JCS 2018: From Digital Literacy to Independent Learning

On 30 November I attended a conference on digital literacy and independent learning organised by JCS Digital Resources, who supply e-resources like JStor and Massolit to schools and other sectors. The conference was at Aston University in Birmingham and brought together librarians and teachers from schools and HE, academics, suppliers and more. In this post I’ll highlight some of the main messages and if you’re interested to read more the full set of presentations can be found here on the JCS website.


The academic Jane Secker was the first keynote speaker. She started by providing definitions of digital literacy and information literacy. The new CILIP definition of information literacy is as follows:

Information literacy is the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use. It empowers us as citizens to develop informed views and to engage fully with society.

And here is the JISC definition of ‘digital capabilities’ Jane quoted:

By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society: for example, the skills to use digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; as part of personal development planning; and as a way of showcasing achievements.

I liked the fact that Jane included a definition of information literacy, even though the conference title uses ‘digital literacy’. As she pointed out, ‘information literacy’ can be applied to non-digital information resources and as such has a broader relevance to independent learning and research.

Jane highlighted aspects of digital technologies that students need to think critically about, including the fact that algorithms can be biased (she cited the work of Safiya Umoja Noble on this subject) and the filter bubbles that can skew our perspectives on an issue.

As Jane pointed out, there isn’t an easy answer to the question of how to teach information and digital literacies. These literacies aren’t just about knowledge – they’re also about skills, values and behaviours, which are hard to assess. And we can’t assume that teachers themselves have the necessary knowledge and skills to teach them. One practical suggestion would be to make DL/IL a component of teacher education courses.

And the more that we can share examples of good practice in DL/IL teaching, the more we can grow as a community of practice. This was echoed by Sarah Pavey, who said that the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign is looking for such examples.

Perspectives from Higher Education

As a school librarian it’s always useful to hear how universities are supporting students with information literacy. Hazel Rothera, Academic Development Team Leader at Oxford Brookes University, gave her perspective on students’ research and reading skills in the next keynote presentation. It was interesting to hear that whilst it’s easier now for students to find information, they are still daunted by the complexity and challenge of academic research. The title of Hazel’s presentation – ‘Can’t you just give us 2 sides of A4?’ – came from a comment that a student made after looking at the reading list for an assignment and baulking at the idea of reading books.

Hazel explained a concept that she’s used with students to help them approach academic reading: the Information Ladder. The idea is to start by reading something accessible (e.g. an encyclopedia entry or a good quality website) on a topic and then work your way up to reading academic research. I like to recommend Britannica School online encyclopedia to students starting their research for this very reason. Furthermore articles are differentiated by reading level, you can easily look up definitions of words, there are indexes to articles – in short, many tools to help students orientate themselves and get the essential broad overview and keywords.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 18.28.10.png

There isn’t space to cover everything that Hazel talked about but I’d strongly recommend taking a lot at her presentation. Other topics she covered included students’ preferences for ebooks vs hard copy and strategies for supporting academic reading, such as annotated reading lists.

There were talks by representatives from the University of Sheffield, University of Southampton and University of Birmingham during the rest of the day.

Initiatives in secondary schools

Dr Graham Gardner, librarian at Abingdon School, gave the first keynote presentation focused on school libraries. He made a compelling case for adopting three mindsets in our work as librarians: Teacher, Marketer, Technologist. The first involves trying to understand what motivates teachers (and students) and making our service responsive to their needs. As Graham argued, teachers’ priority is subject literacy – students getting to grips with the concepts and terminology of their subjects – so we need to be careful not to frame IL/DL as something that could distract from this. Given how time-stretched they are, it can be difficult to collaborate with teachers. But IL/DL needs to be embedded in lessons (so as to appear relevant to students) so we can’t afford not to work with teachers. The onus is therefore on us to provide lesson plans/materials that link to the curriculum and the all-important Assessment Objectives so teachers/students can immediately see the benefit.

As Marketers we need to be focusing on benefits rather than features of resources. Graham gave JStor as an example: we could list its many features to students but their response is likely to be ‘so what?’ So instead we should highlight how JStor gives them free access to content that might otherwise be behind a paywall. Likewise to encourage them to use a subject guide, start with ‘to save time’ or ‘to get maximum marks’.

