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 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: 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

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.



Creating zines: creative library lessons at Fort Pitt Grammar School

Kim Davis, Librarian at Fort Pitt Grammar School in Chatham, got very creative with zines with her Year 8 Library lessons.  This is what she says:

I wanted to combine some research with a bookmaking activity and found that Zines were ideal. It was around the time of the US elections too, and many of the students wanted to be more politically active in response. Firstly we had a lesson using Barnard Zine Library’s “What is a Zine? What is the value of protest?”

We looked some example zines I’d printed and compared zines to magazines before choosing a zine to pull apart. We looked at how clear the message was, use of images to inform and entice readers and how persuasive they were. For homework the girls had to decide groups and pick a topic to focus their zine on.

Then we spent a lesson focussing on how to make a zine, using a zine about making zines from the Umamu Design Blog. Students were then encouraged to make a mock-up and decide on content for each page.

In the final lesson all the zines were brought in and we gave feedback on each other’s work based on how attractive they were, how well laid out information was and how clear and persuasive the message was. I was surprised by the quality of the work and the originality of some of the ideas! There was also a real journey from the students not knowing what a zine was at all, and being very confused in some cases, to creating amazing and expressive zines of their own. Definitely a recommended activity, especially if you have time to include some information credibility and plagiarism in there too.


Taking information literacy lessons into Google Classroom

Valerie Dewhurst, Librarian at QEGS Blackburn recently made her first step in to moving her information literacy lessons online.  Her school has moved to Google Classroom, and she emailed me about her first online lesson.

Firstly my main priority was to make sure students know just exactly what Information Literacy actually means/covers ….. So students are being well-informed as I go on to explain that IL is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognise when information is needed, and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. This initial breakdown has worked well, and is getting us off to a really good start.
It’s been a while coming but finally I have managed to upload my IL resources to Google Classroom, and start to deliver these to my Yr 7, 8 and 9 during library lessons. My main concern for speeding up with this move was because I could see our students drowning in information, and misinformation.  Information Literacy skills to my knowledge are not tested in schools – so teaching IL has never been more important. However, as all librarians are fully aware teaching IL is just not that straight forward; lack of library contact time with students or lack of our own confidence in teaching these skills.  I was prepared to upload my existing resources to Google Classroom because I wanted to continue teaching IL skills but in a more up-to-date way, in-keeping with how many subjects now teach in my school.  I also at the same time wanted to deliver these critical, all-important information skills in ways that would capture and hold our student’s interest. We all know how quickly some students can switch off – so being prepared for this is much needed.
I purposely waited until students were familiar with the system – it was introduced here in 2015. I was indeed apprehensive to start with – but now feel there is no going back. I have attended twilight training in school – and very much wish to keep this training up.
Pupils work through the uploaded tasks at their own pace – I am aiming for two tasks to be completed per lesson as Accelerated Reader takes priority. Pupils can access from home and work through more tasks if they so wish – many Year 9 students have requested to do this. What I have recently found is that when students are logging into  Google Classroom to complete homework for subjects some are actually logging into the IL section too – completing a few tasks.  So I need to speed up uploading my resources as students are working at a pace far greater than I imagined.
Some topics planned to be covered are:
Planning, research or posing a question – e.g. “Is global warming real.”
Organising a way to search for the answer
Finding resources – such as databases, documentary films, Web sites, print sources etc.
Evaluating the resources and thinking about them – Who made the message and why? What is left out of the message? How might others view the message differently?
Expressing the information learned in meaningful ways – e.g. student produced podcasts, wikis etc.
Following on from Information Literacy I also intend to upload many Library & Research Skills – with much work featured on Dewey.  I am amazed at the excitement, engagement, and collaborative working students have show using these resources.  I have asked if students would like to see anything in particular uploaded – requests are already coming in, more Dewey is a popular request.
There are still some hands on tasks – even using Google Classroom you can still maintain this.  Tasks are easy to modify and upload.  Students comment/answer on your set tasks – as a librarian delivering these tasks you can see the results. You can give feedback – you can instantly reply.  You can differentiate your groups – you can start small and aim high.  You can upload short YouTube videos, Dewey game links, it’s your choice – you are the creator. You can add tasks or full on assignments. I am slowly adding over 11 years of Information Literacy/Library Skills etc – while adding I am also updating them, which can only be a good thing.  There are a multitude of skills I want to teach – this is giving me the opportunity to do so while not taking up too much time – plus just think how much I am saving on paper and ink!
Now that I have received some comments back/work completed I have started to look over students answers and I am amazed, delighted – proud.  I couldn’t have expected anything more.  There is no excuse for students to be bored – there is always something for students to move onto – this is your area, these are your tasks, your teaching.  Google Classroom is also convenient if you ever need your group to be covered – cover work set would be to work through IL tasks on GC – just remember to have lots uploaded, and tell your students that you have high expectations of their answers.
I must thank the SLA website for their very detailed schemes of work – which have helped me in my own work. Don’t forget you as a librarian can take the IL course with the SLA – just to get yourself up to scratch, and feeling a little more confident when delivering your sessions.
Hoping others start to make the switch too, and enjoy the freedom of teaching online.
V B Dewhurst, Head of Library, QEGS Blackburn

Advent Calendar 2016

This great advent calendar was created by Sarah Masters from the Thomas Deacon Academy.  She is using it to send to tutors to advertise books in the library.  As you click each star for each day, a different page opens with a book and a link to a book trailer.  Sarah has been generous in allowing people to adapt the powerpoint to their own needs, therefore this will download in powerpoint and not pdf as usual. You can download it from the Box Files to the right of the posts.  Thanks Sarah!


NaNoWriMo Young Writers Programme

This year, nanowrimoin my school, we plan to take part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.  There is a Young Writer’s Programme for the under-18’s.  So I have created my Virtual Classroom, added in the participating students and their teacher, and await November 1st to see how it all pans out.  Has anyone else taken part in this with their students?  How did it go for you?  Leave a comment!

Here’s the website if you want to join in too:

Murder by the Book!

On Monday 4th July, KS3 students at Abraham Darby Academy, Telford, were presented with an unusual library-based activity: solving the mysterious murder of a librarian’s assistant!
Run as a competition to help students develop both group and individual oracy skills, ‘Murder by the Book’ challenged student teams to visit a crime scene set up in the library, investigate 44 different clues within a set time limit and work together to uncover the truth. After completing their warm-up detective exams, teams spread out across the library to discover, deduce and determine.
With three suspects in the frame (including the librarian herself) and a number of red herrings to lead teams astray,
all themurder-by-the-book-2 clues had to be carefully examined, recorded and cross-referenced. After visiting the crime scene, teams were then given time to pool their ideas and formulate theories as to who did it, why, how and also how the remaining two suspects could be proven innocent.
The activity culminated with each team presenting their findings before a ‘judge’. Individual team members were tasked with explaining certain sections of their case and marks were awarded for the clarity of their murder-by-the-book-3presentations, along with the number of clues accurately explained. After the winning team was selected and awarded their certificates, the murderess revealed herself and the whole solution was presented. All students involved were fully engaged with the activity and the complexity of the case generated some lively discussions and resulting presentations.
Produced by Box Clever Education, ‘Murder by the Book’  is a unique murder mystery kit designed to help KS3/4 students develop literacy and employability skills. If you think a murder mystery would appeal to your students and would like to find out more, please visit
For a unique opportunity to see the game in action on a training day in a school in SE London, then book on to this CILIPSLG Training day which takes place on 24th October 2016.