Playing it by the book

28th April 2006 at 01:00
So the internet has made libraries redundant? Not at Ripon grammar. Elaine Williams meets the extraordinary woman who makes her school's heart beat

The library at Ripon grammar school does a fine line in cakes, parties and barbecues. Its librarian, Anne-Marie Tarter, who received the School Librarian of the Year award from children's laureate Jacqueline Wilson this week, is renowned for such enticements; it's all part of the service.

A library, she believes, should be more than a room full of books and computer terminals; it should be about supporting teaching and learning in the widest sense. That means the staff book club - the Dead Teachers'

Society - meeting in restaurants to raise morale, home-made cakes laid on for pupil librarians, and summer barbecues in Mrs Tarter's garden.

Not that she has won the School Library Association's second annual award simply because she's good at organising a knees-up for book lovers. During her 15 years at Ripon, Anne-Marie Tarter has turned the oak-panelled library in this academically selective North Yorkshire school from a somewhat arcane and underused room into a contemporary centre for independent learning and fun (when she arrived, it stocked no fiction).

Ashley Casey, one of Ripon grammar's PE teachers, nominated her for the award, with the unanimous backing of staff, because of the fundamental difference she has made to the way the school operates. "I've had teams of kids coaching each other in swimming, coming into the library in groups to identify their own learning needs and create their own worksheets and then going back into the pool to try things out. If I come to her about athletics and say I need teaching resources for this, this and this, she organises it."

Mr Casey has been able to pursue postgraduate studies over the past few years, largely due to Mrs Tarter's support. "There are always notes in my pigeonhole suggesting I check out this or that website. If I need a loan from the British Library, it's sorted," he says.

Mrs Tarter team-teaches a 20 per cent timetable in the library, introducing cross-curricular themes to year groups, mainly in key stage 3. She is the KS3 literacy co-ordinator, building "information literacy" skills and teaching students good research habits.

"Information literacy is about giving pupils the tools to determine what is required in any given task," she says. "How to formulate questions, activate prior knowledge, take notes, analyse and synthesise information to communicate effectively, at the same time evaluating, modifying, drafting throughout the process."

Anne-Marie Tarter, a 53-year-old Californian, studied art history at Stanford University, before taking a master's in library science at San Jose State University. In the US, school librarians enjoy equal status to teachers, and Mrs Tarter intends to use her award as a platform for campaigning for the UK to follow suit. "My predecessor was not even allowed into the staffroom," she says. "Things have changed a great deal in this school, but I still hear teachers say things like, 'we don't need a library so much now we have the internet'.

"My goal is to make kids think, to try to ask the bigger, complex questions. Teaching them how to find information is the easy part; I try to make them go further with it."

As part of this she promotes cross-curricular themed weeks (One Word Week; EU Week; Poetry Week) and more light-hearted events such as Readathons, all-night read-ins (much loved by Rockets, the Year 7 and 8 Reading Only Club for Kids Excluding Teachers) and Blind Date (students choose books wrapped in brown paper, decorated with a question mark).

Ripon grammar's book clubs shadow book awards from the Carnegie to the Booker, or hold balloon debates about chosen publications. Anne-Marie Tarter is on the go from the moment she steps through the library door each morning. The library, says Mr Casey, has become "the dynamic heart of the school".

It has retained its oak panelling and its long, generously proportioned wooden tables, which are full of children every break and lunchtime and after school: studying; playing chess; poring over books together; quietly chatting. There is a new mezzanine floor with 17 workstations and comfortable chairs. Mrs Tarter raised some of the cost with library events; she has also raised pound;60,000 from the DfES and the British Library to create a shared catalogue with Ripon College.

Libraries, Mrs Tarter believes, are not about books, but about people; librarians "should be people people, not book people. When I hear school librarians complaining about the kids, I wonder why they are in the job.

The kids are the job."

She believes passionately that properly run school libraries are best placed to promote the Government's agenda to create a nation of independent learners. In this she is backed by Ofsted, which last month found that good school libraries contribute to raising attainment and habits of lifelong learning. They've certainly acquired the habit at Ripon grammar.

The Ofsted report, Good School Libraries: making a difference to learning, can be downloaded at


The School Library Association's first lifetime achievement award, also presented yesterday, has gone to Lynn Barrett, who spent 14 years as librarian at Dixons city technology college (now Dixons city academy) in Bradford. Her work with Mal Danks, a senior teacher at Dixons, on information literacy skills led to the college receiving a national training award in 2003.

Mrs Barrett has been an independent consultant since retiring in 2004 from Dixons, where she was one of the founding members of staff. She is a former chair of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals'

school libraries group and joint editor of CILIP's Guidelines for Secondary School Libraries.

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