My last update on this strand of the Great School Libraries Campaign was in early March, just before we went into lockdown. Schools closed to all but vulnerable children and those whose parents/carers were key workers, and teaching and learning were moved online. The situation regarding school libraries was very mixed; many librarians in independent schools were furloughed, others worked on a rota basis to provide support within schools whilst several worked from home providing online resources and activities. For some examples of what librarians did, do have a look at the lockdown case studies on the GSL Campaign website.
One of the things impacted by Covid-19 has been the mental health and wellbeing of pupils aged 5 – 16 years. An NHS survey highlighted that lockdown has made conditions like depression and anxiety worse; previously one in nine children identified as having a mental disorder, this figure is now one in six. This increase makes it even more imperative that schools adopt a holistic approach to the mental health of pupils, engaging all staff and avenues of support – including the school librarian. And why the Campaign is still pursuing relevant connections and collaboration.
CILIP/HEE Round Table
I attended a round table that was hosted by CILIP and Health Education England (HEE). Various key partners were present including the CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG), the School Library Association (SLA), the Wellcome Foundation, The Reading Agency and the Patient Information Forum. The aim of this event was to work together to support citizens to develop skills needed to access and use health information, with citizens in this instance being defined as 16+ years of age. However, those who work in education know that children with low literacy levels often become adults with literacy problems so it is important to tackle this problem as early as possible – with “literacy” encompassing print, media, digital, and visual elements – and school librarians play a vital role in this.
Following the round table I undertook further discussions with Sue Robertson, Library and Knowledge Services Development Lead (SW and SE), HEE; Barbara Moye, Library Services Manager, Berkshire NHS Trust; and Alison Horner-Le-Riche, Library and Knowledge Services Manager, Royal Berkshire NHS Trust. We explored existing resources that could be shared and disseminated into schools. Sue Robertson has created a LibGuide aimed at healthcare library staff with a section on health literacy and children and Alison Horner-Le-Riche shared the LibGuide created by her team. The latter is a useful source of resources, games and videos introducing health literacy to children. From our discussion, it was obvious that there was little collaboration with school librarians, the resources were often only being shared with the SENCO and not reaching other adults working with children. Although these LibGuides have been created within Berkshire, they are accessible to all and they are not unique, other areas are producing similar resources and this is an aspect that we want to explore further, to examine how these resources can reach a wider audience.
With training being moved online, this was an excellent opportunity for me to deliver a webinar on Mental Health and Wellbeing via the CILIP School Libraries Group. Focusing on stress and anxiety, it covered research and statistics, the reasons why children are experiencing increased mental health issues, practical examples of how librarians can help, and useful resources and organisations. The webinar was well-attended but was also recorded allowing librarians who could not attend in-person access to the video, and we are planning to arrange further training in the future.
The past few months have seen the publication of a new School Library Association Guideline: Pupil Wellbeing and Mental Health. It is available to purchase from the SLA website and, as Stephen Buckley of Mind says in the foreword, “Mind’s own work with school-age children has demonstrated the importance of having a “trusted adult” in the school environment: someone able to demonstrate empathy, and someone who understands mental health from a young person’s point of view”. This adult is often the school librarian so it is important that they understand the factors that impact mental health and wellbeing, and how to support students who are struggling; this publication gives guidance on how school staff can provide assistance.
To coincide with pupils returning to school in September, the autumn issue of The School Librarian, the member journal for the SLA, had a theme of mental health and wellbeing with related articles written by school library staff, recommended books, digital resources and a list of relevant organisations. The aim of this was to provide practical help and examples of best practice.
Moving Forward …
There is still a need to gather evidence on the role of the school library in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of pupils as well as exploring existing research and studies. With social distancing and bubbles in schools, it is difficult for librarians to undertake the usual activities such as book groups, crafting sessions, etc. but many are able to provide online alternatives. The Campaign would love to hear from anyone who is doing this. We would also like to collaborate further with mental health organisations in gathering statistics and evidence.
Written by Barbara Band
Vice-Chair GSL committee
School Library Consultant