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How Keeping up with Technology can make your School Library a More-Powerful Place for Learning

Keeping up with technology can make your school library an even more powerful place for learning and discovery, says Alison Tarrant…

Alison Tarrant
by Alison Tarrant
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As everyone who’s worked in them knows, libraries are far from being dust-filled retreats for people who refuse to give up scrolls and their beloved, ancient index cataloguing systems; at their best, they are hubs of energy and inspiration – often using the latest technological developments to remain so.

School librarians seek to do three main things in their day to day jobs: increase engagement from pupils; reduce barriers to learning; and support teachers. Technology can be a helpful tool for all of these areas.

Most libraries would struggle these days without up to date Library Management Software (or LMS in library speak); keeping track of thousands of resources, group reads, additional worksheets and all the borrowers just isn’t possible in most school libraries without one – and many LMS systems do much more than this, too.

Some have integrated Attitude to Reading surveys, single search functions across all resources and reading trackers, and may even be used for uploading and holding school made documents as well.

Modern LMS offerings both reduce barriers (such as time spent looking for resources), and increase engagement.

Moreover, this sophisticated technology is a huge temptation for another important element of any primary school library – in that it can encourage children to get involved as pupil helpers, which is a great thing.

Breaking barriers

But however keen pupils are, the fact remains that if they face barriers to literacy that aren’t being addressed they are going to struggle meaningfully to participate in a reading culture. Again, tech can come to the rescue.

For example, audio books are a powerful way to spark interest, and can help reduce cultural barriers to reading.

I know of families who listen to an audio book over dinner and then discuss it together, which can be an incredibly influential, enabling everyone to get involved; and now that audio streaming sites and e-audio lending are available it’s a great way for any library to encourage that extra family participation in reading.

Book apps are another brilliant way of engaging children – especially those who might think of themselves as ‘reluctant readers’. Two of my personal favourites for the primary age range are The Monster at the End of this Book by Sesame Street, and The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.

With both of these, the reader has to participate in the story to move it on, and they are well put together in terms of graphics and plot development. (Morris Lessmore has also been made into a short film, which is equally delightful, and opens up further learning opportunities).

The strength with book apps is how they allow the child to interact independently and have fun; so whilst they don’t work as a whole class read, for initiating a love of literature they can be fantastic.

Added extras

Book reviews are, of course, a great way of encouraging readers to pick up a title they might not otherwise have considered – and turning a review into a word cloud (which you can do very simply online) can increase the likelihood of that happening, by reducing the number of words, adding colour and varying the font size, thus giving pupils an appealing and accessible first taste of the book that’s being written about.

Canva is another great piece of tech – it’s an online graphic design tool that creates amazing posters and bookmarks, really easily. For some children, it’s touches like this that can make all the difference to their relationship with reading (and for quite a few teachers, too!)

As well as e-audio, e-books can also have a role to play in reducing barriers to literacy.

All the e-book lending platforms I’ve looked into feature the essential elements of allowing readers to change the font size and style, and the background colour; while some have the additional functionality of being able to embed notes, images, clips and links in the text.

What a brilliant learning tool – to give a child a book slightly out of their comfort zone, but with the additional information they will need to make sense of it by themselves actually embedded within it.

Staff support

The library has to have tech for teachers, too. LMS systems, for example, do the routine things of sharing lists of overdue books so a classroom reminder can be issued; but can also allow online discussion, and help increase staff book knowledge – two key components of creating reading communities according to Teresa Cremin and the UKLA/OU research.

Meanwhile, technology allows engagement even when the library isn’t staffed – perhaps through QR codes that take pupils to a book trailer, or a teacher to some teaching resources for specific titles; there are fantastic sites that can be used to introduce activities during or after reading, building children’s technology skills and checking their understanding of the text.

Even things as simple as shared online documents can be vital to supporting teachers and teaching assistants – a digital spreadsheet with titles of books ranked by age and linked to online resources for example, which can both increase someone’s knowledge of high quality books and be a teaching tool pre-packed with comprehension questions or book trailers.

And finally, let’s not forget the library staff themselves. They have a lot of demands on their time, and the huge number of high quality children’s books being published means there’s a good deal to keep up with.

Luckily, there are a number of brilliant of YouTube channels making recommendations and reviewing books – allowing school library staff to demonstrate their multitasking skills, and catalogue while listening to some CPD!

Further reading

Most of the technology covered in this article has been reviewed in The School Librarian – the quarterly journal of the School Library Association.

The School Library Association is committed to supporting high levels of library provision, and ensuring the best outcome for all pupils. Membership is available to organisations for £89 a year – as well as the journal, members receive access to exclusive website resources, discounted publications and training and a personalised advice line for library staff, heads, governors and teachers.

For more information email or tweet @uksla.

Alison Tarrant is director of the School Library Association.

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