What makes a good school library?

Contributed by Barbara Band

Vice-Chair, Great School Libraries Campaign

Fri 25 Feb 2022

It isn’t easy to summarise what makes a good school library in just a few points, but here is a selection of what I believe are the key things to consider:

A librarian!

Of course, you need somebody with the relevant skills and experience to manage the library. They need to select and curate physical and digital resources to meet the school community’s needs, provide activities, organise events, promote the book collection, and deliver information and digital literacy skills. Essentially, to create a wonderfully inspiring space that supports reading, learning and wellbeing.

A wide range of stock

Together with fiction books, you need non-fiction to support the curriculum and personal interests, magazines, audiobooks, graphic novels and picture books. Reading is a meandering journey; we want students to move forward and challenge themselves, but there are times when they will just want to read something familiar and comforting. For many children, the school library is the only access to books and the opportunity to read outside of the subject set texts. The school library gives them the chance to see that reading can be fun and enjoyable. It’s the only place in the entire school where you’ll find such a vast range of material. 

Books2All blog: What makes a good school library?

Up-to-date stock

‘Weeding’ books is something many people don’t understand. Why would you get rid of books? In reality, you must clear out the old, irrelevant and inaccurate to make way for the new, exciting and more interesting. Yes, you may end up with fewer books, but they will look far more enticing and, therefore, more likely to be borrowed. There’s also the issue of accuracy and relevance; facts change over time – and why would you keep books on topics that last studied ten years ago? Every book needs to ‘earn’ its place! 

Knowledgable staff

School librarians should read children’s/teen/young adult books. You can’t talk about books if you haven’t read them, and you can’t help students find a book if you don’t know your stock. Fortunately, most school librarians are generally conversant with the latest book trends and popular authors, viewing this aspect as an essential part of the work. That’s not to say we’ve read every book on our shelves (despite the belief of many students), but we are immersed in a world of books so we know, for instance, that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is popular with reluctant readers even if we haven’t read those particular novels. Because of this, teaching staff need to use the expertise of their librarian.

A welcoming atmosphere

Interesting displays, posters, signs and artefacts make a library more appealing – remember that the library is a cross-curricular area so that you can use almost anything! That’s not to say classrooms shouldn’t be hospitable too, but it’s important to remember that the library is different. Students have to go into the classroom; they don’t have to go to the library, so you need to think of ways of enticing them through the door. Displays are an important part of any library and can be linked to school, local or national events. Each display will attract different students, so they should be changed regularly to reach a wide audience.

Books2All blog: What makes a good school library?

Knowing the students

Talk to the students! And not just about books. Ask about their hobbies and interests as this builds relationships. The library has a pastoral role and provides a safe place for vulnerable children. Librarians also notice things that could be missed or overlooked during a busy day, and getting to know students means that we can make more informed suggestions for their reading. Make sure you involve students in the library by getting them to help at breaktimes, suggest stock, assist with displays and ask for ideas for competitions. Create a place where it’s natural for them to come and ask for information.

Knowing the staff

Librarians can be quite isolated within the school, so you also need to build relationships with staff. The library needs to be an integral part of the school, so advocating this to all staff is important. Have regular meetings with teaching staff to ensure you have relevant resources in the library. The support of the head and senior management team are vital, especially for using funding, so make sure the value and impact of the library are recognised by providing regular reports and updates.

Books2All blog: What makes a good school library?

Getting outside the library

You’re also a member of the wider school environment. One of the pleasures of being visible is interacting with students. You will see other sides to them in different situations, plus it gives you a chance to meet students who rarely come to the library. Participating in and helping with events and trips also means you’ll get to know other staff.

Making the library the school focal part

Plan a programme of events throughout the year – competitions and quizzes, reading groups and author visits are just a few of the many things you can do. These take time and (usually) money to organise but create an impact greater than the sum of their parts. Involve students and staff, and make sure that you don’t target all the activities at the more able children. Remember – not everything needs to be strictly book related!

A budget

It’s almost impossible to run a school library without money. Sure, you can fill it with donations and charity finds (which can provide an environmentally friendly source of good books), but there will always be gaps in the collection that need to be filled. It’s also unlikely that you’ll have a particularly diverse and inclusive collection if you rely on donations. Funds are also required for events and activities, plus display, processing and stationery materials.

Relevant accreditations

It’s easy for school librarians to become insular. Maintain links with other groups such as the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), the School Library Association (SLA), the School Library Services, the public library, primary schools and universities. Also, consider groups like the National Literacy Trust, the BookTrust and The Reading Agency and sign up for their e-newsletters.

Now you know my ideas about what makes a good school library, but…

Every school community will have similar yet diverse needs, so its school library should reflect those. At a minimum, the school library should have an experienced librarian, a room and a budget – those are the essential starting points. What you then create is only limited by your inspiration and imagination.

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children or represent a school and would like to register to receive donated books, please download the Books2All app from the App Store or Google Play

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