A (school) librarian abroad

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to transport yourself to work in another country?  International Schools very often advertise, but what would it really be like to take up that offer?  Marion Prickett tells all…

In August 2014 I set off on the biggest adventure of my life. After a whirlwind of interviews, packing and moving I was off to Malaysia as the first Librarian at Epsom College in Malaysia. I would like to say that in true Librarian style I carefully researched by new home and workplace, but there was no time for that and so I arrived to the heat and humidity of the tropics in high summer. I enjoy something different and a challenge and I got both. Unfortunately, the building programme was delayed and so our accommodation was not ready, however, what we lost in permanent accommodation we gained in team building and bonding. We started off with about 28 academic staff, and a small but vital team of admin staff. The school opened after three weeks of hard slog to try and turn a recently handed over building site into a functioning school of 140 students. The College had intentionally omitted recruiting for years 11 and 13 as it would be unreasonable to expect a start-up to run exams at the end of the first year.

The library was bare when I arrived, the furniture was in plastic wrapping, the books were a far off dream, there were no computers for the students and my assistant, Atiqah and I had one laptop between us. Luckily I had bought my MacBook. The lack of computers hardly mattered as the internet was inadequate. We borrowed books from families to cover the first weeks and thanks to a brilliant idea from Val Dewhurst (QEGS) we appeared to display books we had ordered on the shelves.

By half term we had taken delivery of 3,500 books – not as many as I expected but there had been some adjustments to the book order, we also had nearly 300 DVDs, various online resources, some locally bought resources, a really good selection of posters and surprisingly happy Library users. Unfortunately, when the Library management system was eventually installed and the data loaded it was found to be flawed and everything had to be re-entered. Right from the beginning the library had been running lessons for students from nursery to Year 7 – this was later extended to year 8. I did induction sessions and teachers enthusiastically used the library.

I visited any book shops I could find, although they were very few and I really had to travel to Kuala Lumpur, over an hour’s drive away. The Malaysians are very kind and helpful and our local staff helped us all to feel welcome and at home.

I am now in my fourth and final year at Epsom College in Malaysia and it has been the best working years of my life. Unfortunately, if I am to see my husband for more than two short visits a year then I have to return to the UK where he works.

The pluses of living and working in Malaysia? The best job ever. I have worked in a fabulous school with colleagues to match. I am a Head of Department, I have an excellent assistant, I am never questioned about how I run the Library because I am trusted. The governors come and say hello whenever they come to the College for meetings. I feel as if my contribution and opinions really matters to the life of the College. I have been expected to join academic committees, I help to run a competition with other international school librarians to challenge our readers. I choose the stock. I am well paid by international standards and very well paid by UK standards, I have a benefits package exactly the same as the teachers – because I am on a par with them, including ID90 which gives us 90% off the price of Air Asia flights. I suffer none of the problems commonly encountered by many UK school Librarians.

The minuses about living and working in Malaysia? There are very few. Family are a long way away, Skype is great for day to day contact but it is still a long way and the difference in time zones means it can be difficult to keep in touch. It often takes longer to get things done than in the UK, The College is a long drive from anywhere, when we first arrived the nearest really nice supermarket was about an hour’s drive away, or it was a trip to Kuala Lumpur. I don’t like chillies and spices – a real disadvantage when even babies chew on a chilli (OK, not quite but they are definitely brought up on spicy food). I wish we had all been encouraged to learn the local language of Bahasa or Mandarin. Living on campus means it is hard to switch off (which I am not very good at anyway). There are some very unpleasant diseases here that have no cure. You are recommended to have rabies jabs if you plan to do anything wild and adventurous, dengue fever is vicious as my colleagues who have suffered can testify. The heat can be over-powering – thank goodness for good quality air con – everywhere. The driving standards are very different to the UK. I imagine if you lived in Kuala Lumpur it would be very easy to spend money on food and entertainment. Not a problem out here as almost the only booze is on the campus – the local commercial/retail development is owned by the local mosque and unsurprisingly they do not permit their tenants to sell alcohol.

