Spreading the joy of reading

  By Alison Edwards   - Wednesday 17 April 2019

Spreading the joy of reading in our school

In schools across the land, a band of unsung heroes dedicate time, energy and hard work to making sure the school library runs smoothly. Here at Firth Park Academy, one of our own heroes, Year 9 student Rhiannon, provides invaluable help in the library day to day and she’s also on a mission to encourage her fellow students to enjoy everything our library has to offer.

And so, as you can no doubt imagine, it was a proud moment for us all when Rhiannon won the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award 2019.

Helping hands

Having worked in school libraries for a decade, I know how important it is to have the support of student helpers. Many of us rely on the assistance of our student librarians, particularly at the busiest times of day. Since she joined us in Year 7, Rhiannon has helped us during her breaks and lunchtimes on a whole range of library tasks, from managing the library shelves to keeping track of our stock.

While Rhiannon holds the fort on the library desk, issuing and returning books, locating books that students need and helping with enquiries, I am freed up to work in other parts of the library and the school.

One of our busiest times is the after school homework club, and that’s when Rhiannon can be found back in the library helping students use the school’s IT resources.

Supporting school libraries

To recognise Rhiannon’s great work in our library, we decided to nominate her for the student librarian award, a joint venture between the School Library Association and the CILIP School Libraries Group. Having been shortlisted, Rhiannon’s next challenge was to devise some effective ways for schools to really promote their libraries both outside and within the school.

 As part of this, Rhiannon wrote to her local MP, expressing her views on the importance of school libraries and their role at the heart of a school community. She received a very positive response from the MP who, as it turns out, is a firm advocate of school libraries too.

Rhiannon was also tasked with raising the profile of the library among her fellow students. Invited to imagine that our school library had been given £500 to spend on encouraging more students to use it, Rhiannon set about planning ways to get students reading. Her idea was a reading passport scheme for our large group of students from the Roma community.

Many of these students have English as an additional language, and some experience difficulties with literacy, so tend not to be frequent users of the library. Rhiannon suggested that some of the money should be spent on buying books with interesting topics designed for lower ability readers to engage the children in reading more.

The students involved would be able to use their passports to borrow these books over a six-week period and at the end of the passport scheme, Rhiannon planned to arrange a social gathering for the students and their families to share their thoughts about the books they had read.

Building knowledge and skills

While Rhiannon’s work as a student librarian has made an invaluable contribution to the school, she has also gained new skills and grown in confidence. It’s been wonderful to see her taking the initiative in her role and helping fellow students too.

Rhiannon’s contribution has been noted by our principal, Dean Jones, who says, “Rhiannon embodies the school’s core values of aspiration, respect and resilience and she is as respected as any adult member of staff in her role as a student librarian.”

The awards ceremony for the finalists in London was a memorable day for us all. Travelling by train with Rhiannon and her family, we wondered what to expect, and Rhiannon’s first visit to the capital didn’t fail to deliver. She had the opportunity to meet some renowned children’s authors and talk to fellow finalists – and to hear her announced the overall winner was the icing on the cake.

As Rhiannon recalls, “I was so shocked, and never expected to win the award. It felt amazing because the standard was so high, and it was lovely to meet all the authors.”

Alison Tarrant, Chief Executive of the School Libraries Association says, “The School Library Association is proud to support the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award – a unique award that recognises the invaluable contribution that library helpers make to a school library. Rhiannon was a deserved winner, and all the shortlisted pupils should be incredibly proud. They are improving the atmosphere and culture of their school library – making it more approachable, more inclusive and allowing the Librarian to do other important things – generally helping students one to one.”

We are all very excited at the prospect of putting Rhiannon’s great ideas into action at Firth Park Academy, to bring more students into our library and help them discover the wonderful world of reading.

Being a student librarian gives a child the opportunity to make an exceptional contribution to their school, while helping them to grow and flourish in their own personal and educational development. It’s a wonderful start on the journey to becoming a lifelong reader and inspiring others.

Alison Edwards, MCLIP, Library and Literacy Manager, Firth Park Academy, Sheffield. 

Firth Park Academy uses ESS Reading Cloud to manage its school library.