Every single one of my days at work is different, something that every school librarian will recognise. They are filled with a mix of regular KS3 library lessons and pre-booked research lessons, sprinkled with an assortment of ad-hoc visits from both groups and individuals. In between these I deal with emails and phone calls, and try to get on with the to-do list!
For background, I am a solo librarian in a state secondary school with 1200+ students aged 11 – 18 years.
Week 1 Monday
Period 1: No lessons booked! This is a great way to start the week, although it doesn’t happen very often, as it means I can get my head around the whole week and what resources I’ll need, do any photocopying, deal with the post and check my emails. The Philip Allan journals have arrived so I sort those out for students who have ordered copies and photocopy the contents pages to give to the appropriate Heads of Departments. This way they know what’s in each journal and can direct students to the articles. My emails include a couple of teachers wanting to book in research lessons so I send back information about when the library is free and one about a writing competition. I print off the details onto a flyer that I put into the registers so tutors can promote this amongst the students … and I also email the English department so they can mention it in lessons. I get a few students come in during this lesson to get some History resources for a topic they’re doing.
Period 2: Year 8 Gold Group – the Gold groups are our lower literacy students and I love my library lessons with them, they also like coming to the library! Lessons are an hour long so I spend the first 30 minutes or so reading, we are currently enjoying Eva Ibbotson’s “One Dog and his Boy”. There’s lots of discussion along the way, talking about what words mean, what’s happening in the story and explaining concepts or ideas they don’t understand. As the story is about a journey, we also use a road atlas to find out where they’re travelling through. The second part of the lesson they browse and read something that’s their own choice … books or magazines, I don’t mind as long as they find something they enjoy and connect with. Some of them know exactly what they want to read (usually the newest Match or BMX magazine); others needs a bit of guidance. Once they’re all settled I will often do some shelving or book covering at my desk, nothing that requires too much concentration as I am usually interrupted by them telling me that they’re enjoying their book or explaining something in an article! Talking about what they’re reading is a perfect way to ascertain whether they understand it.
Period 3: this is College Time (aka tutor time) and we have one session of thirty minutes per day. This is actually one of the busiest times in the library. I have regular bookings throughout the week involving peer mentoring, reading groups, the anti-bullying group, student council, EAL students and literacy 1 to 1 sessions from various year groups. I have designed the library space so that it can accommodate these various diverse activities and it works well. Mondays are when I see my HPQ students and deliver their taught skills, and today I go through the sort of evidence I need to see in their project logs showing them some examples from previous years. I find there’s always a few students who want to know exactly what they have to include, mainly because they want to try and get away with doing as little as possible but I tell them “include everything” because the more evidence I have, the more likely they are to get a good grade. Having this session on a Monday means I can plan the lesson over the weekend and create activities for them to do, plus I have time to check over their paperwork to see which of them need extra guidance. The phone rings but I ignore it. I have just about have time to grab a quick coffee before …
Break 1: breaks are not quiet times in the library and people would be forgiven for thinking I worked in a boy’s school if they looked in as 99% of the students are male, ranging from year 7 through to year 11. I have a fairly relaxed attitude, although no food or drink is allowed, and I let them play various board games, play with their hand-held devices or phones, and even play cards. It’s surprising how popular the latter is and I think it develops maths as well as social skills. There are the regulars, those where the library is a haven from the hustle and bustle outside and they have their chairs they like to sit in, reading quietly and ignoring everyone else. There’s also a fair smattering of students looking at magazines or books, doing homework, researching and generally browsing. I have a lovely team of student librarians who I leave behind the desk whilst I wander around. This break I pull some resources off the shelves ready for the next lesson, something that’s easy to do whilst keeping an eye on everyone and answering any queries from Team Librarian.