Back in the summer of 2016, I visited Epsom College, UK. I wanted to see their library – I love to visit different libraries and see if I can improve what I do and share my ideas too. My headmaster mentioned exchanges often and so I suggested to the UK Librarian that we might be the trail blazers for this scheme which at that point was really only an idea. On returning to ECiM I suggested the idea to the headmaster who agreed, although I am not sure how certain he was it would come to anything. Anyway, Sue Nichols and I organised the exchange between us, kept our schools informed, sorted out paperwork (there was a surprising amount), and then in January swapped our lives. I inherited her lovely house in Dorking, her cat, and her job, including her three assistants. I had the easiest end of it as I am obviously familiar with life in the UK, although the cold was colder than I remembered! The staff at ECUK were very welcoming and kind, especially the Library assistants. The library provides lots of resources to year nine for various projects they undertake across the curriculum, year 12s and 13s were frequent library users and small groups used the Languages room on one side of the Library. Year 7and 8 also use the library weekly for silent reading. Epsom having been established since the mid 1800s has very impressive archives in the dungeons, clearly a lot of time and effort have gone into the creation, care and use of these. ECUK has twice as many students as ECiM and all in years 7 and above, this gives the school a very busy, bustling feel. It was surprising how small a group of Year 6s looked when they visited the school as part of their student recruitment programme. ECUK have an excellent book supplier who was extremely helpful – and so quick to deliver. I felt enormously envious as quick book delivery is something we cannot do. There are book suppliers in Malaysia but their stock is not as wide or diverse as UK suppliers. It was strange driving into work again and the state of Surrey roads was a shock – definitely worse than Malaysian roads. However, the joy of going home at weekends – I only had to work one Saturday during the exchange instead of almost every one as I do in Malaysia – was fantastic.

Since I have been back, everyone has asked if the College in the UK is ‘better’ – no it isn’t, but it isn’t worse either. It is different. ECUK is a traditional English boarding school with a long and proud history which they are very aware of, it caters for 11-18 year olds, the vast majority of whom have English as their home language. This makes some things easier but it is surprising how quickly you miss the diversity we have. Here our students range in age from 3 years old to 18+years old. Only a minority have English as their home language although many are very proficient in English as well as one two and sometimes more languages. So the voices raised in our corridors are often higher and beyond my comprehension whilst in ECUK you most hear English spoken by more mature voices as students in both places hurry from one class to another.

I would recommend anyone who can to do such an exchange, it is always interesting to see your life and career from a different perspective. You cannot help learn new things and take away new experiences. You will see things differently to your exchange partner and may be able to make useful suggestions, if you are a little nervous of working overseas but think it might be for you then this may be an excellent way to test the water and see how you like it.

Go on, go to the International Jobs section on the TES website and see what is there. You might surprise yourself. I did and love it.

Marion Prickett

College Librarian.

Epsom College in Malaysia.

library@epsomcollege.edu.my

A book award with a difference – Trinity Schools Book Award

The Trinity Schools Book Award was originally set up for a group of independent schools in the South East of England.   Now in it’s fourth year, it has expanded to include other schools who would like to join.  I have to declare an interest, in that I am part of this group, but that is not the only reason I am writing about this on Heart.

School Librarians around the country – and local School Library Services (where they still exist) have set up book awards all around the country.  To see the variety of these look at the Local Book Awards tab on Heart.  One, quite notably, has become a national award because it is so unique – the Excelsior Award which is the only book award to focus solely on Graphic Novels.  This award is the brainchild of Paul Register, who was a school librarian when he set it up, and now is an independent trainer who teaches on the importance of graphic novels.

So with this plethora of local book awards, why am I flagging up the Trinity Schools Book Award as being a bit different?  Well, we believe that our USP is that alongside the normal book reviews and reading the books, we have set up a Creative Response Review.  The responses from the pupils to the books has been quite staggering!  I thought that their responses deserved a wider audience, and that this is perhaps something that you might consider for your award as well.  The creative response brings out a different side to the books, and the authors are usually delighted.  Sarah Govett, who won this year’s Award with her book The Territory delightedly tweeted screenshots of the responses to her book after the winning announcement.  To look at the Creative Responses to this year’s books on the theme of A New World, click on the link. You can see Creative Responses from other years as well, including an Everest cake, a lego response to Mortal Engines, a sea shanty, a piece of music, cosplay, and much more!  Look under the Creative Responses tab on the website to see the other four years.  Click on the logo at the start of this piece to visit the website – and enjoy!

School Librarians Network – our lifeline!

