Posts Tagged ‘role of teacher librarian’

Promoting a love of reading has been taken to a new level by retired Italian school teacher, Antonio La Cava. 

In 2003, after teaching for 42 years, La Cava built a portable library containing 700 books.  Dubbed the “Bibliomotocarro”, he has been driving his portable library around villages in southern Italy ever since.

Reminiscent of my own childhood memories of hearing tinkling music outside my house which heralded the arrival of the local ice cream truck, the sound of the organ announcing the arrival of La Cava’s Bibliomotocarro brings a flock of excited children to his mobile library. 

It takes an experienced teacher such as Antonio La Cava to sum up my own feelings about how reading is being approached in schools:

A disinterest in reading often starts in schools where the technique is taught, but it’s not being accompanied by love.  Reading should be a pleasure, not a duty.”

Just recently I published a post on NovaNews, my other blog, about my own conviction that the joy of reading is being killed by the requirements of the English curriculum in our schools which dictate that novels, referred to as ‘class texts’, should be read, analyzed, discussed and analytically pulled to pieces so that students develop a sharpened appreciation of an author’s craft.

Writing in this post I found myself lamenting the continuing disinterest in promoting a love of reading by English teachers and republished a post I wrote some four years ago:  Do required reading and class texts inspire a love of reading?  The following extract from that post highlights my strong belief that we need to focus more on developing in our students a love of reading.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of ‘heart-to-heart’ chats with senior students about books and reading habits.  Many have expressed their dislike of class texts and the inherent requirement to analyze texts to death.  Many of my chats have been with reluctant readers, who openly confide that they just don’t like reading.  Teasing out the reasons for their disinterest has almost always come down to their experience of being required to read specific books that they have found boring and then having to spend copious amounts of time – often a full term – analyzing, discussing and handing in written reports.

These conversations always leave me feeling bereft.

I’ve spoken with English teachers often about this issue, but always have the same facts thrown at me: students need to study class texts over an extended period of time so as to hone their analytical skills, their critical thinking skills and their appreciation of the classics. This ‘full stop kind’ of response invariably allows no openings to my pleas to  incorporate additional or alternate opportunities aimed at inspiring students to read, read and read some more – just for the joy of it!

Yes, I’ve also faced the argument that I’m not an English teacher who has an allocated number of periods a week within which to teach a curriculum and ensure that students complete inherent required assessments.  I’ve also been reminded that I’m a Teacher Librarian who has lots of time to spend dreaming up, creating and staging a range of enticing literary activities.

Well, yes, I guess that’s correct.  A big part of my job as a Teacher Librarian is indeed to inspire a love of reading.  And that’s just what I do and will continue to do for as long as I work as a Teacher Librarian!  I make no apologies for this!

I’m passionate in my belief that reading is a core skill which underlines all educational achievement.  We need to ensure that we inspire students to read, to read anything and everything they possibly can.  We need to ensure that students leave our classes and schools with an embedded love, desire and appreciation of just how much reading can bring to their lives – forever.  Reading does not just fit into English or Library periods, but is a skill which extends across all aspects and subjects of the curriculum.

As a Teacher Librarian I constantly grapple with the issue of engaging students with literature.  Over the years, I’ve devised many an alternate approach to put books into the hands of students in my school.   Many of these alternate approaches were incorporated into Literary Festivals I organized at one school.  I have also blogged, written and presented about some of the many activities, programs and events I have organized over the years in my library sessions.  If interested, have a read of this post: Engaging readers: Tried and tested ideas that work!

Perhaps it’s time for all of us – secondary school English teachers and Teacher Librarians alike – to step back and take a look at the nature of our program content and question whether what we are doing is encouraging or discouraging our students to become lifelong readers.

NovaNews: Do required reading and class texts inspire a love of reading? November 8, 2015


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Every now and then I publish a post on my other blog which has as much relevance here on BevsBookBlog as it does on NovaNews.  So here’s my recent NovaNews post.   It would be great to have some feedback from my many readers here!


Timetabled Wider Reading sessions has been a given in each of the school libraries in which I’ve worked throughout my career.

Working in senior libraries, Wider Reading sessions have been scheduled with each class once a fortnight during an English period.  With the English teacher accompanying the students into the library, I’ve always felt that the session is as much for the teacher as it is for the students.   In the hope that the teacher will take on board my words of wisdom and exciting titbits about the latest great reads and their authors, I always try to pitch my enthusiastic words carefully.

Sadly though, there has been many a time when I’ve ‘lost’ the teacher to the photocopier, to the quick trip back to their desk for the forgotten whatever, to a quick/long chat with another teacher who happens to be in the library at that time or to any number of ‘more important than teaming with me in the library’ reason that calls the teacher away.  Then there are the times when the scheduled session with me is cancelled at the last minute: the students need to finish an essay, an assignment, a something or other which they will be doing in the library during their scheduled session.

