Libray-versary: a decade in school libraries!

This time ten years ago I took my first steps as a School Librarian. I can’t actually believe it’s been ten years.  It was never my plan to work in a school library, dare I say it?! But I’ve always been a reader and always loved books. I loved visiting the public library as a young girl, taking out as many books as I was allowed, devouring them one after another.  This was where I discovered some of my favourite authors –  causing a few raised eyebrows as I took out virtually an entire shelf of books by the same author!

I’d had various ideas about what I wanted to do when I grew-up, but as is often the case life happens and plans change or adapt.  When I did my degree, I recall thinking the Classification unit was really quite boring and I would avoid the Dewey System if I could…! I worked in events management initially after University and as a ‘born organiser’ (as my parents would say), this suited me very well and I loved it.  The arrival of children meant it was difficult to balance this career (late nights, long days and lots of travelling) with parenting and this is when I applied to work in a local school in the library. I will admit like many who are attracted to working in schools, the hours and holiday times were well-suited to family life. But little did I know this would lead me to discover a brand new career and rekindle my passion for books.  Not that I had ever stopped reading; I hadn’t, but I had never thought about sharing and encouraging others to discover a love for reading, beyond my book group.

It was a huge culture shock going from industry to working in a school. After six weeks I had a complete panic and went to see the Personnel Manager to discuss handing my notice in.  She was brilliant – kind and reassuring and encouraged me to stick with it till the end of that term, saying that many people who come from industry find it a big adjustment.  She also sent me on a training course  all about how to run a school library.  This was a huge turning point for me.  I suddenly realised the value of the job I was doing and will never forget what the man running the course said:

“You can either be the person who sits behind the desk stamping books or you can effect real and positive change in the lives of the children who walk through the school library door.”

It was definitely a light bulb moment for me. Up until that point, I had felt that I had no real purpose other than to look after the very dusty and underused library space, stop students from misbehaving when they came in for the odd lesson and issue the occasional book. I went back to school with a new focus: I was going to revamp the library and make it a hub of activity! A place where students couldn’t wait to be; where they felt supported; where they were inspired and most importantly, a space that celebrated and enabled the discovery of the joy of reading.

Quite a challenge in a library that had had little love or attention for many years!  But despite this, I did achieve a huge amount, working with some great people, of which to this day I feel very proud.  I was able to make good use of the skills I had learnt in running events, marketing and PR. At its simplest level, I saw the library and books as the ‘product’ and the students and staff as my target audience.  It was just a case of working out the right sales pitch amongst other things!

This first experience stood me in good stead throughout my career and I’ve had the rewarding task of revamping nearly all the libraries I’ve worked in.  I’ve learnt a huge amount over the last decade. Not just in terms of running a library; but also working with children, school staff and parents; in teaching and learning; understanding special needs; general education issues; managing a team and a myriad of other things I’d never even thought about.

Without the wider support of those working alongside you, a school library (and the librarian) can quickly become obsolete.  I’ve collaborated with some amazing teachers, teaching assistants and fellow librarians, who have been fundamental to ensuring the success of the libraries I have worked in. I’ve also continually developed my understanding of the importance of reading to a child’s development across all areas of their lives.  I realise how incredibly blessed I was to discover a love for reading at a young age (thank you Dad) and have it come completely naturally to me.  And now even more, I realise that it was a lot easier to grow-up when I was young; these days children have so much to deal with and as school librarian I feel a huge sense of responsibility in supporting young people in school. It’s this that keeps you going when you’re having one of ‘those’ days.

Since that first day, I have worked with nearly 7,500 children ranging from two to eighteen years.  It is a unique position to be in, interacting with the entire school community. In a single day, librarians can be teaching and supporting upwards of five different curriculum subjects for a range of ages, taking book groups, running reading campaigns, recommending books to individuals, writing school policy, as well as the general administration of the library. Add to that the role of tutor in my current position to a group of Year 8 boys and it’s busy!  Perseverance is key as are good working relationships. It is absolutely a full time job and should never be underestimated; but it’s also totally rewarding.

This career has led me to some wonderful things, not least founding The Book Activist. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of sharing my love for reading and been able to read hundreds of wonderful books ‘for work’! I’ve faced challenges in ways I couldn’t have imagined and I’ve had moments of fulfilment that I will never forget. I’ve been fortunate to work with some lovely people and made some friends for life. So on my library-versary, it’s a good time to thank all of those who have supported, inspired and encouraged me. And to thank all the many children who have made my job so rewarding.  And of course, all those amazing authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and brilliant book-ish people who create the stories we love.  I don’t know where the next ten years will take me, but I expect if books and reading are involved, it’s going to be brilliant!

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