Do you belong to the internet group School Librarians Network yet?  If not, I really have to ask, why not?  SLN is a lifeline for school librarians everywhere.  Many of us are solo librarians, without anyone else to bounce ideas off, unlike teachers who have departmental colleagues to do that with.  Therefore many of us struggle on, inventing everything from scratch, creating everything and not having anyone to consult about problems that are solely library related.  Well, SLN is the answer to that!  Started by the inspirational Elizabeth Bentley more than 15 years ago – and I have certainly been a member for that long and it wasn’t new then – SLN was a Yahoo Group.  It is a safe place to bounce ideas around, ask Dewey queries, ask LMS questions, share problems and find a sympathetic ear, ask copyright questions and much, much more! SLN has a wealth of files that members can access, where generous librarians have shared displays, book lists and quizzes.  You need only to ask, and generally somebody else has done that and will share with you.

The reason why I am writing about this now – although it is always a good time to join SLN – is that Elizabeth has migrated the group from a Yahoo group to a Groups.io group instead.  This is a more reliable platform, and will give the group greater flexibility.  All of the files have been migrated too, so years of work has not been lost.  All current members were automatically migrated, but if you are reading this and are thinking that you need to belong to this inspirational community – and who wouldn’t! – then the joining details have changed.  Simply send an email to: SLN+subscribe@groups.io to join the community.  See you there!

Image courtesy of Britannica Image Quest.

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The Mixed Blessings of Book Donations

Following a heated discussion about book donations on Twitter over the new year, Barbara Band who is a School Library, Literacy and Reading Consultant and a retired school librarian with many years of experience behind her, wrote this piece for Heart about what do you do with inappropriate donations? and should you have a policy for donations at all?

School libraries need to be well-stocked with a wide range of resources for all ages and abilities. Not just fiction books but also non-fiction to support the curriculum, provide inspiration for students’ interests and exploration of whatever piques their curiosity. School libraries cater for very specific needs, some of these will be the same in every school but each with have its own peculiarities: the curriculum, the interests of students which can vary wildly – a town with a local ice hockey team is likely to have a large proportion of the student body interested in the sport and I’ve worked in schools where there was a huge interest in fishing yet none of my local colleagues reported the same – and every school librarian will have a wish list of specific titles; the next book in a series, a new publication by a popular author, something they’ve seen in a bookshop that will fit in well with the collection.
In a time of budget constraints stocking a school library that fits all these parameters can be hard to achieve so donations can be useful. However, I would often find that the donations turned out to be inappropriate, nevertheless I still said “yes” every time somebody said “I’m clearing out some books, would you like them”?
Why? Because you never know what gems you might find – after all, one day there may be a Harry Potter first edition that you could sell for vast sums (I wish!). But alongside that yes would be the caveat that the library had a stock selection policy* and that anything that wasn’t suitable would be offered to departments first and then given to charity. I never had a single person say they weren’t happy with that.
So how did I decide what to keep?
• The first assessment would be on the condition of the book or magazine. Was it in a reasonable state with no sticky substances or pages falling out? Was it damaged or defaced?

• Fiction – if it was a popular book then I would keep it for additional copies. If it was something that I didn’t think would be borrowed (for example, where I already had the book with a more up-to-date cover or it was by an author who was no longer read) then I would use it for the “reading boxes” that I stocked in every tutor group or put it in my regular book sale to raise funds for new stock. If the book was recent and “as new” I would consider it for a library competition prize.

• Non-fiction – these were assessed for relevance to the curriculum, accuracy and whether they were up-to-date. School librarians struggle to get others to understand that we constantly need to weed our stock. As librarians, our task is to help students find the information they need, to guide them to a book they may enjoy, and the ultimate aim is for students to become readers for pleasure and independent learners, finding what they want without our intervention. We cannot stand over every student and check what they have taken off the shelves – if a student does their homework using an out-of-date library book and gets it wrong, who is at fault? Facts change over time – we no longer have nine planets – and even recipe books have to be treated with caution. Older ones would not give guidance regarding unpasteurised products and pregnancy.

• Basically any book I added to the shelves from donations had to supplement or enhance what I already had. After that, any surplus fiction that I didn’t want I would pass to the English department for their classroom libraries although rather than dump piles of books on them, I’d catch staff when in the library and ask them to look through them.

• Likewise, if there were any books that I felt would be useful to the SEN department (fiction and non-fiction) then I would pass on these too.

• Non-fiction books would be distributed to relevant departments – again, I would remove anything that was horrendously out-of-date or in poor condition. Departmental libraries are different from the school library. Teachers are able to direct students towards particular chapters where the information is still relevant, for example, the section on gravity in a science encyclopaedia is unlikely to date whereas information about space travel would need to be checked.

