My thoughts on that Bookseller article

I’ve probably written this post about 5 times, trying to calm myself down a little from some of the feelings expressed in the recent Bookseller article which can be found here.

In it the article expresses opinions from different people on the case put forward for statutory school libraries. I started reading believing that I was going to be proud of the opinion put forward about school and school libraries in such an important book trade magazine. The title certainly suggest that I wouldn’t be anything other than happy with the contents. After all school libraries are important to the overall success of a school where they are run correctly and have an impact in a number of different areas.

However I was left a little astounded, verging on angry with some of the comments made. In one paragraph it clearly states that a library is not a library unless you have a qualified person in charge of it. This has to be a comment, I feel, I disagree with the most in the article. Mainly because I feel it is just plain wrong. The premise is the fact that if a library has a qualified librarian then it will be a success. Yet in my experience (having been a school advisor for many years and working in a large number of schools across the country) some qualified school librarians are doing an appalling job whilst other ‘non-qualified’ staff are having more impact with reading and literacy through the school library than you could imagine. I myself have no formal library qualifications, I have degrees in English and in Education, yet the work we achieve in our school has been judged to be at the highest level. You can read more on my thoughts of the qualified situation here. Had the comment been about  having a knowledgeable member of staff in charge of the library I would have wholeheartedly agreed but this I feel gives the wrong impression.

The second point I was stuck and worried on is the insistence of a school library being subject to an Ofsted inspection. I completely agree that a library should be seen as part of the fabric of promoting literacy and especially reading in a school but what worries me is how an inspection would be carried out by an inspection team and who would write the guidance and grade descriptors for doing so. This is by far the biggest worry I have. The point about a successful school library is that it is reflective of the needs of the school and the students. There are no standard ways of doing things that make a success. This is exactly the same reason why Ofsted look for no specific style of teaching just that it is right and has an impact. Am I suddenly going to be dictated to as to how I should organise my shelves, what books I should stock, how I interact with teaching and learning in the school?

I can soundly speak from experience, having had Ofsted in on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, that the process they are working on at the moment with regard to reading and literacy is spot on. Part of the requirements the lead inspector gave us the afternoon before the visit was a specific meeting with the literacy coordinator (me) and that he wanted to listen to 4 of our weaker students read and visit areas we had identified as promoting reading.

During the inspection our school library was visited regularly as the school has highlighted it as an area of promoting literacy. The library also has an impact in the classroom, providing knowledge of weaker readers to teachers and strategies to use to help them. Inspectors were then seeing the impact the library was having in the classroom and on teacher pedagogy, another reason why inspectors came to find out more.  Students and teachers commented to inspectors on the use of the library, how it promoted reading and literacy and so again inspectors visited to find out more. Reading can be seen clearly in our corridors and from the moment you walk into the school. Again, we were visited with inspectors wanting to find out more. The library and reading is seen far beyond the four walls of the physical space and this is the point.

In my meeting with the inspector we spent an hour talking about the work the library does (an extra half an hour on whole school literacy was covered too). The inspector fed back to the headteacher how he had been ‘blown away’ by this work and commented to me how astounded he was at the comprehensive nature of the work we achieve around reading improvement and reading for pleasure. We spoke about information literacy, independence and he was keenly interested in the way we organise our non-fiction books. (3 collections. 1. book boxes that go to depts when they start a new topic. 2. a facts for fun collection – pleasure non-fiction and 3. books organised by subject they are studied in (history, science, geography etc) and sub-divided into year group and then again into term studied: autumn; spring; summer). When he questioned students about this structure they waxed lyrical about how easy it was to find the right book they needed and how it had made them more likely to use the resources in the first place. The impact, the inspector could see, was clear and this was what he was looking for.

I was delighted by his interest in literacy and reading, the way he worked with the students he listen to read and his knowledge of what good reading and literacy can look like in a school. He was extremely knowledgeable on what to look for but was also looking at what worked best for the school and our students.

Now maybe it’s the editing of the article rather than the actual comments that make it comes across as not the positive one I was hoping for. But I do certainly feel that there is an agenda that I’m not entirely happy with as it could have potentially disastrous implications for many schools. For me it’s not about inspecting a library but an inspection team looking at how the school promotes reading engagement, improvement and pleasure through the whole school and the role the school library plays within  this. This is much more useful and actually something many inspection teams are doing and it is already clearly having a positive effect. If you read Ofsted reports many schools who are not yet good have on their front page of their report it is because ‘pupils do not read frequently or widely enough’.

