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.


‘Libraries as Publishers’ and Encyclopaedias

In this lecture we learnt about the work of a research librarian and the potential for academic libraries to get involved in publishing. Diane Bell (@dianelouisebell), research librarian at City University, gave us a talk entitled ‘Developing digitally: researchers, social media and libraries as publishers’. We also explored the world of reference publishing, with a talk from Katharine Schopflin (@schopflin) on encyclopaedias.

Libraries as publishers

Diane Bell’s work encompasses three main things:

  • helping with resource discovery and publication
  • collection and service development
  • building partnerships between researchers and academic staff

Training researchers is a big part of this and I was interested to hear of the variety of topics she covers with them from library inductions to strategic literature searching to open access to using social media to create an online presence.

City University has an institutional repository, City Research Online, which provides open access to research by staff at the university. The library helps run this service. In other universities, libraries are also involved in helping to run university presses. For example, libraries at Stanford University and John Hopkins University help run the electronic publishing initiatives of these institutions – HighWire Press and Project MUSE respectively. And in 2015, UCL will launch UCL Press, which will make all publications available open access in digital form as well as commercially in print-on-demand and ebook formats. This will be a division of UCL’s Library Services although it’s not clear exactly what involvement librarians will have.

Libraries as publishers arguably makes a lot of sense in the academic context, whether it be managing an institutional repository or publishing electronic journals. For librarians’ skills in metadata and their understanding of the needs of both authors and end-users means they are well placed to support scholarly communications. Also, the serials crisis makes it imperative for librarians to have more influence in scholarly publishing and push open access. Whether or not the resources for these initiatives are available is another question. In the US, university presses have been helped by institutional/grant funds as well as by organisations like SPARC – the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (Harboe-Ree, 2007). However, the current financial climate doesn’t bode well for UK institutions.


In the second half of our lecture, Katharine Schopflin (@schopflin), librarian and information manager, gave a talk on encyclopaedias. Having written her PhD on the subject, she was able to cover everything from the ancient versions known as summa to Wikipedia and also to explain the complex ways in which these vast works are put together.

We started with some definitions. Katharine described the characteristics of an encyclopaedia as:

  • accurate
  • unbiased
  • up-to-date
  • authoritative
  • covers its subject in sufficient and appropriate depth
  • succinctly written

In practice, it seems that most encyclopaedias display some of these characteristics but not all. Britannica, a commercially published online encyclopaedia, is written by researchers and so is likely to be accurate and authoritative. However, even though it’s updated daily, this probably isn’t true for every article. On the other hand, Wikipedia is edited by so many volunteers that individual articles are more likely to be kept up to date. And yet, these volunteers may not have the same expertise as Britannica authors to cover topics in sufficient depth. And as most Wikipedia editors belong to a narrow demographic it is debatable whether its articles present an unbiased view. Research cited by Heather Ford (2014) has shown that ‘Wikipedia’s representation of place is skewed towards the developed North’, that its ‘coverage of history suffers from an over-reliance on foreign government sources’ and that there are ‘significant gender-associated imbalances in its topic coverage’.

The work that goes into creating an encyclopaedia is considerable. Katharine defined it as follows:

  • market research
  • long-term projects
  • permanent editorial teams
  • continuous revision
  • electronic production
  • metadata

Apparently Oxford University Press has been particularly successful at using metadata. All its products, from journals to reference works to the Very Short Introduction series, have to provide the same, rich metadata, which can then be used to search OUP’s content in various ways from its search and discovery gateway, Oxford Index. With the reference publishing industry struggling to compete against free alternatives, perhaps such value-added tools are the future for this market.

For me, part of the interest of the lecture was also learning more about the first encyclopaedias, including Diderot and d’Alembert’s. Their ‘tree of knowledge’, which prefaced the encyclopaedia, shows Memory, Reason and Imagination at the top, showing perhaps a desire to promote the Enlightenment ideal of scientific knowledge:


Source: Wikimedia Commons

I like this image as it shows how encyclopaedias aim to give structure to human knowledge but are also biased in their world view. However much we try to be objective, when we write about the world we do so through a ‘filter bubble’ (Ford, 2014). This doesn’t mean that encyclopaedias aren’t useful but it does encourage us to be sceptical about claims that they represent a neutral point of view.


Ford, Heather (2014). Wikipedia and breaking news: The promise of a global media platform and the threat of the filter bubble [online]. Available:

Harboe-Ree, Cathrine (2007). Just Advanced Librarianship: The Role of Academic Libraries as Publishers. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 38:1, 15-25, DOI: