You can have books, you can have a space, and you can have a knowledgeable person, but when they come together to create a school library there is an element of magic. It’s about equality – because the space is open and accessible – it’s about outcomes, because there’s support there when pupils need it – it’s about wellbeing because there’s somewhere to be, resources to help and someone to talk to. The impact of a good school library is so widespread it’s difficult to see; like the curvature of the earth or the milky way – it’s presence is felt but it is difficult to see the full extent.
I’m the CEO of the School Library Association, a post I’ve been in for over five years. I was a school librarian beforehand, and had held a number of roles including as a form tutor, additional English tutor and was a middle leader.
The role at the SLA was my dream job as it supports everyone involved with school libraries, reading and research. The SLA believes that school staff and pupils should have access to a wide and varied range of resources and have the support of an expert guide in reading, research, media and information literacy.
We provide training and access to resources to support the running of school libraries and the continuing development of all staff, as well as advocating for and allowing other educational staff to maximise their understanding and use of school libraries. So it’s taking what I did in one school and helping thousands of school staff improve their pupils educational experience.
It’s a big question but what is your future vision for school libraries?
For me, the future is a world where the impact school libraries have is understood and recognised by those leaders in education. School librarians are invited to the table and included in discussions because they come with a very particular perspective, and the earlier they’re included the better outcomes are. It’s not a world where every school library looks the same and does the same things, but there are common threads – respect, access to ongoing CPD, and empowered to deliver the best service possible.
I think many of the school libraries will work with media and information literacy, delivering research skills as well as reading (across both primary and secondary) as well as being the centrepoint for reading.
How does the SLA work in partnership with Reading Cloud?
We’ve worked with Reading Cloud in a number of ways over the years, and are incredibly pleased that Reading Cloud have sponsored our Enterprise of the Year Award for 2023. It’s a great Award which really showcases the range of work going on in school libraries – from refurbishments, to Book Weeks, to cross-curricular projects – if you’ve worked on a project this year consider nominating it for the Award!
How important do you feel it is for the school community to have both a designated school librarian and a school library space?
I know that a designated school librarian can have a positive impact across a range of areas – literacy, wellbeing, independent skills, media and information literacy, research skills, deeper curricular learning. I know that because I’ve done that, and I’ve seen it done in countless schools across the UK. School librarians are an under utilised resource which can help tackle some of the biggest issues we’re facing as a country and prevent others from getting worse.
A school library space with a librarian is one of those things that delivers so much more than the sum of it’s parts. You can have books, you can have a space, and you can have a knowledgeable person, but when they come together to create a school library there is an element of magic. It’s about equality – because the space is open and accessible – it’s about outcomes, because there’s support there when pupils need it – it’s about wellbeing because there’s somewhere to be, resources to help and someone to talk to. The impact of a good school library is so widespread it’s difficult to see; like the curvature of the earth or the milky way – it’s presence is felt but it is difficult to see the full extent. This might sound trite, but school librarians work across all age groups, all subjects, all cohorts (FSM/PP/EAL/SEND etc). In lessons and in free time. Across friendship groups, classes and tutor/house groups. Most other members of staff and pupils will only see a fraction of what goes on in a school library.
What advice would you give to someone new to school libraries who wishes to build a school reading culture?
I don’t really need to answer this question because it’s all in our guide – Get Everyone Reading – written by Alec Williams which is free to download from our website. But 3 top tips are:
With your school librarian hat on, what benefits do you see in having a library management system?
There’s so much you can do with a library management system; it’s vital for managing your collection, important for knowing your collection and essential for promoting it.
Have you read anything recently that really inspired you?
I listen to audio-books a lot (counts as reading!) but have been on a crime novel series so not inspiring, but very enjoyable
Can you share an unusual fact about yourself?
I grew up in Alderney in the Channel Islands.