Inspire reading

Transforming libraries

Since being knee high to a grasshopper Sally Flint has been reading books. Writing and education have been her passions. It was inevitable that she would become an English teacher and librarian! Here she offers six tips for transforming a good library into a great learning hub.

From good library to great learning hub: six tips

Over the years I’ve been privileged to visit many international school libraries across South East Asia and I’ve witnessed librarians turn good libraries into wonderful learning hubs, buzzing with energy, emitting warmth and providing treasure troves of reading magic. Here are a few tricks of the trade.

1. Employ excellent librarians

An excellent librarian is intent on inspiring children to read; motivating teachers to prioritize reading (this is seldom difficult) and guiding parents on how to support their children’s reading.  Behind the scenes they ensure that there is an organised and efficient library management system in place so that administrative tasks, cataloguing, book distribution, and website maintenance run like clockwork. They deploy numerous strategies to achieve their goals.

These include pushing forward a vision for reading and learning; running after school professional development sessions; setting up student library councils; teaching academic honesty; creating interactive displays; stocking top professional development titles; running ECAs and book shadowing schemes; keeping a pastoral eye on high alert; sharing book reviews; running competitions; choosing and ordering diverse and enticing titles; using tech to explore reading; creating cross curricular links, and bringing in enticing authors who motivate students’ reading. This is all infinitely achievable if a librarian is supported by the school leaders, demonstrates a preparedness to be a flexible ‘Jack of all trades’ and has strong communication skills.

2. Create a great book collection

The debates whether to have e-books instead of print books and the discussion about whether to withdraw all non-fiction and instead use tech resources only for completing research have largely waned. Teachers have shown they like print resources to support classroom learning and ‘student voice’ has dictated that ‘print copies of popular fiction are as popular as ever. Every school library should have an adequate budget to stock a diverse range of popular and classic fiction books. That’s not to say the budget has to be huge and there is a strong argument that less can actually be more.

Educators like Pie Corbett are a great ‘go to’ resource for knowing what to order, as are key Library Journals such as the School’s Library Association Magazine. I am a big believer in sourcing multiple copies of fiction and having them available both in the library and other classrooms (not necessarily English ones.)

A great team makes a dream library. Here Duangporn Turongratanachai from Bangkok Patana School is helping prepare for a fun-packed week of book celebrations. 

3. Have a shared vision

For a library to really be successful it is important that the librarian’s vision for its use should match that of the school leaders’ vision. My view is that libraries are centres of collaboration, hubs for investigation and exploration. At times they are a place of sheer frivolity hosting rap and spoken word poetry performances and bake sales. At other times they are the venue of celebrations and festivals such as Readers’ Theatre competitions and Lit Quiz competitions, whilst at still other times they are centres for hard-core exam based study.  I maintain that a library should demonstrate daily through respectful communication and display and activity choices that a pursuit of passionate reading is at its core.

 

These children at Bangkok Patana School have been recycling resources to make new exercise books for children without access to resources. This ‘Sharing by Doing’ activity enabled the children to grow in empathy and understanding and be good global citizens.
4. Prioritize Users

Libraries should not be empty store-houses, neither should they be playgrounds or babysitting centres. An excellent library will role model how its users should conduct themselves, encouraging reading with the children and also keep a well stocked Senior Fiction section for the parent body. Children should feel safe, welcomed and valued in the library. All kinds of hooks can be used to entice users into the library, from craft corners, to jigsaws, to Lego. These activities not only facilitate the opportunity to chat with children and learn about their reading but also serve to engage children in learning through play.

Designed with the size and comfort of users in mind Susan Grigsby, Librarian at Wellington College in Bangkok, is delighted with the modern enticing and welcoming seating in her Junior Library.
5. Develop a Great Curriculum

A good school curriculum must encourage children to develop a love of reading and include oodles of reading for pleasure. It should also enable children to master excellent research and referencing skills at an age appropriate level. Learning objectives and aims should be understood and shared. Some schools favour a distinct skills based curriculum whilst others are passionate advocates of the librarian being used to support enquiry based classroom learning. Many librarians set up reading stations across the school. I’ve even seen librarians taking the sports books out to the playing field to be borrowed!

Every school has different needs and no one answer fits all, but it is essential to not allow library learning to be overlooked and to ensure that planning the library timetable and schemes of learning is as integral to the whole school vision as is planning the Literacy or Maths timetable. Sometimes it is a case of putting on your ‘glad rags’ and inviting yourself to the party.

Donna Stephens, at Shrewsbury International School, City Campus Bangkok, is keen to involve the whole school community in library provision. She believes that coffee mornings are an excellent method of sharing knowledge, curriculum information, recommending reading and much more.

6. Invest in excellence

Reading fiction helps children grow in empathy, compassion and intellect. An excellent library doesn’t have to be in a state of the art building. It isn’t a cold warehouse for lifeless inanimate objects –  rather it is a living and breathing organism, sharing with its users laughter, love, thrills and drama. It is a tutor and a friend. It can and should be the centre of a school community. Don’t settle for a good library when an excellent one is within reach.

 

Sally Flint

A teacher of English, Sally is the former Head of Libraries at Bangkok Patana School. She is now a freelance library consultant, and is available for work in international schools throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Contact her for more details at sallyflint68@gmail.com

 

 

Feature Image: SarahRichterArt – Pixabay

Other Images: Courtesy of Sally

Other Resources: Pie Corbett – Talk for Writing, The American Association of School Libraries, The Library Project,

The International Association of School Librarianship.