Guest blog written by Gaurav Dubay for Great School Libraries Campaign
There is no profession exempt from being stereotyped – librarians, in particular, are no strangers to this and so the middle-aged, mid bun wearing and sensible shoe fashionistas are often what we imagine when we think of a librarian. This is entrenched in our own cultural thinking and reinforced by our media establishments. Those of us who are old enough may remember the vulnerable librarian from the opening scene of the 1984 classic, ‘Ghostbusters’; she most definitely typified the aforementioned and she was definitely scared of the ghost! Whilst stereotypes like this provide some entertainment value, the reality is that this can be damaging, particularly in an educational setting. You would be hard-pressed to find a librarian in a school setting who embodies this cliché-ridden image but when our ideas are so deeply ingrained, we may miss the many opportunities librarians can bring to our school establishment. Worse still, we may not recognise the potential for positive transformation a librarian can give us!
So you may ask, what do librarians bring to our educational settings? From my experience, it’s certainly more than hushing everyone, that’s for sure! To that end, I would like to share with you what librarians can bring to our schools and why they are, when properly deployed, an invaluable resource.
Driving Reading for Pleasure
The most obvious way librarians support school culture are as drivers of reading for pleasure. When it comes to establishing reading groups, activities for World Book Day or simply recommending books to students, our librarians take a proactive approach in supporting this and in developing the Reading for Pleasure agenda in our schools. The benefits of reading for pleasure are unparalleled with the DfE (2015) finding that it ‘brings benefits across the whole curriculum’ and so the role our librarians play in developing this very important ethos is an essential one.
Both the OUP and UKLA found that a reading for pleasure pedagogy is developed through:
the establishment of social reading environments
opportunities to read aloud
opportunities for independent reading
opportunities for informal book talk.
Undoubtedly librarians support all of the above and whilst teachers can establish this in their classrooms, particularly in a primary setting, this is the natural, day to day activity of librarians. Teresa Cremin (2011) argues that ‘Reading for pleasure and wider reading urgently require a higher profile in education' as we know it helps to raise ‘both attainment and achievement’ and when a librarian so naturally supports this, the need for them in our schools is a must!
Supporting the Curriculum
Whilst our librarians inevitably support Reading for Pleasure, the modern librarian brings much-needed assistance to teaching and learning across the curriculum. Whether they aid teachers in finding books to support learning, lead small scale teaching sessions or aid students in research, they provide the important steps in developing pupil knowledge and agency. In my experience, librarians – who are most often naturally curious researchers – will willingly support teaching colleagues and assist them in delivering the curriculum. They often provide unique perspectives which we, as teachers, may not always have the time to explore for ourselves.
Fostering a Culture of Student Agency
However, the most poignant experience is in fostering student agency. Librarians give students the tools to develop their leadership skills, interdependence and independence. Yes, you may say that this is quite a bold claim, however, it is one I stand by quite firmly.
In their day to day job, librarians often train younger students to take on different responsibilities in the running of their school library as student librarians. This often-overlooked role allows students to develop a sense of ownership for the library and wider school community, assist the school librarian and students, and act as positive role models for other library users. In addition to this, the student librarian develops the skills of interdependence working with staff, other student librarians and the librarian themselves and thus help shape a school’s ethos and values.
Whilst the above is undervalued, the role librarians intuitively have in fostering a culture of student agency is perhaps even more overlooked. Teresa Cremin and other experts argue that a Reading for Pleasure culture that strongly supports student agency will ultimately lead to the intrinsic habits students need in order to achieve high outcomes; with almost a century of evidence proving these claims, they are unlikely to be wrong. Librarians do this as an unwritten part of their job description; every recommendation, every question and every conversation a librarian has is geared towards developing student agency, particularly when it comes to reading.
It is through these simple approaches that our school librarians – unknowingly to us – unlock potential and to that end schools shouldn’t scale back but instead move forward, recognising the value our school librarians bring to our establishments.
DfE (2015). ‘Reading the Next Steps’
Cremin, T (2011). ‘UKLA: Reading for pleasure and wider reading’
Gaurav Dubay is an experienced Head of English at an inner city boys’ grammar school in Birmingham. He also works as an Evidence Lead in Education with St Matthew’s Research School. Outside of education, Gaurav is an athletics geek, proud husband and father, and, most importantly to him, a Christian.