Undoubtedly, these occurrences confirm in the minds of the students that their Wider Reading session really isn’t as important as their regular English period; that the Wider Reading session is a just a ‘filler’.  Students are always ready for a ‘zone out’ session.  Bad signals are easily sent and even more easily received.

Very disappointing.

Those times dampen my enthusiasm.

Those sessions however, when the English teacher has been on the same page as me, the teacher librarian, and has worked hand in hand with me,  the students are focused and engaged.  Those sessions are absolutely brilliant and rewarding because it is in those sessions that I am sure that the the students are really achieving my end goal – developing a love of reading!  It is these kinds of sessions which continually bolster my own enthusiasm to continue inspiring students to read.  It also confirms my belief that the role of teacher librarians in promoting reading and its value with both students and staff across our schools is of undeniable value!Knowing full well that the students’ sessions with me once a fortnight are but an isolated burst, I depend on the English teacher taking on board what I have to offer so they can reinforce it with their class during regular English periods.

Perhaps it was in an attempt to engage the English teachers more fully in the Wider Reading sessions, that in one school I worked, the library team decided to give the Wider Reading sessions a new slant.  In consultation with English teachers, the teacher librarians devised a program in which various aspects of writing style were the focus.  The program, liberally peppered with examples from novels in the library collection, was presented once a fortnight when students came in for their ‘Wider Reading’ session.  With a workbook to complete, there was an expectation that students would complete ‘homework’ and present it for correction by the teacher librarian.

The program was very well thought out and was great at highlighting writing style to the students.   Giving students ideas to improve their own writing style, the students were unwittingly being forced to read novels for a purpose: examining authors’ writing style.

As good as these sessions were though, the program unsettled me.  I found myself questioning the purpose of the Wider Reading program we were presenting.  Almost overnight, we seemed to have lost the opportunity to use this once a fortnight session to freely expose and encourage students to develop a love of reading and recognize for themselves the deep seated value that reading can bring as a lifelong skill and instead replaced it with an additional English period where the focus is on reading for the purpose of eliciting a written response.

We no longer had the time to explore other exciting programs which had been a part of our previous Wider Reading sessions:

  • cross age reading activities in which Year 10 student selected, considered and then read picture story books to the Preps – an activity which had a huge impact on all participants
  • a poetry showcase venture which was completed in conjunction with our local public library
  • a Writer in Residence program in which Year 10 & 11 students could be inspired to read and write
  • author visits which inspired and ignited interest, passion and reading

My passion is to encourage the growth of a reading culture in our schools.  As I’ve said so many times before, I passionately believe that reading is the cornerstone of all education.  Reading has an indelible impact on students’ ability to write.

So, at the bottom of all my thoughts rests one question: How can we make the most of that precious once a fortnight Wider Reading session to inspire in our students a love of reading?

Indeed – food for thought.

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It was some years ago, after undergoing a fairly major operation that I found myself, doped to the gills with pain killers, totally unable to pick up any of the enticing books I’d brought with me to the hospital. None of them caught my interest and in any case I was sleepy and completely unable to concentrate.

Then it happened! One book somehow slipped into my hands. It spoke to me, inspired me and made me realize that my despondent state was not as bad as the experiences of the character I was reading about. I finally felt connected and inspired and yes ….. the book, I discovered with some joy, brought me hope and a great deal of pleasure. This book was a key to my return to the ‘land of the living’ and re-established within me the joy of reading. The book was given to me by my work colleague, another Teacher Librarian.

It is this experience I often reflect upon when faced with those occasions of feeling “out of it”, hit by a bad run, or totally preoccupied with “stuff”, so-much-so that my ability to concentrate on reading is dead, buried and gone. How easy it is for each of us who work with books, to suss out the kind of book that is ‘just right’ for our library patrons.

So when I read an article a couple of months ago in The Age: Bibliotherapy a novel approach to helping readers treat literary indecision I was intrigued. Before I’d gotten too far into the article though, skepticism started creeping into my mind. By the time I got to the end of the article though, I was soon saying out loud to myself ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me!’ ‘Is this for real?!’

To put it mildly, I was blown away by the idea that a new profession had evolved from the tools of the trade normally associated with those working in libraries and book shops. I was also bowled over by the idea that these kinds of services, normally provided at no cost, were being charged for and that consumers were ready to part with money for the kind of information being offered.

Thanks perhaps to a recent article in The New Yorker: Can reading make you happier?, which has most probably fanned interest in yet another ‘alternate therapy’, two Melbourne Bibliotherapists have expanded their trade by taking on overseas clients via Skype. With interest piqued, three sessions presented by this pair at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival were sold out. It is interesting to note that one of the Melbourne Bibliotherapists, a former genetic counsellor, trained at the British School of Life with Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, the person quoted extensively in The New Yorker article.

