Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Cotham School Library, Bristol

After attending a career’s event at UWE in November I arranged a visit to Cotham School Library in Bristol with their Librarian. I’ve always been interested in school librarianship but the idea of lone working frankly scares the bejesus out of me (self confidence thing - I'm working on it though). Much like public librarianship I think there are hidden depths to the variety and scope of school librarianship that people don’t realise. This was affirmed after spending the morning in the library. The librarian works in a small team with two other library assistants on part time contracts but the running and maintenance of the library and the stock are ultimately her responsibility. Along with this there is also the need to liaise with teaching staff and the chance to teach information literacy sessions and other library sessions in the library and out in the school.

On the Cotham School website it says "The Library aims to be a whole school resource, providing materials for all aspects of school work as well as for the development of personal interest and recreational reading." The collection is very impressive and in my opinion lives up to it's aims. It also includes a staff collection with the latest development textbooks and a small adult fiction selection. The main library is a main floor and a mezzanine. The latter is a quiet sixth form study area which has a mezzanine collection of post 16 fiction along with a bank of computers and tables. This was very well used in the morning that I was there as it was exam time and free lessons can be spent here. The main floor has a bank of twenty computers, a large non-fiction collection and fiction collection including graphic novels. I was impressed by the range of the collection – the fiction collection runs from the predictable Jacqueline Wilson, Robert Muchamore but also has George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and Philippa Gregory novels. I asked the librarian about the mix of junior, YA and adult fiction and there are age guidelines on the inside cover of the older spectrum. All issues and returns are run through the counter which means that staff can supervise what is issued. It was also interesting to note that the librarian doesn't use just one supplier and actually has reps come in to see her on a regular basis.

At break time the library becomes a hive of activity. Although there is a strict silence rule enforced there is a general hum of productivity with students using online facilities, printing homework or just sitting down to read for 10 minutes in between classes. Teaching staff are also timetabled on to supervise in the library during breaks and at lunch and there is a strong sense of discipline. The library is open both before and after school and student's are given every opportunity to use the facilities in the library during opening hours.

I know that one of the harder issues in school librarianship like academic librarianship is gaining the support and respect of the teaching faculty and making sure that the library’s voice and message is getting through to students. There is no better way of doing this than advocating your worth and value to staff. The librarian admitted she is very lucky in that she has a lot of support from both the head and deputy head of the school and weekly staff briefings are actually held in the library making it a vocal point of the school. There is still an issue though which to those outside the profession may not seem a big deal but to those who do the differentiation between librarians and library assistants is significant. Selling the value to libraries and their staff to teaching staff and parents is almost as important as selling it to the students themselves but it can be an uphill struggle. Workshops have been held with parents of year 7 students to support reading for pleasure and dealing with book recommendations but with mixed results.

Being here for just a few hours dispelled a few myths for me. It also taught me that maybe I could do this some day. It is a role with many different threads, it requires creativity and the lateral thinking and I truly believe school librarians in general must be some of the hardest working in the profession. I am not ignorant to the troubles this sector is having at the moment and the idea that schools, especially secondary schools could lose this invaluable resource is maddening and worrying in equal measure. 

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