Children’s librarians are ambitious bakers: 'You like the jelly doughnut? I’ll get you a jelly doughnut. But you should try my cruller, too. My cruller is gonna blow your mind, kid.”
- Attributed to John Green
It has been a long time since I have posted anything - twelve months today, to be precise. In that time, Mrs C21 and I have purchased our first long-term debt, otherwise known as a house, our first child is nearly three, and child number two (and last!) is due around the end of November. We have had a few deaths in the family, dementia is starting to set in on one family member which is devastating to watch, and it has all been exciting and terrifying.
Moving onto the subject of this article, in my current role with ClickView, I work with around three hundred schools, and a lot of my conversations are with the library staff, as that is quite often, where ClickView is managed in schools. School libraries are, I believe, in a state of existential crisis. I am seeing a lot of schools not replace qualified librarians with qualified librarians when the incumbent retires, I have seen schools built without a physical library - everything is digital, and I have walked into a library and thought to myself that if I was a student at that school I would not step foot into the library - thankfully that has only occurred once.
I remember, as a student, going to the file card cabinet to search for books on a particular topic, and then using the file card to find that particular book on the shelf. The advent of the internet, and more specifically, Google and Wikipedia, has rendered those file cards redundant. In many cases, it has also, unfortunately, rendered the librarian somewhat obsolete.
The challenge now is for libraries and librarians to re-imagine themselves and to assert their value to schools and learning. I am sure that you have all heard the quote attributed to Neil Gaiman that says “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” This sentiment has become increasingly important with the advent of Trump and the fake-news mantra, the gullibility of people who take everything they read on the internet as fact, and the trend of society consuming increasing amounts of its news not from printed or broadcast media, but from social media.
The old man was peering intently at the shelves. 'I'll have to admit that he's a very competent scholar.'
"Isn't he just a librarian?" Garion asked, "somebody who looks after books?"
"That's where all the rest of scholarship starts, Garion. All the books in the world won't help you if they're just piled up in a heap.”
-David Eddings, King of the Murgos
While I am seeing some stagnation, some librarians resigned to retiring and someone simply filling their shoes rather than replacing them; I am also seeing hope, and librarians who are working hard to continue to keep themselves visibly relevant and useful. I recently walked into a school library in a small country town. The building is three flights of stairs up, and is basic brick. When I walked in, and moved just past the circulation desk, I was greeted by an organised riot of colours. There were posters promoting various novels on the walls, a small stand that contained a series of Shakespeares' works but in manga format (you can find them here), some brightly coloured beanbags, some small reading nooks for quiet reading and I could see that there was some influence from the cave, campfire, watering hole philosophy.
I have been in order libraries where they have completely restructured how they organise the books away from Dewey and simple alphabetising and group them into genres (I am seeing this a lot at the moment), or having sections of shelving dedicated to hosting the books that are about particular themes being studied that contain books which would, under Dewey, be kept quite separately such as science and geography. I have seen libraries which have become outreach centres for students; hosting breakfasts for those students who are unable to get breakfast at home, hosting homework and study sessions, have setup small group-study spaces for group projects, and in some schools become a site for board games to be played and rediscovered by the next generation.
I have also, moving into the more technological side of things, seen schools re-purpose themselves to become a hub for robotics, STE(A)M programs, recording spaces for teachers and students, and in one school I visited recently in South-East Queensland, there is a cafe attached to the library which is accessible both from within and without the library very similar to how some universities set themselves up.
“The librarians were mysterious. It was said they could tell what book you needed just by looking at you, and they could take your voice away with a word.”
-Terry Pratchett Wintersmith
Scott Douglas is purported to have said “It took a bit of popcorn and a library snack bar to make me realize that being a librarian was about more than just giving people information. It was about serving a community. And if the community is hungry for more than just knowledge, then maybe it’s about time to open a snack bar.” There are so many things that can be done to help reinvigorate your school library, and having a qualified librarian is incredibly important. Lance and Kachel published a literature review in March 2018 (available here) that examined research into the impact of qualified librarians on schools from the body of research on the topic since 1992 which, broadly speaking, indicated a positive correlation between librarians and library programs with student achievements.
Following on from Lance and Kachel, Margaret Merga published an article in October 2018 titled How do Librarians in Schools Support Struggling Readers (the full published article is available here, a more accessible version of the article is available here). It makes for interesting reading and I would suggest that it is worth re-publishing aspects of the more accessible version in your school newsletter and putting it up on the staff-room wall to highlight to parents and colleagues alike that having a qualified librarian is valuable for your students learning outcomes.
What is happening in your school library at the moment? What can you do to help your librarian be recognised for the value they contribute to the school and your students' learning?