7 ways using tech can boost your school library

  By Vicki Harris   - Wednesday 17 October 2018

A library management system equips schools with fantastic tools to inspire a love of reading, writes Vicki Harris

Vicki Harris is a freelance IT trainer/adviser and founder of Vickilib Solutions

I’ve encountered some amazing school libraries throughout my career, and for many of the most successful ones, technology plays a key role in ensuring that they’re an exciting and relevant space for the whole school.

While most school libraries have a library management system (LMS), this can be used for so much more than borrowing and returning books. Using it effectively raises the profile of the library, as well as providing value for money for the school. At a minimum, a LMS such as Reading Cloud should be used for a variety of functions.

1. Book of the Week

You can set it up at the beginning of term and each week it will automatically change to the next book in the list. It keeps the front page fresh but make sure to only select books that have a cover picture. Try also to select topical books; for example, something with black history links for Black History Month and Christmas-themed stories in December. It’s a great way of promoting titles to students who you know would benefit from reading them, but they may not go looking for.

  • Word of the Day and Fact of the Day

These can be automatically generated, or you can add your own. If you only want to use the automatically generated words, make sure that all the teachers in school know about the tool so that they can utilise it, too.

2. Reviews

In the online world, everything is about scores and reviews, and books are no different. So take some time to set up the review area of your LMS. Reviews are a great motivator for pupils and help to promote new books to the rest of the school. When it comes to publicising the reviews function, I’ve seen some schools start with a small group such as a book club or class; others just tell children it’s available and let them use it as and when they choose. Some have all children reviewing their books through Reading Cloud instead of using their home-link books. Most LMS’ allow you to select a Star Review, which appears on the front page.

3. Blogging

As a school starts utilising the LMS in these ways, staff and students become inspired to start exploring the LMS deeper, and one area to try to capture students’ interest in the Reading Cloud is through blogging. A blogging platform provides a great way for young people to discuss books, reading, literature and anything related to these topics. I’m always delighted to see them write enthusiastically about the books they are reading, the links to films or TV, and authors who have written for TV or film. The blogging tool is easy to use and can be monitored by staff in school, and the results show when pupils search for books so it’s a worthwhile resource to introduce as it provides peer ideas and opinions alongside website and book results.

4. Ebooks

A good ebook service will not be free. Authors and publishers need to earn money, so consumers need to pay. You need to look at the ebooks you provide as resources and promote and monitor them exactly as you do print books. Shared collections reduce the cost and increase the collection size. When I worked for Hampshire School Library Service, we introduced a shared collection service to all secondary schools, and Reading Cloud itself features an additional service that provides ebooks to schools as part of a shared collection. Many of your colleagues may already be using ebooks, so speak with staff within the school as they can add to the catalogue or may have ideas of what they would want the library to provide. Remember to check the licensing. You wouldn’t loan an illegal copy of a book, so don’t do it with ebooks.

Introducing ebooks into the library is a major project and takes time to embed. Many schools I’ve worked with have told me that setting up the system is the easy part, getting the pupils to use it and monitoring use is tough.

When the system is set up, you are going to have to promote it, to both pupils and staff. Your target should be those who don’t use the library. I have worked with schools who trialled it with their IT Club – these children like using tech already and linking in with reading can be a real bonus. One of the greatest advantages of ebooks is that they can be borrowed from school at any time.

5. Apps/websites

Libraries have long been information providers but they need to stay relevant. Linking with the IT department can help to ensure that the library remains up to date and is included in future IT projects.

Pupils primarily reach for the internet for their research – use this to the advantage of the library. If you’re using Reading Cloud, you have at least 5,000 websites available, and you can add any extras that your school uses, such as local history sites. Ensure teachers know that they can add sites to the catalogue for their topics.

Do the same with apps. Ask the IT department which apps are being used in the school, promote these in the library and add the details to the catalogue. Ask the pupils which apps they are using for schoolwork and investigate these. Catalogue the good ones and promote them in the library and on the library website.

6. A 24/7 library service

In a world where everyone expects an instant response, the library can seem like an old-fashioned space with opening times and solid doors, but here, again, technology can help. Put your catalogue online and your library can be open 24/7, allowing pupils to search websites and reserve books, as well as post reviews, “like” their favourite books and send messages to the librarian. The recommended reads area on the front page will give the pupils access to new ideas even when there aren't adults to help. Setting this up is a one-off simple process. 

Within school there will be a wealth of reading lists for subjects, year groups, specific areas of interest. The LMS can pull these altogether in one place by using the Reading List functionality where lists of books can be tagged to specific pupils, groups or subjects. Lots of schools have this information on their school website and by using Reading Cloud you can ensure the lists are targeted to the correct pupils.

7. Evidence

When the library system is used comprehensively, it becomes much more than a circulation tool; it’s a database full of useful data that can be used to provide evidence to report on how reading and the library impacts on day-to-day school life. Reports on individual students and groups of students can be extracted from the system, which is useful for reporting to parents or to provide evidence on how funds allocated to the library or buying books has impacted on pupil reading.

If you want to promote the library to students, it’s essential you make it a space that’s relevant and provides links with the online world. It must provide a place that the children love to visit, to find new facts and immerse themselves in fiction. Technology isn’t something to fear; instead it can be a librarian’s friend. 

This article was first published by TES.com on 16 October 2018.