Is your school library the chosen enclave of a select few, or does it truly cater for, challenge and engage all learners? Ahead of Libraries Week (8-13 October 2018), Alison Tarrant, Chief Executive of the School Library Association, shares six signs your school library is getting it right…

1. There are (almost) as many people as books 

This may sound obvious, but if your school library is characterised by absolute tidiness and ghostly silence… that’s not good. Everyone should be welcome in the school library, and everyone should be busy doing something – whether it’s reading, debating, being part of a club, revising or drawing. This makes sure the space doesn’t become exclusive to a single group, preventing labelling of users. Obviously, it’ll always be quieter on a beautiful summer’s day and always busier when it’s pouring with rain, but everyone should feel like the space is their space.

2. Every part of your collection offers challenge 

All the sections within your school library collection should offer a range of levels. For example, when buying graphic novels make sure you choose some that are complex and challenging and others that are easier to access – this stops certain parts of the collection being painted as just for “brainy” or “stupid” children. Each collection should have something to suit a range of reading habits. Short stories work for reluctant readers and for more able readers. Classics can do the same, so don’t label the collection to attract a certain group – this can end up limiting their reading journey. Workshops on certain genres, such as graphic novels or illustration, can widen reading choices and enhance engagement.

3. Your librarian is… not in the library 

This may be controversial, but the librarian/library manager should not be in the library all the time. They should be having meetings with subject leaders, more able coordinators, SENCos and so on. The school library should cater for all subjects across all year groups and all cohorts – which means the person running it needs the information about who’s teaching what, who’s struggling with what and what’s going on in school generally. Apparently it takes being told something three times to take it in, so make sure the school library is supporting the messages you are teaching or talking about in assembly. Talking about censorship? Ask for a “banned books” display. Discussing mental health? Ask for a visual resources list on this topic.

4. Library clubs are driven by learner demand 

Clubs that run in libraries can be brilliant, but they can also be demanding and (as with everything) they take time from something else. Make sure they cater to a variety of students and are based on students’ interests. Following the Carnegie Medal might work well for Years 9-10; so then try the Excelsior Award or follow the Blue Peter Award. An illustration club may attract yet a different range of students. If possible let them select the best time for the club to run – try breakfast meets before school or brief lunchtime clubs as alternatives to after school. If you notice a cohort isn’t using the space, ask them why and talk to the librarian about running a club or event that would appeal to this group.

5. Your resource lists really do have something for everyone

All resource lists should fulfil a range of needs. All resources can be complex or easier in cognitive ability or composition, so you need to know the resources and know the pupils. One learner may be better with a more complicated written piece but a simpler video resource. Another may prefer an audio book as opposed to an e-resource. Resource lists should be about range – the right material for the right child in the right format at the right time.

6. Learners are empowered to be discerning readers 

Always try to offer a range of levels when suggesting books. Within all genres there’s a range of reading and cognitive abilities required, and learners will also need different types of book at different times. Consider Year 6 transition – a primary school library may not have the range a secondary school library can offer, so learners need to know there are still new places to go on their reading journey. At other times, a learner might want a “reading rest” – a gentle book that doesn’t strain them but is engaging. A good habit is to recommend three books and ask the learner to read the first chapter of each to get a flavour, then ask them what they thought about each one. This will help you get it right in future, and help them consider their likes and dislikes. Each young person needs to become discerning in their reading, choosing a path and establishing the reasoning, and articulating it for each book selection. The conversations are important, as well as the reading itself.

For more strategies to challenge and support more able learners in English, join our upcoming workshops:

Challenging more able learners in English (KS1-2)
27 November 2018
View the full programme and book your place.
Challenging more able learners in English (KS3-4)
6 December 2018
View the full programme and book your place.
Alison Tarrant is the Chief Executive of the School Library Association (SLA), and a Bookseller Rising Star 2018. She previously worked as a school librarian, and was on the Honour List for the School Librarian of the Year in 2016, as well as serving as a trustee for the SLA.

he SLA is committed to supporting everyone involved with school libraries, offering training and resources to promote high-quality reading and learning opportunities for all. Launched this year, the Great School Libraries campaign is a three-year campaign dedicated to raising the profile of school libraries. Find out more here.

Header image: © Nadezhda Bugaeva ID 6685699 | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Friday, September 28, 2018