Finally, as Technologists we can make digital resources work for our users by making them easy to access and navigate. There are many authentication options now that remove the need to login with a password, even when accessing from home. Look into single-sign-on, referring URLs or Token ID, for example. Graham also showed us screenshots of his beautifully presented online subject guides and library catalogue homepage as examples of how to do web design. I later learned that he used Firefly to do these, which is the software we use in my school. I’m keen now to go back to my own Firefly pages and incorporate more images as Graham did.

There were so many inspiring examples of what schools are doing to promote digital and information literacy presented throughout the day. They have given me new confidence and enthusiasm to work on DL/IL at my own school. Here is a summary of some of the initiatives that were showcased. I’d highly recommend following up on any you’re interested in by looking at the slides on the JCS website.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 12.47.57.png

Donna Saxby’s presentation on her work with teachers on Y9 research projects at Kingham Hill can be found on Prezi and is well worth a read.

Another thing that struck me was the range of digital resources that schools are offering students, particularly online databases. Here are a few examples:

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 18.40.20.png

Students are so lucky to have access to these resources, which bridge that tricky gap between the textbook and scholarly research. I can’t help thinking that many schools wouldn’t be able to afford to offer more than a few of these, if any. However, it is also true that a couple of resources that are well used can still make a huge amount of difference. And initiatives such as Access to Research, which provides free access to paywalled academic research through participating public libraries, can be a substitute for resources like JStor. Perhaps a session on open access digital resources would be of use at a future JSC conference?

As Elizabeth Hutchinson’s talk showed, digital educational resources can also include software such as Google Hangouts, Skype, Flipgrid and Padlet. For example, Elizabeth used Hangouts in a Geography lesson where students spoke to people from across the world in India and the US. These lessons included a DL/IL component around questioning: how to create a good question and the difference between closed and open questions.

Finally, John Lenahan from JStor gave a useful presentation on JStor’s ebooks. There are currently over 4000 open-access ebooks on Jstor. The top ten most popular OA ebooks on JStor can be seen here. As ebooks usually cost over £100 each it’s a real gift to libraries to have free access to them. JStor also allows libraries to purchase ebooks using an ‘Evidence Based Acquisition’ model and is going to introduce a subscription model for schools later in 2019/early 2020. Turnaway reports (showing students who have tried to access an ebook but not been able to because the institution doesn’t have a subscription) could be useful for seeing if a subscription would be used or not.

All in all it was such an inspiring day and many thanks are due to JCS to organising it so well. I would echo what Elizabeth Hutchinson said in her blog post that it would be good to see more state schools attending next time. However, the next best thing to attending is being able to read all the presentations and the fact that JCS made them all available on their website so quickly was a great help. I look forward to JCS 2019!



CILIP School Libraries Group Regional Training Day 27/10/17

CILIP’s School Libraries Group organises training days in different parts of the country throughout the year. This blog post is about an event at City of London School, an independent secondary school for boys, which I attended on 27 October 2017.

The event consisted of a series of talks and a visit to the newly refurbished library at City of London School, the Levene Learning Centre. The talks and speakers were as follows:

  • SLG News Update – Caroline Roche
  • Engaging with Essays – Sarah Pavey
  • Lost in Transition: How school librarians might help prepare students with skills needed to navigate the demands of HE – John Iona
  • To BAME or not to BAME: is that the question? – Irfan Master
  • Diversity Exploration in Graphic Novels: Not just Superheroes – Amanda Ball
  • Refurbishment: Creating the Levene Learning Centre – David Rose

View over the Shard, Millenium Bridge and Tate Modern from the Levene Learning Centre

SLG News Update

Caroline talked about what the SLG committee have been working on, including representing school libraries at a number of events, and how school librarians can get involved with their work. The next conference will be 28-29 April 2018 at a venue in Milton Keynes. More information will be shared on the CILIP website and social media.

Engaging with Essays – Sarah Pavey

Sarah’s talk covered the nature of essays, what formats essays take in schools, games for demonstrating essay skills and useful apps for writing essays. She started by detailing the wide range of skills required to write an essay. As she pointed out this range of skills is one reason why they are so popular at universities still. And with cheating on the rise at universities – pupils can buy essays written for them – schools have an increasingly important role to play in helping pupils develop the skills and confidence to write essays.

It was interesting to reflect on the different types of essay: report, classification, descriptive, argumentative etc. An essay does not necessarily have to be a debate. Importantly, whatever the type of essay, it is usually an extended piece of writing that gives structure to a line of thinking. It does not need to have lots of images or fancy fonts.