The process, I gleaned from both articles, seems fairly straightforward. Clients complete a questionnaire prior to meeting the Bibliotherapist. Questions asked, hinge around a person’s reading habits:

  • What kinds of books do you like?
  • What books did you read as a child?
  • What are your interests/passions?
  • What would you like to try? (Presumably life pursuits)
  • When do you read? Daily? Weekends? Holidays?
  • Do you buy or borrow books?
  • What is preoccupying you at the moment?

On her personal website, Ella Berthoud, gives greater specifics of the questionnaire:

When you book a bibliotherapy session, you will be sent a questionnaire asking you about your reading habits, loves and dislikes. We ask why you read, what you read, when and where you read – who with, or whether you always read alone. Do you ever read aloud, or listen to audiobooks? All your reading habits are explored. We also ask what is going on in your life at the moment – are any major issues coming up? Are you in the middle of a career-change, about to have a baby, moving home, experiencing a break-up, or beginning a new relationship? Are you perhaps retiring, or living alone for the first time? All life situations, whether serious or frivolous, can be illuminated by a good book. We believe that reading the right book at the right time can change your life. Our job is to help you find that book.”

Her business website, The School of Life, expands on the process:

In a consultation with one of our bibliotherapists, you’ll explore your relationship with books so far and be asked to explore new literary directions. Perhaps you’re looking for an author whose style you love so much you will want to devour every word they’ve ever written. Perhaps you’re about to trek across China and need to find ideal travel companions to download onto your kindle. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected from the world and want to listen to the classics of your childhood during your daily commute. Or you’re seeking a change in your life and want to hold the hand of people who’ve been there and done that already.”

If your visit with a Bibliotherapist is in England, you will, after parting with £80.00, have a forty minute consultation face-to face, via phone or on Skype which will further illuminate responses to the questionnaire, and then be prescribed a list of the 8 best books to be read over the next few weeks or months. The list is accompanied with an explanation as to why these books are considered to be the best. A few weeks later, the client is contacted to ask if they would like to come back for another consultation.

The questions asked by Bibliotherapists are eerily similar to those asked by Teacher Librarians working in School Libraries, Librarians working in Public Libraries, and those working in book shops, all of whom have an excellent grasp of literature and regularly make sound book recommendations to their patrons. Indeed, the raison d’être of our profession aims to put the right book into the right hands at the right time. There is of course, no charge for this service. It is a role that we joyfully take on; revelling each and every time we establish that connection between patrons and books.

On sending the link to The Age article to family and friends, as well as current and past work colleagues, the comments and replies received back were interesting. One emphatically stated:

You should write to the author of the article and remind them that librarians are there for more than putting books away on the shelves.”

Another response reminded me that there is many a website today which can aid and assist the needy in their search for the right book. No costs apply of course. I’ve blogged about this previously: What’s a good book to read Miss? and Any more good books Miss?

I’m passionate in my belief of the immeasurable value to be gained from reading. I agree totally with many of the statements made in The New Yorker article:

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.”

as well as this:

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”

I also applaud the engaging video which appears on The School of Life website which I have taken from YouTube:

Who knows, perhaps in our next career some of us will become Bibliotherapists!

Right now though, I get a real thrill out of encouraging others to read, getting them to discover the joy of reading and yes ….. helping them find the perfect book to meet their mood, interest, need or take them to the next point of discovery in their life.


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Boy who stole a book!There’s nothing like a ‘feel good’ story!

So when I came across this one about Olly Neal who ‘borrowed’ books from his school library in Arkansas in the late 50’s, I knew it was the stuff that makes us smile, nod our heads and collectively state – yes – that’s another thing that librarians do.

Have a read and be inspired:  Boy lifts book; Librarian changes boy’s life

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Libraries of the 21st Century – both public libraries and school libraries – face constant challenges:

Be appealing. 
Provide resources.
Incorporate technology.
Service library patrons.

For those of us working in libraries, it’s no secret that the challenges are great.   Not only do we need to ensure that the library spaces we manage meet the above criteria, but we, ourselves, need to continually upskill and ‘move with the times’.  Without a doubt, the key word here is continually!    While our knowledge of literature and our ability to manage information resources are a constant, our ability to ‘move with the times’ and to stay informed of current and future technologies are equally essential.  Being computer savvy, knowing how to sift through the voluminous information that today can be sourced both physically and digitally alongside having an understanding of how our library patrons can use this information are skills that need continual refinement.

