Next step - How do I become ... A school librarian?

29th May 2009 at 01:00
You can learn on the job or become a chartered professional, but whatever route you take the desire to devour books is a must

If you always put your pop CDs on one shelf and your jazz CDs on another, then so far, so good. But there's more to being a librarian than just keeping things in order. You need to see the point of the Dewey decimal system, but you should also be curious, patient and helpful. Above all, you need to be passionate about books.

"There are people working in school libraries who have no qualifications, and there are others who are chartered librarians with PhDs," says Sally Duncan of the School Library Association (SLA). "But what they all share is a real love of reading. Librarians just consume books."

Encouraging pupils to use the library is a key part of the job. Like a good shopkeeper, you need to know your customers, keep your stock fresh and attractive, and make reliable recommendations. Book review competitions and visits from local authors can create a buzz. But it's also the little things that make the difference, such as comfy chairs and nice lighting.

School librarians need to be able to relate to young people, not least because adult company in the workplace tends to be limited. Only the largest secondary schools employ more than one librarian, and because the library is open during break and lunch, you won't get much chance to socialise in the staffroom. But you will need to liaise with colleagues professionally.

"It's important to know what's being taught and when," says Nikki Heath, librarian at Werneth School in Stockport and School Librarian of the Year 2008. "That way you can purchase the right books, do research, make displays that tie into the curriculum, and find good websites. The job is changing all the time and you're helping children find information on the internet as well as in books. There's definitely a place for both."

In many schools, the library is at the heart of things - a vibrant multi-media space designed to satisfy curiosity, stimulate creativity and promote independent learning. In other schools it's a different story, and salaries vary enormously depending on the nature of the role. Librarians who just check books in and out and keep the shelves tidy earn around Pounds 15,000 a year. Those who handle sizeable budgets, co-ordinate literacy projects, and develop strong links with the curriculum can expect double that.

Be aware that before and after school are usually busy times for librarians, so the working day may well extend from 8am until 4.30pm.

There are two possible career routes. One option is to try to land a job, then learn as you go along. The SLA runs a mentoring scheme where new librarians can buddy up with old hands, and there are plenty of day courses available, run either by the association or your local authority.

But as libraries become more high profile, schools are increasingly looking for qualifications. That means either an undergraduate degree in librarianship, or a one-year MA. After that, you can aim for chartership, awarded by The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

"I wanted to be a school librarian from the age of 11," says Ms Heath. "So I did the three-year degree course, and in the final year I specialised in school librarianship.

"It's a wonderful job. When you help people find the information they need, it's really satisfying. Above all, I love being able to recommend books that I know children will find exciting. I love children's fiction more than adult fiction, because it's usually better written. It has to be - it's for a more discerning audience."

Next week: Recruitment consultant


- Next steps The CILIP website is a good place to look for information on courses and qualifications. Schools also advertise there, though many still use the local or national press. Most vacancies are in the secondary sector; it's rare for primaries to have a dedicated librarian.

- Salary The SLA publishes a recommended salary scale for school librarians, which ranges from Pounds 12,000 for library assistants to Pounds 41,000 for chartered librarians. But schools can choose whether or not they adopt the scale, and many librarians are employed on a term-time only basis.

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