In secondary schools, pupils start to write extended pieces of writing from Key Stage 3. Essays are often set in exams. And GCSE and A level candidates also sometimes have to submit extended essays (‘coursework’ or ‘controlled assessments’). Many schools also offer students the chance to do an extended essay qualification that is independent of their GCSE or A level subjects. For example, the Extended Project Qualification, Cambridge Pre U or IB Extended Essay.

Sarah also commented on the emotional experience of essay writing, for example feelings of frustration, especially when comparing one’s progress to that of peers. Sarah has created a jigsaw puzzle that allows pupils to experience some of the challenges of essay writing whilst learning about planning, proofreading, academic honesty etc.

Lost in Transition – John Iona

John Iona is a Subject Liaison Librarian at Middlesex University. His talk focused on the study skills needed by first-year undergraduate students and how schools can help teach these. We started by sharing thoughts on what the typical A-level student lacks. Time management, wider reading and self-confidence were all suggested. Then we looked at what skills and attitudes an undergraduate student needs. John said that in his experience academic writing skills are the biggest issue. These skills cover developing and structuring an argument supported by evidence and critical evaluation of different ideas. The library is in a position to help with many of these skills, from searching for information to evaluating and citing it. As John pointed out though, students need to see how these skills align with the assessment criteria. EPQ and similar qualifications are a useful way of developing the skills needed by undergraduates.

To BAME or not to BAME: is that the question? – Irfan Master

Irfan Master gave a great talk about how he became a writer, the lack of BAME writing for young people and the impact this has. Irfan is the author of A Beautiful Lie, shortlisted for the Waterstones Chidlren’s Book Prize in 2011, and Out of Heart, published by Hot Key Books in April 2017. All participants received a free copy of Out of Heart and Irfan kindly signed them for us too.


Irfan stressed the importance of a few key people in his career. He had a difficult time at school but his English teacher noticed his potential and encouraged him to aim high. His first editor was also a huge support.

On BAME writing, Irfan had a few telling anecdotes to illustrate the lack of diversity in young adult fiction. For example, at a talk he gave in a school, although impressed by Irfan’s achievements, one boy remarked ‘yes, but someone like you only comes along once every ten years’. Another pupil commented that the character names in the books she reads are nothing like those she is familiar with. And another pupil could not find a BAME character to dress up as for World Book Day.

Having read Out of Heart, I’d heartily recommend it for its subtle exploration of family and community and its pared down writing. It tells the story of a lonely man who accidentally discovers the identity of the man who donated him his heart. It is a quiet, understated sort of story but all the more powerful for it.

Diversity Exploration in Graphic Novels: Not Just Superheroes – Amanda Ball

Amanda Ball gave an overview of graphic novels in both primary and secondary school libraries: how to find, choose and use them in book clubs and lessons. She structured her recommendations into categories such as diversity, KS2/KS3 transition, gender and sexuality, cyberbullying and webcomics. She also explained key concepts for understanding Manga and gave advice on dealing with controversial material. It was a really useful overview of the wide range of graphic novels available for young people to enjoy today. If you’d like to investigate the genre further, Amanda recommends asking the very helpful staff at the bookshop Forbidden Planet.

Some of Amanda’s recommendations:

Refurbishment: Creating the Levene Learning Centre – David Rose

To conclude, David Rose gave a talk on the refurbishment of the library at City of London School for Boys. This was followed by a tour of the library. I will let the photos speak for themselves… However, you might like to look out for the bespoke desks, which apparently absorbed quite a lot of the cost.


CILIP Youth Libraries Group unconference 19/3/17

On Sunday 19 March, CILIP’s Youth Libraries Group organised an ‘unconference’ at Richmond Library. As was explained at the beginning of the event, attendees of an unconference decide what will be discussed and lead the discussions themselves. So at the beginning of the day we were invited to suggest ideas for discussion, which were then used by the event organisers to plan a programme for the day.

The author, Elizabeth Laird, gave a short talk to launch the event. She talked about her new book, Welcome to Nowhere, about a family forced to flee during the Syrian civil war. She also talked about a collection of Ethiopian folk tales that she recorded and edited to make them accessible to children. They are available for free online – http://www.ethiopianenglishreaders.com/.

