“School libraries should be a focal point for a school. In a school library there should be resources to support every aspect of school life: every project, books to support sport, dancing, art, music; and it should also be the place to go for stories and poems. It should be an unmissable, unavoidable place.” Michael Rosen
In an ideal world all schools, including primary schools, should have a thriving school library and a professional librarian to manage it. The Great School Libraries campaign coordinated by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CIILIP) and the School Library Association (SLA) is working hard to ensure that this happens in the near future. We cannot ignore that in the meantime there are many schools, primary in particular, in which staff understand the need for a library and are trying to create one without a full time librarian to run it. It is for those people that I have put together this list of sources of advice, information and resources that, I hope, will be helpful. If, as a newly installed primary Head of Literacy or part time Librarian, you are presented with a dingy corner, containing a small selection of outdated books, and told that the ‘library’ is your responsibility, how can you transform this into an “unmissable, unavoidable place” with limited resources and time?
The first step is to assess your stock and discard any unsuitable books. Be ruthless! Although it is tempting to keep all the books, regardless of their age, condition or suitability, this will not create a welcoming and useful school library. Ideally the library should have adequate funding allocated but in reality primary school librarians and teachers have to be draw support from wherever possible. There are grants available from organisations such as the Siobhan Down Trust and the Foyle Foundation.
Perhaps pupils could be invited to donate a new book to start the library? Donated books could include a bookplate with their name on, which gives them a nice feeling of ownership. In order to ensure that the library stocks a wide range of titles to cater for all requirements it is helpful to draw up a wish list for parents to select from.
Book fairs are a good way to obtain free books using commission from sales with Scholastic being the most well known however it is worth checking to see if there is a smaller independent book fair organiser local to your school who may be able to cater more individually for your needs. The emergence of the Book Buddy scheme devised by author Maz Evans is a new approach to supporting school libraries and the website gives more information on how to get involved in this initiative.
Don’t despair if your book stock looks inadequate at first. Strategically placing books facing forward on shelving or having hardbacks standing up in gaps is attractive and stops the library looking bare.
Schools Library Service
Make use of your local Schools Library Service if you are lucky enough to have one. In addition to providing loan boxes of books for specific subjects and possibly fiction too, the SLS provides the expertise of a professional librarian to subscribers. The School Library Association (SLA) produces excellent guidelines on all aspects of library management from stock selection to library promotion. In addition, members receive a quarterly journal containing helpful advice and book reviews. I have written before about the many benefits of SLA membership.
It is vital for someone in charge of a library to be knowledgeable about children’s books, and there are many sources of information to keep you up to date. The Book Trust website has downloadable book lists and Lovereading4kids.co.uk has reviews of the latest books and provides free extracts of some of them. There are other good online review sites such as The Bookbag and Books for Keeps. Get the children involved in book selection and have a suggestion book or box so they can recommend titles. The most important indicator of success for the library is having the support of the headteacher. Make your head aware of the positive outcomes of library use, including the benefits of reading for pleasure on academic attainment. But perhaps the most important thing to remember is to enjoy your school library.
The Primary School Library Guidelines website is a hugely helpful source of information. It has guidance on everything from policy writing and budgets to information skills and involving parents in reading for pleasure initiatives. Although writing a Library Policy and Development Plan may not be top of your to do list I have found that it is an excellent way to organise your ideas and to identify and prioritise your needs and goals. The recently published Priority Paperwork: Policy Making and Development Planning for Primary and Secondary Schools published by the SLA is a useful guide.
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of authors, illustrators and storytellers who are happy to visit schools and the Reading Patron scheme is an excellent way of maximising on the numerous benefits of involving an author in both your library and your school. They may even want to open your newly revamped school library! For more information visit the official website for details: www.patronofreading.co.uk.
Space it out
How much space do you have? If the library is in a corridor or tucked away in the corner of a room, there may not be enough room for a whole class to use it. But careful timetabling of small groups from each year, plus opening at lunch times and before and after school will encourage use. If the library is large enough you will be able to use it as a teaching area. Weekly visits by pupils as part of the English curriculum are a good start, with the option of incorporating research sessions later. Space will dictate your choice of furnishings but the library should be cheerful and welcoming. If possible, display children’s work, book reviews and photos of pupils and staff reading. Many children’s publishers provide free posters, and annual book events such as World Book Day and Children’s Book Week are a good source of display material too. Work with teachers to ensure that the library supports what is being taught in class, with themed book displays changed regularly to attract children’s attention. There are companies such as Gresswell , BookSpace for Schools and Incube that offer beautifully designed furniture for children’s libraries but furnishing a library can be expensive. However, it is possible to start small and gradually add more as your budget allows. If you can, it is better to have both a working or study area with tables and chairs as well as a cosy reading corner with comfortable seats, beanbags or cushions. In a confined area spinners are a good way to store books and picture books work well in boxes with wheels.
If you have money to spend…
- Employ a qualified librarian to manage your library or share a librarian with a local school.
- A computerised library management system enables efficient running of the school library and maximises its usefulness to teachers. Choose a version specifically for the primary age group.
- Arrange visits by children’s authors, illustrators, poets or storytellers. This is a hugely effective way of raising the profile of the school library www.contactanauthor.co.uk. https://authorsalouduk.co.uk
- There are some wonderful library furnishing companies that produce very appealing items such as a Reading Tower or a Picture Book Tunnel that are sure to entice children into the library.
Some dos and don’ts!
- Don’t try and do it all on your own. The School Library Association’s publications are fantastic and will guide you through all aspects. Membership of the SLA is helpful for all involved in school libraries in any capacity (www.sla.org.uk).
- Don’t only stock books. Try to have a wide range of reading materials, including magazines, comics, audiobooks and newspapers for children, for example The Phoenix, First News, WRD Magazine, Aquila, The Week Junior. For more information about these magazines and newspaper including links to websites with more information please see my earlier post.
- Don’t restrict use to reading; offer alternatives such as chess, board games and lunchtime clubs, such as craft sessions, linked to books.
- Don’t insist on silence, especially during lunch breaks; primary school libraries should be happy, inviting places.
- Do involve all staff and parents too in the development of the school library. It is important that the library is viewed as a shared resource and a centre that can be used and enjoyed by the entire school community.