I’ve been thinking a bit recently about what a school librarian needs to be to be successful. I’ve been working a little bit with some young librarians looking at going through chartership and the question arose from one of these conversations. I can’t remember the precise wording but it revolved around a question as to the different needs and skills of librarians in different sectors.
It was an extremely interesting question and one that required me a little time to think about what it was about a school librarian that was either different or just specific to a school librarian.
Therefore in this post I’ve tried to show what I feel is required of a school librarian and the reasons why. I don’t necessarily see these skills/personality traits as something that is only covered by school librarians but I do feel they are all vital in becoming a successful one.
1&2. Number one (and two) for me is to be adaptable. So much so I’ve put it twice! Twice because firstly I feel you need to be adaptable in both your processes but also in your beliefs around how a library can/should run.
Being adaptable in your processes for me is about having to change the way you go about things depending on your circumstances. In most libraries you can move from one to another yet things are always done the same. However, in a school this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you move from one school to another you need to be able to change and adapt to the way that your new school works. School libraries are very much at the mercy of the establishment they belong in and work in very different ways to each other depending on the needs of the school and opinions of the headteacher/school leadership.
Therefore, just because you have gone about things in one way in a school it doesn’t mean that it will be the same in any other.
The second adaptable then is that of the beliefs that you have in libraries. Many school librarians come into the profession from either public libraries or other library backgrounds and so already have a sense of how a library should work and what a library should be. These beliefs however must be taken with a pinch of salt in a school library. They really are unlike any other library. Even FE or HE libraries have little in common with schools. In reality a school library is a hybrid of other types of libraries with its own bit of crazy added in too.
What this means is that you really can’t come to being a school librarian thinking that you can put a public library or any other library model into play. You need to realise, acknowledge and importantly embrace that a school library can be anything and that that anything is solely dependant on what the needs of the students in the school are.
3. This adaptability in beliefs links to the next point to me which is being open minded. Open minded to changing your beliefs of how to run things but also open minded into what you might be able to achieve through a school library. Not many other libraries can have such a direct impact on daily, even hourly basis on your user. As I’ve mentioned many times before a school library needs to be responsive to its users and not demand its users to fit into its own model. In public libraries the user needs the resources so will adapt their practice to use it. However in a school the users, or students can easily decide they don’t want to use the library and they don’t necessarily need to. However, if you match your library to their needs and be open minded about this then what you can achieve is something really special, personalised to your students and ultimately a great success.
4. A resilient optimist. By this I mean you have to realise that it is impossible on a day to day basis to make the impact and achieve your goals. In a school these need to be long term things that you want to achieve and you need to be realistic in understanding that these goals and objectives might change at the drop of a hat as education so often does! You’re going to face disappointment and failure on a daily basis especially if it’s trying to work with other departments, however if you realise this and importantly accept it then it’s not that bad. Importantly it also allows you to realise that there are opportunities out that and that you need to take them whenever they arise and that you need to keep trying no matter what the setback is. Unfortunately too many librarians see this as being passive aggressive and thinking that everyone should listen to you and want to work with you because , well they just should. This may be the case but this attitude doesn’t achieve anything positive.
5. Thick skinned. Being a resilient optimist and having to face numerous setbacks also means it’s vitally important to gain a bit of a thick skin. In education and in many schools you will come across lots of people who are ‘in it for themselves’ and only concerned about getting one up, or looking good. Unfortunately this mentality seems to permeate most schools as it’s the kind of attitude that normally ends up getting what they want in the ever fickle bubble that is education. However, just remember that it’s not about being seen to do the right things it’s about actually doing it and doing it for the right reasons!
6. Reading Specialist. This is the final point and the one that I feel really embodies what a school librarian should be. OK, so a big part of a school librarians job is about information. Information searching, gathering and information literacy skills. But these are skills that are best delivered through the classroom by the teachers on a consistent explicit basis rather than an ad hoc one. The thing that is needed in schools and the thing that no one else is able to do is to be that of a reading specialist. What I mean by this is a person that has not only the knowledge about how we read and the science behind it but also about how we can engage readers and develop them in our schools. How we can promote and advocate reading and a reading culture across the our school community and importantly how we can use our knowledge and understanding of the individuals in our school to help them to improve their proficiency and ability in reading and so help improve their learning at the same time as helping our teachers to improve their teaching outcomes. This is the real thing that sets us aside from anyone else in school and the thing that can really make a difference.