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School Librarians Have so Much to Offer – Make the Most of Them

"If you don’t use us, you’re increasingly likely to lose us." Alison Tarrant writes a letter to teachers from school librarians everywhere...

  • School Librarians Have so Much to Offer – Make the Most of Them

Dear teacher and TA colleagues,

“You’ve got a friend in me/You’ve got a friend in me”

As the end of the school year rushes towards us I know it can be incredibly hard to keep sight of the things that make the job worthwhile, but this song should always be in your head.

Friends are people you go to in times of need, the ones who help you when you’re in a tricky spot, those who give you the space when you just need some time to yourself – so by this definition, school librarians are your friends.

I fully appreciate that collaboration may take more energy initially, but the results can be fantastic – a joint discovery lesson in history for example, where all members of the class can look through maps and photographs, and read first-hand accounts of Stalin’s rule.

This was an area of the curriculum that one history teacher felt was important to give a sense of perspective to the Russian Revolution, but that he struggled to fit into KS3. So he would bring his classes down to the library to explore documents about the period.

When school librarians are asked: “I’ve got a class here and my room has been double booked – what can you do?”, more often than not we can add a new dynamic to your scheme of work.

It might be through getting great, relevant material for pupils to explore (with access to ebooks ensuring our shelves are virtually limitless); or delivering an impromptu lesson on information literacy or the importance of critical thinking; or even ‘just’ reading aloud (and possibly inspiring a lifelong love of reading, starting discussions, and embedding cultural knowledge). These are not lessons wasted.

Perhaps you are struggling to find an appropriate book or magazine for a pupil, or maybe you need a different perspective on an issue – have you asked your librarian? We can find a book list for you, or contact colleagues to ascertain alternative possibilities or approaches.

If you’re not asking, is it because you think we can’t help you? Give us the chance! Have you tried before and been put off? Try again; we might have just been managing 70+ students on our own.

Are we not doing something your old librarian used to? Talk to us about it – if we can do it, we will, but also, we might have expertise in another area that could be of even more use to you.

On the other hand, you are thinking: “My librarian is brilliant!” – fantastic! Does the head know that’s how you feel? Could you do a tally or send an email showing how they’ve supported you? What about adding a sentence to their annual report – what they did, the impact it had or how much time they saved you?

Our professions are reflective of each other – more and more is being asked of teachers and TAs, whilst less and less is being expected of librarians. But we are your colleagues in the teaching and learning journey.

We should be challenged, and given opportunities, and asked about things; given access to training, and be allowed to attend meetings within school.

Friends rely on each other – and we need you. We need you to make sure the efforts of the librarian who dislikes talking about her own achievements are acknowledged. We need you to hire people because they want to be a librarian and are interested in doing the job well. We need you to support us, with training and conversations, and, yes, sometimes with money and time out for CPD and meetings.

We need you to see us as educational colleagues. Otherwise all those things we do will either be added to your workload… or disappear completely.

Alison Tarrant is director of the School Library Association (SLA). Membership is available for £89 a year, and includes a quarterly journal, access to exclusive website resources, discounted publications and training and a personalised advice line.

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