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8 Comments

  1. The point made on qualified status in the article did not say that a qualified librarian=successful library, the point was that a library without a qualified member of staff isn’t a library – it’s just a room with books in. The article didn’t mention a library-specific qualification; the premise was that a role with responsibility for literacy, teaching and learning requires suitably qualified staff. In your case you clearly have the qualifications and experience to perform well in your role, the issue at hand is the replacement of experienced staff (who may or may not have a library MA/MSc) with lunchtime supervisors or parent volunteers. IMO the qualification status in itself is irrelevant to the role, what counts is the skills, knowledge and experience of the individual, if they’ve gained this through a library MA/MSc/PgDip then fine, if they’ve got requisite experience and skills in a different profession/qualification then fine.
    http://tinyurl.com/o4rv9z3

    • I’m afraid there is a long history of debate between those that believe in the qualified nature of a librarian in post against those that don’t and this is another example of it. So by saying a library isn’t a library unless a qualified person runs it means it can’t be a successful library if said person is unqualified.
      Your comments seem a little contradictory though as surely a parent or volunteer could be ‘qualified’ in your understanding of the word, just not with a library qualification and would therefore be able to run the library?

      • A successful, modern school library service should have a wide remit of responsibilities covering literacy support, project-based learning, driving T&L improvement, information literacy, soft-skills development etc. School libraries in the UK are a long way off being what they should be but I find it difficult to see how this can be achieved without a ‘qualified’ individual in post. The Canadian Library Assoc’ recently launched a new standards of practice for school libraries which outlines what a modern school library could and should be; http://tinyurl.com/lazjxug
        Maybe I’m being a little pessimistic, but it seems wildly unlikely that a school would be lucky enough to find a parent or volunteer with experience in literacy promotion, information literacy, curriculum support, ICT skills delivery etc. and also the knowledge of the fundamentals of library management who is willing to volunteer on a full-time basis consistently for an extended period of time. Schools don’t have to have a library service to be successful, but if they want a library service which is more than a book storage/lending facility they need to invest in people with the appropriate skills.

      • I think you seem to be a little unclear on what you’re saying. My point is that you need to employ someone that has the appropriate skills but that these skills do not need to come from a library qualification. In fact I would say most of the areas you mention as being indicative of a successful school library: literacy support, T&L input, soft skills will not be covered in any library qualification. If this were also the case, that all library qualified librarians working in schools had these skills then there wouldn’t be an issue. As it is that is not the case. Having been a school advisor and a consultant covering literacy, reading and libraries I know all too well what makes a successful library and what doesn’t but also what the practicalities in a school and in education are to allow this. Too many school librarians enter the role with no understanding and training in education and so try to put a public library model into a school. In some cases this might work, in many it doesn’t.

      • I think we’re talking at cross-purposes here; if you read my first comment I thought I made it clear that I regarded a library qualification as “irrelevant to the role” and that “skills, knowledge and experience” were what counted and “if they’ve got the requisite skills and experience from a different profession/qualification [that’s] fine”.

        I completed my library PgDip a year ago and it covered reader development, literacy promotion, information literacy, pedagogy and online learning so you’ll find modern library courses have changed significantly from the old cat’n’class. Many/most library students also combine the academic aspect with a graduate trainee library position to practical knowledge between under and post-grad. I think it’s unrealistic to expect a library qualification to produce a ‘finished product’, like a PGCE it’s only the first stage in professional development. There will of course be gaps in anyone’s skill set but that’s why successful librarians collaborate with other school and teaching professionals. The main issue with the training of school library workers I find from speaking to people is the lack of opportunities for high quality CPD, amongst most I’ve found the desire to upskill is there, but the funding, release from duties, SLT support etc. is lacking.

      • The original point was that in the article the term ‘qualified’ refers to an actual library qualification and not any old qualification. It is a long standing difference between many librarians and has been the cause of many long debates, most likely before you qualified.
        Being an Assistant Headteacher and having worked with many SLTs I can also say that they are extremely supportive of any area in a school that has an impact. When writing SEFs etc they do not care where evidence comes from as long as they can point towards it and can see how it relates to the areas identified in any development plans. If a school is not supporting the library then maybe in some cases internal questions need to be asked as to why rather than a quick ‘not supported by SLT’ answer.
        My issue with regard to lack of school knowledge is the point you highlight, literacy promotion is great but an ingrained, deep knowledge of literacy is something very different indeed. Practical application of reader improvement is completely different to reader development and pedagogy, as we tell our new teachers is best learnt not theorised.

      • I agree that “deep knowledge of literacy” and “literacy promotion” are distinct but that should be reflected in delineation of responsibilities within a school; whole school literacy should be the purview of SLT, and while the librarian has a role within that it is, generally, a facilitation role by providing resources and space for reading and secondly to promote reading for pleasure.
        My personal view (and it is a very personal view) is that school librarians have generally concentrated too much time and energy on their role within school literacy to the exclusion of work on other fronts (which often makes better use of the library-specific skills, experience and resources). I agree with the comment you made earlier that the public library model often isn’t a good ‘fit’ for schools, but we can looking towards the activities of our colleagues working in other library sectors (HE, FE, Health, Law, Private Sector etc.) can provide useful models for having significant impact on education.

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