• Some books, whilst not suitable for any of the above, could still be used – for papercrafts in the library, as backing paper for quotes, I’ve even used falling-apart graphic novels to create bookmarks (the Simpson’s ones were very popular!).

• The (hopefully) diminishing pile left would be taken to a charity shop – I know my local one collects books not suitable for sale and sells them for pulp so I feel that not only am I helping the charity but also the environment. However, there were always some books which wouldn’t even be suitable for this so those would be put directly into the recycle bin.
School libraries have limited space and each book needs to “earn its keep” on the shelves; keeping old and tatty books in case somebody might want to borrow them means no space for the new books. I’ve weeded sections before and been asked by students and staff whether I’ve bought more books – the old stuff hides the new! School libraries also rarely have store rooms so books that are removed usually have to be disposed of and we can’t stock a book on every single possible thing we may be asked for. Do continue to think about your school library when donating books but please don’t expect them to keep everything and maybe have a sort out of them first to save the librarian that trip to the charity shop?
* A stock selection policy should give the rationale for why stock is selected or rejected. A statement such as: “Resources are selected to ensure stock is of a high quality, current and appropriate. They form part of a balanced collection, providing cultural diversity, differing perspectives and viewpoints, without bias and stereotyping. Resources include a range of formats to support each subject as well as individual learning styles. Any donations will be considered in the same way.”

Barbara Band
School Library, Reading and Literacy Consultant

Creating an online book club: professional development for school library staff

This is a guest blog post from Elizabeth Hutchinson (@Elizabethutch) If you wish to join in, please either contact her on Twitter or on this email: ehutchinson@library.gg

Elizabeth Hutchinson is Head of Schools’ Library Service in Guernsey. She is a chartered librarian with special interests in school libraries.  This includes raising the profile of school libraries and qualified librarians through advocacy, promoting the importance of information literacy within the curriculum and working alongside teachers using technology to support independent learning for students. She was runner-up in LILAC 2016 information literacy award and is also an international speaker.

I have always felt that I do not read enough non-fiction for my own professional development. I regularly read the CILIP Update and The School librarian, which if I am honest, amounts to a quick flick through unless something really shouts out to me. I enjoyed reading non-fiction when I was studying for my degree and then my masters, and when I think about this I realised that it was because there was a purpose to it. Professional development is a journey and part of my journey was about understanding that I find reading non-fiction very difficult without a reason.

Social media changed my professional development journey when I began to understand how I could use it to support my own learning. No longer did I have to hunt out the information that would be useful for me. If I was following the right people they would be curating the useful articles and research that I needed for my role as a librarian. I have read far more because of these wonderful people who are so willing to share and encourage discussion.

However, I still had this niggling feeling that I should be reading non-fiction books but knowing what to read or finding the incentive was difficult for me. I have run a fiction book club with a group of my friends for over 5 years now. What I have learnt from this book group is that there are real benefits from letting others choose the books. I have read several that I would never have picked up on my own and I have enjoyed discussing the books I have not enjoyed as much as the ones that I have.

The moment to start a PD online book club came out of the blue. I had done no research. I did not know what platform I was going to use. I did not have a list of books and if I am honest I did not know I was going to do this until the moment I decided to respond to the last question on the first ever twitter chat for #ukslachat. “What is going to be your new years resolution? If you are making one” I posted this response without really thinking about it. “I would like to start a #PD non-fiction book club. Probably online. Anyone interested?” I immediately had 5 responses saying that if I did they would love to join in.

For those of you that don’t know me should know that I am the kind of person who is very spontaneous. I do have a lot of experience and knowledge of school library services and if I think something feels right I am the kind of person to give it a go and learn by my mistakes rather than spending hours weighing up the problems or consequences. This is why I then found myself trying to work out how I was going to make this book club happen.

A little planning and thought did have to go into the next bit and luckily I do have a good knowledge of twitter hashtags, padlet platforms and access to a lot of lovely librarians who wanted to join in. Once I realised that I would not have to come up with the list of books and the librarians were willing to share books that they wanted to read I knew that this could be done and the new online non-fiction book club (#nonfbc) was born.

I have created a page on padlet that anyone who messages me via Direct Message through twitter can have access to. I have tried to keep it small but maybe this is not manageable so will have to monitor this. There is also a twitter hashtag #nonfbc for comments. We chose the first book Reading by Right: Successful strategies to ensure every child can read to succeed on the 5th December and will chat about it on the 23rd January. I think I will be using both platforms for the discussion as not everyone is on twitter or in the same time zone. There will be a set time for each discussion but anyone can join in at a later time/date if they wish. I still need to think about questions for our discussion but that will happen as I read this first book. I think that is all I need to do for now so it is just a case of watching and learning as I go along.

