so much more to a library nowadays than books." ICT skills are essential, not just to do the job, but also for credibility with digital natives using the library.

Co-operative learning, an authority-wide initiative in North Lanarkshire, is described by Ms McGivern as the best CPD she has ever had. "You learn to get pupils working in groups, so every one of them makes a valuable contribution."

In the end, though, a good librarian loves books. Ms McGivern enjoys Philip Pullman and John Irving, she says, "but if I was stuck on a desert island, I'd like to have a set of Roald Dahl with me. He is just so imaginative."


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