The first thing I invested in was the school library
Former Head Teacher of the Year, and President of the School Library Association, Richard Gerver, explains why libraries are more important than ever.
The impact of a good library
It was back in 2001 that I started work as the head teacher at the failing Grange Primary School, in Long Eaton. The first thing I invested in was building a state-of-the-art purpose-built library with staff receiving full school library CPD training; and the result proved my belief in the transformative power of libraries. Great libraries make an impact. In just two years the school has been transformed into one of the most acclaimed learning environments in the world.
I believe we all recognise the importance of encouraging pupils to develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information. When school libraries are effectively staffed, they have been proven time and time again to improve academic attainment, and in turn, lead to improved test or exam scores. However, it is up to each school to decide how best to provide and maintain a library service for their pupils, including whether to employ a qualified librarian.
A love of reading
One of the most important functions of a library is of course to develop children’s love of reading. Whether this has evolved from hard copy or eBooks, libraries will always be the place for children to access the wonder of stories. Multiple studies have proven the learning potential of developing a love of reading. This is particularly important in international schools, as story-telling and literature can unite children from different backgrounds and nationalities into one shared narrative.
Indeed, children who have fun with reading are three times more likely to have stronger mental wellbeing compared with children who don’t enjoy reading. This is where librarians play an essential role in our schools, but it takes fully trained librarians to do this.
The importance of a good librarian
In a school where the library is managed effectively, librarians will work with classroom teachers to understand each student’s individual needs and reading levels, so that they can help them to find books that are aligned to their reading level, and in turn, ensure they develop that love of reading.
However, thinking that libraries are just about reading books is one misconception that underestimates the role of today’s school libraries: their work involves so much more than books and story time.
In the age of the ‘fake news’ epidemic it has become increasingly important to develop children’s digital literacy. Sadly, search engines often present us with relevant websites that may or may not be reliable; and often aren’t. Most of the time we trust that the first few results will yield content that is factual and safe!
Teaching children to be able to source trusted information and differentiate between fact, opinion and misinformation is not only of importance to their learning but it’s also vital for safe-guarding. This is a skill that many people are calling on to be included in every school’s curriculum, as it is something that today’s children will need for the rest of their lives in today’s increasingly online world. Librarians are already playing an important role.
Librarians in class
Many members of the SLA will, of course, bring the school librarian into the daily activities of every class. The teachers brief them on the topic or skill that they are working on so the librarian can take the children away from the class teacher for an hour, to give them time for planning, preparation or marking while the librarian works with the children to help them to source related, trusted information in books or online. The ability to engage with all kinds of media across a wide range of outlets is vital to boost children’s critical thinking skills, in addition to ensuring their knowledge is well-rounded and balanced.
So, what steps must schools take to realise the full potential of their libraries? Firstly, it is vital to ensure all staff, especially the leadership team, appreciate the value of their libraries and are willing to invest. Training is also key. When I arrived at Grange Primary School, I ensured that its school library staff received full updated CPD training, so our library fulfilled the vision of being the incredibly effective central hub of the school that I knew it could become. The School Library Association offers a broad range of online learning content that schools around the world can sign up for to transform their libraries.
I strongly believe that libraries should be at the centre of all schools’ infrastructure. I invite any international school to make contact with us at the School Library Association to discuss how we can help you in supporting your library on the next stage of its journey as the transformational hub of your school!
I look forward to working with you!
Richard Gerver was described by the late Sir Ken Robinson as ‘one of the clearest and most passionate voices for radical change both in education and business’.
Awarded the ‘School Head Teacher of the Year’ at the British National Teaching Awards and recognition by UNESCO, Richard became the President of the School Library Association in 2020.
For more about the School Library Association, or to arrange a conversation about their training, see https://www.sla.org.uk/about