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:

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




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

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.

Alive Poets Society

Michael Hughes, who is an English teacher has set up Alive Poets Society site for pupils to publish their own poetry.  Schools can request access for their own area of the site. It looks like a wonderful idea to me! Great for encouraging pupils to write poetry, especially leading up to National Poetry Day (October 16th). For further details please contact Michael on

Author Podcasts now available!

Snip20150225_7Cotsen Children’s Library has interviewed children’s authors since 2009, and has just made these interviews available for free as podcasts.  There is a good mixture of well known authors on there – Philip Pullman, Sharon Creech, Joseph Delaney and Kaye Umansky, to name a few.  To read about the programme, and how the author Lloyd Alexander inspired the interviews, see here.  To read more about the featured authors including transcripts of the interviews, see here. This is a great archive that Cotsen Children’s Library has built up – thanks to them for making all of this freely available.

BiblioFiles artwork by Aliisa Lee. Used with permission.

Hay Levels – have you seen them yet?

The Hay Levels is a new YouTube channel, with 3-5 minute short films by leading academics and experts on various subjects to do with AL subjects.  They include Simon Singh talking about the Big Bang Theory, Marcus du Sautoy talking about Trigonometry and Logarithms, Richard Dawkins on Irreducible Complexity in religion and Simon Schama on the Weirdness of History.  Great as lesson starters to get pupils thinking – and free!

Life as a pupil librarian

After reading the great article in the Guardian by pupil librarian James, I asked him to write a piece for Heart.  James was really pleased to do so.  I think he is a shining example to hold up to our pupil librarians, and we should encourage more of them to join his Facebook page. This is what James has to say:

I really enjoy my work as a Pupil Librarian in my School’s Library. I’ve been Pupil Librarian for just over 3 years.  The Library I work in is located in (or was- we are currently having a new roof fitted!)  a stunning building, perfect as a library. We even have our claim to fame- Isaac Newton’s signature (allegedly!) We have 2 library staff, and a team of 10 Pupil Librarians. Our Pupil Librarian team have to go through a proper application process….. preparation for working life!

We have a stock of around 10000 books, a growing selection of DVDs & audiobooks and we also subscribe to a number of magazines. We like (and encourage) pupil recommendations for stock in the Library.  As time has gone on, I’ve got more confident with using Web2.0 technologies- I now run the School Library Blog ( ), and have my own blog ( ) too! I’m currently experimenting with Glogster, Wikispaces and other Web 2.0 tools.

I also write the Library newsletter, which we produce termly. Book reviews, library news, updates on library closures, how students can get involved with the library, e-resources and how to get more out of our resources. Sometimes, I’ll write a piece all about a special library I’ve visited- Lincoln University Library, RHS Harlow Carr Library and my local library.  We run a Library Book Club, which we launched on World Book Day 2012- we had a good turnout and the club is going strong! The Library also hosts a Warhammer Club, run by our Librarian, which attracts a good number of pupils. All these activities aim to boost pupil awareness of the Library!  The School has a thought for the week, and I try to find a quote for our library blog……normally a thought for the month. I think the Dr Seuss quotes are great.

Displays are also important in our library. The whole library team contribute to the displays, and pupils like to get involved as well- it’s good fun! Just before we broke up for Summer, we did a collage of book covers- wild and wacky, but really well received by pupils. Everyone wanted to share a book they liked- from gardening to Warhammer magazines, George Orwell to GCSE study guides.  So, I do hope I can continue my work as a Pupil Librarian into sixth form. I took part in CPD23 in 2011, contribute to various library forums and am currently a member on The Guardian Children’s Books website. I am also the co-founder and moderator of the Student Library Assistants’ Network(SLANet), a group for pupil librarians like me to share ideas and discussions about their work within the school library! The link for the group is:

By James K, November 2011    Pupil Librarian