How to get started with an online school library system – a user's perspective

  By Reading Cloud Customer Success   - Monday 21 August 2023

Switching to a digital library system or moving to a new one can seem like a daunting task. It sometimes helps to get an insider’s view. At Reading Cloud many of our customers have come from other school library software providers whereas some are embarking on using one for the first time. In this blog we explore some of the common issues they faced.

Why chose an online library software in the first place?

In a digital world, driven by technology and busy with social media, smartphones and other devices, it can be hard for schools to make the case for reading books. For young people who haven’t grown up in an analogue world, libraries can seem outdated and the printed word far less compelling than the excitement of computer games.

Whatever the size of your school or the stage of your pupils, Reading Cloud's school library software can offer a technological-based solution to encourage reading and independent learning while supporting the school community and meeting curriculum objectives.

But faced with demanding work schedules and overstretched resources, implementing a new system to support the management of your school might seem like an onerous task. For schools that have never had an online system it can seem even more daunting. So schools understand exactly what’s involved in converting their libraries to Reading Cloud, and to help them derive maximum benefit from the resource, here are the top four reoccurring pieces of advice. 

1. Catalogue your books

With the introduction of any new online library system, the administration of setting it up takes time with cataloguing the books being the biggest task. Every school library will have some form of cataloguing system in place, be that a traditional offline method or with another online library management supplier. Memories of doing this first time round may still haunt members of staff involved. 

Reading Cloud has worked closely with schools to derive a cataloguing solution that simplifies the administration process of adding books. Simply scan in a book’s ISBN barcode and the system will automatically add the title, author and synopsis information. Having this information added at a click of a button frees up time for the library managers at point of entry. Additionally, having the book electronically stored leaves schools in a better position to track and trace books and manage their check-out and return. It also helps to inform purchasing decisions for popular books.

One headteacher who was actively involved in this set up process shared her thoughts with us.

“When we first got Reading Cloud, we spent several days cataloguing books. It took a long time, not least because it turned out we had thousands more books than we were expecting. As well as support from Reading Cloud and a team of willing staff, we had parent volunteers come in to help us complete the cataloguing in shifts. It was worth it because now we know exactly what we have and the process enabled us to sift out a lot of low-quality books.”

2. Have an implementation plan

Changing any system in school involves the whole school community. Getting ‘buy-in’ from everyone early on is crucial to success. Switching school library software is exactly the same. 

One literacy co-ordinator of a small village school explained to us that implementing Reading Cloud meant careful consideration had to be given to how the system was rolled-out so as not to "bog staff down". They went on to share their experiences of how Reading Cloud helped the transition.  

“Trainers came in from Reading Cloud to train those of us who are going to be responsible for the resource. We kept management of the system restricted to three members of staff and then held an Inset training session one evening for the other teachers. After that, we introduced it to pupils over a six-week period. Then all the staff came together again to share findings and come up with the best way forward.”

This theme of ‘being ready’ came through from many other schools too, with one going further to say, “It does need an implementation plan, and get as many people on board to help. We launched our system one parents’ evening, where we took them through a demonstration and gave out information.”

In larger schools embarking on a new library system often means responsibility falls to dedicated library managers, but ensuring all staff know how it use it is highly beneficial and will need to be planned for to make sure the most is got out of the resource. 

One school reported how they went about it, “The English subject lead and two librarians had full training as they take overall responsibility for the system, while all staff received basic training so they too could benefit from Reading Cloud’s features and support. This meant that teachers were able to use the system to search for specific topics, like volcanoes, for example. Reading Cloud has a list function which then shows them all the books in which volcanoes feature. It saves teachers a lot of time.”

3. Engage pupils from the outset

Introducing it to pupils is another area that many schools reported as being highly beneficial for ongoing success. One school shares how they made it into a set of lessons that every child is taught.

“We have library lessons at the school, and from the very first induction sessions, we introduce everyone to Reading Cloud. We show them where the catalogue is held and all the functions that can be accessed from the home page. The first thing we get pupils to do is to create a profile and avatar for themselves, which they love, and write a small biography. Afterwards, we task them with posting a blog – all these things help to familiarise them with the system. Because Facebook isn’t allowed in school, pupils enjoy the social media aspects of Reading Cloud, which allows them to chat to other pupils, recommend books and see what others are reading via their timeline.”

Other schools have commented on how easy Reading Cloud is for children to use and how it engages them with reading. “It’s a very sophisticated system, with author recommendations based on books that pupils have previously enjoyed, while a search function helps them to see instantly if the library has the book they want in stock. Children also love having their own book reviews published and enjoy the blog and online chat features where they can talk securely with other children from our school about their favourite books and authors.”

4. Draw in the school community

Every school is different, and both demographic composition and attainment levels vary widely. Getting the whole school community engaged and enjoying reading for fun is a very powerful tool for raising attainment across the whole literacy spectrum. 

Reading Cloud isn’t just restricted to the school building, schools that embrace it as a community tool find it supports parental engagement too. One school shared, 

“The focus on reading not only helps all pupils to increase their vocabulary, but it also improves their confidence levels when it comes to communicating verbally. What’s more, because the system can be accessed from home, it usually involves and engages parents in the process, too.”.

With so much being digital now, having a vast range of eBooks helps take reading out of school too and engage the wider community. 

“People lead busy lives and we bought in the extra ebooks as they’re good for when children are travelling in cars or during holidays,” shared one literacy co-ordinator.

Another goes onto say, “With Reading Cloud, students can use the library all the time, regardless of whether they are physically present or not. We have accelerated reading at our school, where students are given a vocabulary test at the start of the year and books are recommended on that basis. As students’ vocabulary levels progress, their book levels change.

“All books are catalogued with accelerated reading information, as well as catalogue and quiz information. It enables a consistent focus on reading and makes it part of pupils' lives”.