If you would like to join in just get in touch and come along for the ride. It may not be perfect but hopefully we will all learn something on this journey.

Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

 

 

 

Christmas TV 2017 – Books into Film

This is the most eagerly anticipated and read post every year!  The wonderful Helen Smith from Eckington School in Derbyshire produces a guide to Christmas TV every year, linking films to books.  A great opportunity to promote reading!  Helen provides this for free every year, and she allows free distribution.  However, please ensure that you acknowledge her as the author of this guide.  Also, Helen asks that if you enjoy this guide you consider donating to the page she has set up for the National Literacy Trust.

Author Giveaway! – Cliff McNish

In one of those wonderful emails I sometimes get, author Cliff McNish contacted me with an amazing offer this week.  He wondered if I would like to offer all of you his six writing guides – for free!  These are the guides that are normally given to schools as a part of his author visit, but Cliff felt that in this time of shrinking budgets he would like to offer these out to everyone. Of course I said yes!

Cliff is the author of the chilling novel for teenagers Breathe, and the fantasy Doomspell trilogy, as well as books for younger children.  You can see the books he has written, and learn more about his school visits on his website here.

The six guides are entitled The 4 Basic Stories, Five Easy Steps to Creating a Great Story, Creating great Heroes/Heroines in your stories, Creating Great Villains in Your Stories How to Write a Fantasy Story and How to Write a Ghost Story.

I hope that you find these really helpful to your school.  Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or go to his website to find out more.

 

 

Dear Justine Greening – please save our school libraries!

Today a missive has been fired in the battle to try and halt the fast rate at which school libraries are closing.  With school budgets increasingly squeezed, it is very often that school librarians find they are suffering.  ‘Best’ case scenario is that the school library finds that it has no operating budget, and so pupils are left without access to the latest and best children’s books, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal books.  Worst case, the library is closed, or they make the librarian redundant and let the ‘library’ stumble on as a room full of books.  For of course, as we all know, a room full of books doesn’t become a library until and unless it has a skilled practitioner at the helm.  And a budget!

Former school librarian, author, and past CILIP President Dawn Finch had had enough.  After one particularly poignant tweet she decided to contact Nick Poole, the CEO of CILIP, and together they drafted a letter to Justine Greening.  As Chair of CILIP’s School Libraries Group I was also contacted, and was very proud to be a signatory to the letter.  At about five yesterday there were about 20 signatures.  Just before he went into a meeting Nick Poole tweeted that he wondered if any more authors would like to join in and sign.  When he turned his phone on after the meeting. Nick said ‘twitter had melted!‘ By the time the letter was published this morning, there were 150 signatures.  But authors have continued to tweet their support, and so the list of those who support school libraries is growing. The Bookseller also wrote a great piece in support of the cause.

The letter has now been sent to Justine Greening, and you can read the full text of it here.  There is so much more to add – as others have pointed out, we haven’t even touched on the role that librarians play in digital literacy yet, or in wellbeing.  But first things first!

There is also a hashtag going around called #schoollibrariesmatter. Please tweet using this hashtag.  Follow @NickPoole1 @dawnafinch and @CILIPSLG to retweet all the wonderful replies.  Let’s give this legs!

Finally, for a piece of work connected to this, Nick Poole has asked me to collect data around the running costs of STATE school libraries.  Please could you add your data to this Google Document. It is completely anonymous – all we want is Salary+budget  and County.  If more than one librarian included in that salary please indicate, and if zero budget please indicate too.

Thank you all!

 

Poetry kites at John Lyon School

As the theme of this year’s National Poetry Day was Freedom, Librarian Rita Halsey wrote to share the activity she set up in her school.   She says: ‘We celebrated National Poetry Day on Thursday 28 September, with a lunchtime event in the Library. As the theme was Freedom we used kite templates for our budding poets’ compositions, enticing them in with a tasty selection of cakes, sweets and biscuits.’

 

Her Marketing Department tweeted about the event, and it generated a lot of interest – as it would, being such an unusual event! National Poetry Day twitter account was very enthusiastic, as you can see.

Twitter is such a good medium for reaching people – anything you want Heart to retweet, just copy me in on @HeartOTSchool and I will do so.