The first session I attended was on how to demonstrate the value of a school or public library. Ideas included:

  • sending termly reports to your line manager based on circulation data and ‘display interaction’ data (i.e. counting up how many times you see people interacting with a display)
  • ensuring students write the resources they’ve used in homework
  • citing research showing the benefits of reading (e.g. by the National Literacy Trust and Book Trust)
  • having a governor linked to the library
  • highlighting targeted collaboration with teachers, e.g. a book club that supports a particular curriculum area

The next session was on running events in the library. Want to get an author to come and speak at your school? Try and catch them when they’re on a publicity tour. Publishers also love to hear how the visits went afterwards. Another great idea was to invite feeder primary schools to events. Not only does this share the event with more people, it can be a good incentive for the more in-demand authors to come to your event as they’ll reach a wider audience.

In the afternoon I joined a discussion on knowing and developing your stock. Lovereading4kids and Books for Keeps were both mentioned as good sources of book reviews, recommendations and more. Apparently, Peters suppliers also allow those who sign up to see book reviews without having to buy books. Literary prizes, such as the Wellcome Book Prize and the Branford Boase Award, can be a good way of scouting out new books. Finally, keeping teachers abreast of new stock is important and then encouraging them to read it by, for example, challenging them to read a teen book over the summer.

I also attended a session on information literacy. Discussion focused initially on how to teach students about fake news. This IFLA poster was suggested as a good resource:


By IFLA (http://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And breakyourownnews.com, a fake-news generator, could come in useful for displays.

The discussion then moved to the problem of plagiarism in schools. Teachers are increasingly seeing plagiarism in pupils’ work. However, the frequency with which it is occurring is also making it harder to crack down on. This is clearly an issue that needs addressing by both teachers and librarians.

Finally, mention was made of two ways in which secondary school qualifications are now including an information literacy component:

  • A-level history coursework requires students to undertake independent research
  • GCSE biology students have to reference works they have used in lab reports

This blog post has given a taster of what was discussed and some of what I took away from the event. I really liked the ‘unconference’ format and the informal approach (make-your-own name badges and bring-your-own cake). And it was a great opportunity to network with other librarians, authors and publishers.


Supporting Young People in the Digital Information Age: report on event at CILIP 30/11/16

On Wednesday 30th November 2016, I attended an event organised by CILIP’s Information Literacy and Information Services groups: ‘Supporting Young People in the Digital Information Age: the Role of Libraries in Promoting Transition Skills’. The event was held at CILIP’s headquarters in London. It was a really useful chance to share ideas and meet other librarians in schools, universities and public libraries. The following account is a report on the event that I wrote for the Information Literacy Group.

Today’s event started with a talk by Natasha Skeen, Community Liaison Librarian at The Hive, University of Worcester. Natasha’s talk focused on how she supports Key Stage 5 school students in their independent learning. The Hive is both a university and a public library. As such, the public benefit from longer opening hours and access to resources (including on-site access to electronic journals) that they might not have in other public libraries. Natasha said she starts by reminding students of the benefits of reading books. Then, to help them navigate, or ‘decode’, the kinds of book they’d be using for research, she explains some of the academic jargon (Latin terms, ‘peer review’, ‘abstract’) and how to use reference lists and indexes. Moving on to newspapers and social media, she cautions students to look for bias but also uses them as an example of how to write succinctly. Can you tweet the message you’re trying to give? Moreover, she shows students how to trace the sources of statistics so they can check them. When it comes to internet research, Natasha looks at evaluating sources and Google’s Advanced Search, including features such as being able to search by file type. She also recommends using university libraries’ subject guides for curated lists of websites. For access to online journals, Natasha points them to the Directory of Open Access Journals, Google Scholar (useful for citation searching, particularly if students are expected to use recent resources) and Access to Research (online access to publically-funded research at participating public libraries). Finally, she also reminds students that librarians might also know the best resources for something or other means to get information (e.g. interlibrary loans) and can help with things like academic writing. She advised public librarians interested in schools outreach to get in touch with Heads of Sixth Form, EPQ Co-ordinators and teachers, especially Heads of History as there is more of an emphasis on independent research in the new history curriculum.


After the talk, David Haynes of City University of London asked if Natasha discusses online safety, e.g. with regard to privacy and social media, with school students. Natasha pointed out that online safety is usually already taught by schools and mentioned Internet Safety Day (7th February) as a useful opportunity for raising awareness. Natasha was also asked if she’d noticed that students are more stressed, to which she replied that this is something she’s noticed from the students (over 2000!) that she has taught information literacy skills to.