Period 4: Another Year 8 class, this time one of my regular library lessons, a lower ability set who struggle with finding something to read with most of them stuck rereading Wimpy Kid! After discussion with their teacher, we have decided to use this lesson to introduce them to some alternatives. I’ve already pulled out some books to use in my book talk and have sneakily hidden the Wimpy Kid books. I spend the first twenty minutes enthusing about other titles they may like to try and then let them lose on the pile. Arguments ensue! I’ve obviously done a good job selling some of these books but luckily I have more than one copy. Some students aren’t interested though so I spend time talking to them to find out what exactly they’re looking for and making a few suggestions. The class then read silently for twenty minutes before I get them to talk about their choice and whether they are enjoying it. The reactions are mixed but that’s usual … some of these students struggle with reading and don’t enjoy it very much. However, many of them take their chosen books out … result! I finish the lesson with a talk on giving a book review and the sort of things you need to think about (not just “I like this book because it’s funny”) as one of their English tasks will be to write a review on their book and I’ve created a template they can use for this task which I give to them. I’ve had some phone calls during this lesson, a couple of internal ones looking for specific students, one from a book rep (don’t have the time to see them in school) and one from a librarian at another school asking for my advice about an author visit. There have also been students sent from English to finish off their work on the computers as they don’t have enough laptops in their lesson. A PE teacher has come in to have a look at an article in a journal (and taken it to copy) plus the office staff have borrowed the newspaper to read during their lunch.
Period 5: This lesson I have an A level History group booked in for a session on searching for resources linked to their topics. I’ve prepared a presentation for them on basic internet searching, covering evaluation of websites, using URLs, looking beyond Google, etc. and I also have an information sheet to give out with details of relevant books, magazines and websites for further reading. As this is directly linked to the work they have to do they tend to pay attention but it’s quite scary how basic their knowledge is (for example, some look surprised when I tell them that when they search Google , they’re not searching the internet). I’ve also got a couple of spoof websites I show them which causes much hilarity but certainly gets the point home about not believing everything you read. The last part of the lesson they start their own searches using both print and online resources and just when I think I’m going to be able to get on with my to-do list, I have a group of year 9 students appear from an English lesson to change their library books requiring assistance with choosing something “sad, Miss”!
Break 2: this follows much the pattern of break 1 except that I try and grab something to eat at this point. I let Team Librarian eat behind the desk as a reward for doing their duty … besides, with breaks only being 25 minutes, if they had to get food and eat it in the dining room then they wouldn’t be here until halfway through. I get the occasional comment from other students but they seem to accept that giving up your break means you get to eat your lunch on duty.
Period 6: I have a small Year 8 Geography group booked in to research countries. I’ve got lots of up-to-date books in this section, the teacher has prepared a question sheet for them and doesn’t want the students to use the internet. Before they start I give a quick update on using the subject index guide, mention contents and index pages, point out the encyclopaedias and then let them loose. Lessons like this, where students are milling around, actively engaged in using their information skills, are one of the purposes of a school library. They are discussing the questions and answers, evaluating and rejecting books, and I know, if they were sat at the computer, this level of activity and learning would not be happening. They mostly get on without assistance although I wander around, checking they’re on task, listening to their conversations and pointing them in the direction of other books if it sounds like they’re stuck. I also have another small group of students appear to use the computers (I only have 5 of these) … same story, not enough laptops. Or rather, there are enough but their constant use means they don’t have time to recharge by the end of the day. Some of these have problems logging on so I assist where I can although why they think I know their password is beyond me – the image I put out that the “librarian knows everything” has obviously worked! I’ve also had a couple of random students come in with books they are returning and more phone calls about the location of students.
After school: when I finally tidy up after the last lesson and get back to my desk (via the kettle), I discover a stream of emails, many with documents attached that I should read … things to do with specific students, health plans, SEN support, etc. These are read and deleted or filed. I start the process for printing out my overdue notices so they can go into the registers in the morning; decide I want to see a couple of HPQ students the next day to check their progress so write notes for them; and check my timetable for the following day so I know what lessons I’ve got. Sometimes these will require resources pulled off the shelves or, more typically, a presentation or talk delivered … in which case, that’s the task for the evening. I’m also aware that I haven’t touched my to-do list and I was planning to start updating my booklist leaflets plus I need to think about ordering resources for next month’s author visit. And If I don’t make a start then the jobs will become urgent so I ensure I have the information I need to do this at home.
I’m not very busy after school as the majority of our students are bussed in and those that stay tend to do activities but I do get a small number who usually sit and read or work quietly … strangely, this time it tends to be girls!