In the next session, Simon Finch and David Bowles, Librarians in the Information and Learning Team at Bexley and Bromley Shared Library Services, talked about their work with local 6th form EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) students. Some of the groups are quite large, which makes it difficult to give targeted advice to individual students, however they try and include ‘worked examples’ based on a list of students’ topics supplied beforehand by schools. In their talk, Simon and David emphasised the need to remind students about what public libraries hold and offer as many students had not used one recently. In their sessions, they stress the continuing value of books and demonstrate how to use the library catalogue to find books. They also talk students through the online resources available to them. Access to Research, for example, gives free online access to publically-funded research at participating public libraries. The initial search for articles can be done anywhere but students must come to the library to read the full text. (And they must use a library computer to read the articles, although they can print them.) And yet, they also acknowledge that much material students might need could be in FE College Libraries to which they might not have access, suggesting a need for more liaison between 6th form heads and FE Colleges. Finally, Simon and David also talk students through how to assess resources and reference them. They summed up by saying that dialogue with teachers/librarians is important as what is required will vary, and that students showed interest during the sessions and said they were useful.


Next, Elizabeth Bentley gave a presentation on Teen Tech, a national STEM and innovation competition aimed at pupils from Y7-13. She focused on the Information Literacy Group’s work with Teen Tech to come up with the Research and Information Literacy Award. Students entering for the TeenTech Awards can also be entered (by their teacher or librarian) for the Research and Information Literacy Award, which rewards use of high quality information and a suitable bibliography amongst other things. The ILG provides freely available resource sheets for schools undertaking the award, including guidance on intellectual property, Google search strategies and evaluating information. The 2016 awards were the first complete cycle for the ILG award and the 45 entries showed relatively poor evidence of IL skills. However these are still early days. And certain barriers might be standing in the way of more entries from schools, such as school staff awareness and understanding. Furthermore, as one participant pointed out, unless teachers support the initiative it won’t go ahead. However, the prize of £1000 to the winning school should be a good incentive! Another participant asked whether the judges give feedback to entrants. Elizabeth said they are thinking about this. Finally, there was a discussion about the fact that the term ‘information literacy’ is not widely understood outside the library community – many teachers/senior leaders in schools haven’t heard about it. It was suggested that greater government endorsement could help rectify this.


In the discussion session, participants were invited to share experiences, tips and ideas. Katy Waters from Poole Libraries talked about her organisation’s recent acquisition of a 3D printer and floated the idea of linking up with Teen Tech. Another participant stressed the value of ILG’s resource sheets for the Teen Tech awards and the need to promote them.


Then, Amy Icke of The Girls Day School Trust (and formerly St Paul’s Girls’ School) and Linda Kelley of St Paul’s Girls’ School talked about how they support sixth formers undertaking Senior Scholarship (SPGS’s equivalent to the EPQ qualification). They said they start by giving a one-hour talk to students at the beginning of the Senior Scholarship programme. It can be difficult to differentiate for different subject areas in one hour. However, they ask girls to put their subjects on post-it notes and then can use these in examples and/or give specific advice in follow-up material. Amy and Linda started by showing us a mind map made using the app Bubbl. This showed the range of topics they needed to cover in one hour, which was quite large! They then showed us a list, which was made using Padlet, of different resources that can help students doing their projects. For example, it recommends EPQ guides created by the universities of Manchester and Birmingham and the Open University’s Being Digital activities. Amy also mentioned The Girls Day School Trust’s videos for students and parents on internet safety – Live My Digital.


Amy then talked more about her research into approaches to information literacy training. She described an apparent gap between teenagers’ knowledge of information literacy skills and application of them. Indeed, according to a recent Ofcom survey, teenagers’ information literacy skills tend to go down as they get older. Amy suggested that doing information literacy training with smaller groups would help. And at a conference she attended, the researchers talked about auditing skills before training to see if they had the right approach. Finally, Amy also talked about a placement she did at Queen Mary University London, where she learnt about ‘free writing’, a technique used by researchers before starting their research, in which they spend five minutes writing everything they want to find out without stopping. This could be a useful technique for students to try before embarking on independent research.

Public music libraries facing closure, redundancies and more

I was sad to learn last week that Yorkshire Music Library has had to close. This is due to its parent company, Fresh Horizons, going into liquidation. Yorkshire Music Library had the largest collection of performance sets in the UK. It loaned over half a million scores and orchestral sets to 2,000 choirs and orchestras (Glover, 2016). Two librarians ran this popular service and both have been made redundant.

Apparently, the Society of Chief Librarians Yorkshire and Humberside, who are the legal custodians of the stock, are trying to find a way make the collection available again (Making Music, 2016 (a)).

I met one of the librarians, Sophie Anderson, at a IAML Study Weekend in 2014. She seemed really lovely, bright and passionate about her job. I hope her talents can quickly be put to use in a similar job elsewhere.

Unfortunately other regional music libraries are also reducing their services due to cuts in funding. Last year, Birmingham City Council proposed closing down Birmingham’s music library altogether (Making Music, 2016 (b)). The music library had only just moved into the new Library of Birmingham and offered users fantastic services (see earlier blog post). The proposal was contested and the library is now up and running again. However, there are less staff and the interlibrary loans service is no longer running. Similarly, Manchester’s Henry Watson Music Library is no longer providing interlibrary loans.

The amateur orchestra that I play in (London City Orchestra) has borrowed orchestral sets from Westminster Music Library and (via interlibrary loans) the Barbican Music Library on several occasions. Without these services, we would only be able to use out-of-copyright sheet music available from sites like IMSLP or hire from music publishers, which would be far more expensive. We also use music libraries to help us plan programmes and do research for programme notes. For example, Barbican Music Library gives members free, remote access to the reference work, Oxford Music Online, and music streaming service, Naxos Music Library. I have used both of these resources to research programme notes for our concerts.

On 19 March, I went on a tour of the Barbican Music Library organised by Making Music. This is a public library run by the City of London Corporation but you don’t have to be a resident of the City of London to join. Their collection includes sheet music, books, ebooks, magazines, CDs, DVDs, journals and various electronic resources like Oxford Music Online and Naxos. They also have two practice pianos, which can be booked. And they regularly put on exhibitions in the library space (the current one is on punk rock, featuring photos by a renowned rock photographer). This is such a fantastic resource. I only hope that regional music libraries will be protected from further cuts and closures.

Glover, C., 2016. Social enterprise, Fresh Horizon, in liquidation [online]. Huddersfield Daily Examiner. Available: http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/social-enterprise-fresh-horizons-liquidation-11042034

Making Music, 2016 (a). Music libraries campaigns update and Yorkshire Music Library news [online]. Making Music. Available: https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/news/music-libraries-campaigns-update-and-yorkshire-music-library-news?utm_source=inotes&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=march

Making Music, 2016 (b). Birmingham music library: back up and running! [online] Making Music. Available: https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/news/birmingham-music-library-back-and-running




Autumn term highlights

The following gives a flavour of some of the things I’ve been working on in the school library this term.

Library Inductions

One of the main jobs at the start of a new academic year is to timetable and start giving Year 7 library lessons (each class has one lesson a fortnight). Library lessons alternate between sessions where pupils can read and choose books and sessions where they are taught how to use the library. This term the latter involved how to find books in the fiction section, how to use the catalogue and self-issue system and writing book reviews for the blog on the VLE. In general, the Year 7 classes that I teach are keen readers. I also noticed that a lot of them spent time in the Library during break and lunch times, which is perhaps as much because it provided a quiet space where they could take time out from the excitements of starting a new school. I was struck by how keen they are to read books that others have recommended. In fact, a few books/authors/genres are so popular it is hard to meet the demand for them. We also had interesting sessions learning how to use the catalogue, with pupils having to think out of the box in situations where their apparently well-formed search terms did not retrieve any results, despite there definitely being copies of the book in the library.

As well as Year 7 library lessons, we also ran ‘library refresher’ sessions for other years during the first half of term. These had to cover pretty much everything that is taught in Year 7 in one 40-minute session. If only there had been more time as there were the beginnings of some interesting discussions, for example on use of library resources for EPQ essays and the relative merits of Google and library resources.

Read Around the World

This term one of the geography teachers asked for help with creating a list of books (fiction or non-fiction) available from the library about different areas of the world. I used an existing list and edited it to show only the books available from our library. Pupils were then challenged to read about as many different countries, continents and different environments as they could. As well as keeping a list in their geography books, they could also write the books they’d read on this display.

Read Around the World display

Interactive display for Read Around the World challenge. Includes lists of books by country, continent and environment. The labels are for pupils to write the books they’ve read and/or places they’ve read about.

Author Visit

Another big project this term was to organise a visit by the author, Candy Gourlay. Candy is the author of ‘Tall Story‘ and ‘Shine‘. She gave a talk to Year 8 entitled ‘The Hero’s Journey’, which focused on the eponymous plot device and her own journey to becoming an author. She was a fantastic speaker and shared lots of funny stories, tips and insights into creative writing and becoming a published author. This idea stuck with me: (I paraphrase) ‘Don’t write about what you know, write about who you are, which is harder.’ There was a book signing after the talk and Candy stayed to have lunch with a few of the pupils, which was great. I hadn’t realised how much work goes into organising an author visit (this article provides some handy hints) but it was definitely worth it for inspiring girls about reading and following their dreams. Candy also has a great website and is on Twitter (@candygourlay).


A new version of the OPAC was installed this term and its new features include an app for mobile devices and an interface that is easier to customise. After pupils have had some time to get used to it, it will be interesting to hear their feedback.


I have also had the chance to supervise a student doing an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). EPQs allow pupils to write a 5,000-word essay or do a project such as a piece of creative writing or a performance. They are worth half an A-level and are marked on planning and research skills as much as the final product. School libraries are perfectly placed to help with this kind of work and it has therefore been very interesting to be involved as a supervisor.

New job in a school library

In January I started working in a school library. It’s my first job in a school library – previously I worked for a publisher. The school is an independent secondary school for girls in North London. It also has a junior school, which has a library with its own librarian.

The library I work in is for all students from Years 7 – 13. It has fiction and non-fiction books (classified using the Dewey Decimal system), DVDs, newspapers, magazines and subscriptions to electronic resources, including JSTOR, the Economist, the British Medical Journal and Encyclopaedia Britannica. There are two librarians – myself and the senior librarian. The senior librarian is based in the Sixth Form Centre where she supervises the sixth form study areas.

The library space is generous for what is not a very large school campus. It is also in the middle of the school so easily accessible. The fiction area has comfy chairs and bean bags; the non fiction area has space for quiet study and six computers. There are also two ‘seminar rooms’ for group work or meetings.

My main duties are answering user enquiries about the library and its resources, processing circulation transactions, overseeing the study areas, providing library inductions and routine shelving and stock tidying. Promoting reading for pleasure and reading around one’s subjects are also part of the job, which can take the form of giving book recommendations and contributing reviews to a blog on the Virtual Learning Environment, Firefly.

My first two terms in the job were very much about learning the ropes. Coincidentally, the Year 7s only began to have full access to the library when I arrived (due to building work in the previous term) so I gave them inductions at the same time as I was learning my own way around. Each Year 7 class has one 45-minute lesson in the library a fortnight where they are shown how to use the library, contribute book reviews to Firefly, use the online resources and more. Some sessions pupils are just allowed to read, especially around exam time.

In April, our LMS supplier, Access-It, gave a workshop at the school on a new version of the software that will soon be released. The new version will have more options for how to customise the OPAC. For example, it will be possible to add a blog to the homepage and it will be easier to catalogue electronic resources. Comparing the OPAC to OPACs for university libraries has been interesting. Certain features – such as visual search (allowing you to search using a visual symbol rather than a keyword, like in the International Children’s Digital Library) – show the ways in which systems can be geared specifically towards younger users.

The school runs a scheme whereby all pupils are lent an iPad throughout their time at the school. I see a lot of children opting to read books on their iPads but there are also plenty who still choose to read physical books. The library is considering introducing a scheme which would allow pupils to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from Haringey’s digital library service.

Next year, plans include organising author visits and taking part in the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme. This scheme allows pupils to shadow the judges of the Carnegie Medal by reviewing books on the judges’ shortlist. They can post reviews to the scheme’s website and find out about other school groups taking part in their area.

Overall I’ve enjoyed my first two terms a lot but still have a lot to learn. Questions I have been pondering over the summer include the best way to introduce DDC to Year 7s, how to create more space for certain collections, how to encourage reluctant readers, how to develop the comics and manga collections and more. As I embark on my first full academic year with the school I should have lots to reflect upon in this blog. I have also started contributing book reviews to Good Reads (to share some of the reviews I’m giving to pupils), which can be seen on the right-hand side of this blog.