I came across and interesting article recently: In the Digital Age, What Becomes of the Library? which is on the MindShift blog.  Many of the ideas mentioned in this comprehensive article are neither new nor original.   They are the sort of ideas that as professionals working in libraries, we know and recognize.   But, as I read, I found myself thinking, expanding on ideas and thoughts presented.  Here’s an annotated summary of my thoughts about the words I processed as I read.  Others may like to expand on these thoughts even further.

  1. Reading is the ‘core business’ of libraries.  Without doubt, reading is an essential life skill, a skill that libraries are in a perfect position to support.   Developing a love of reading by providing a warm nurturing environment which houses a rich and varied storehouse of reading material freely available and easily accessible to its patrons, is a major focus of libraries.  Catering to a wide range of patrons, the challenge to provide current, relevant and inspiring resources can be a constant challenge.
  2. Technology has impacted significantly on libraries.  Rethinking the kind of resources housed in our libraries as well as how these resources will be accessed are issues at the forefront of our changing libraries.  Digital delivery of both literature and information see the need for libraries to purchase and loan eBooks, introduce online databases and enable phone apps to locate reference material.  In turn, the introduction of this technology into our libraries impacts on the physical nature of our libraries.   Reference sections of libraries for example are being replaced with digital access points.   Online databases are replacing reference collections.  Purchasing and loaning banks of eReaders to enable onsite access to digital resources are becoming the norm.
  3. Libraries are being transformed.  As libraries take on a central role in their schools or their communities, it is natural that they become transformed to multi-purpose spaces where a range of events and activities can be held:  club meetings, learning labs, community gatherings, lectures, talks and game venues to name but a few.   The notion of libraries transforming from being ‘houses of knowledge’ to ‘houses of access’ is becoming apparent to those of us working in libraries.  Libraries are increasingly becoming “the hub of learning, collaboration, of community, of diversity, of innovation.”
  4. Changed roles of library staff.  Automated functions, such as RFID which allows patrons to check out materials themselves, are altering the traditional roles of library staff.  Demands on library staff to trouble shoot and solve technical problems have increased dramatically.   The need to incorporate IT and AV skilled staff to assist both library staff and library patrons is evident.
  5. Developing lifelong learners.  One of the most important functions of library staff is to not just find answers for library patrons, but to teach them how to find answers for themselves.  Teaching is an essential component of the role of those of us working in libraries.
  6. Inevitably there are always constraints.  “How and when libraries move into the future is largely determined by budget and local politics, and make figuring out what’s next for libraries complex and murky………”  The latest technology, cool tech gadgets, longer opening hours, and more staff who have specialized skills that can maintain computers, trouble shoot technical issues, build library websites and drive innovative practice are sorely needed in all libraries.   Sadly, it’s rare for the funding to be there to support grand plans.
  7. Libraries are a melting pot.  Libraries provide a wealth of free activities and classes and house an enormous cache of resources for patrons to use, borrow and enjoy.  The range and variety of library patrons is no surprise.  Our public libraries attract rich people and homeless people, the young and the elderly and everyone in between.   There is no discrimination, no exclusion.  All are welcome to share and indulge.  A “unique interaction … takes place between the users, the librarians and the materials in the physical space of the library building …”  It is no wonder libraries continue to flourish.

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April is School Library Month in the US.

I came across this video in which five authors talk about the value of both libraries and teacher librarians in their lives.   If you are having any doubts about our value, just have a listen!

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It’s a daring question to pose to those of us working in school libraries ….. but ….. clearing out the entire book collection is exactly what has happened in one school library in Minneapolis in the US.

Seen to be responding to the February 2012 Obama Administration’s challenge to schools to embrace digital textbooks within 5 years, Benilde-St Margaret’s last year scrapped its entire print collection to create a learning space where students and staff can meet to share ideas, research and access online databases on iPads, laptops or computers, or to just read!

I first read about this story in an article in the January 20th issue of the Huffington Post: Minneappolis School Library Without Books Thrives After Clearing Entire Print Collection.   Quoting the high school Principal, Sue Skinner, the report is, as expected, upbeat in its praise of the task undertaken.   While a few books were left in the library for ‘reference’, teachers throughout the school were able to take books they wanted for their classroom libraries.  All the remaining books were packaged up and donated to schools in Africa.

Responsibility for the dismantling of the library seems to have been completed by none other than the school principal.  In the new digital Benilde library, Math and Literacy coaches work with students as they research using online databases such as Gale and ProQuest.   A look at the school website is a little frightening though.   There is no mention of a school library or library staff.  So who then directs this new library?  Sadly, no one!

Digging a little deeper for more information about this story, I found a very comprehensive report on School Library Journal.  Incorporating a far more in depth interview with the school Principal, Sue Skinner, the clincher comes when Skinner confides that the current librarian is retiring and that a search is underway for a visionary leader who holds similar views to Skinner to take the concept forward.   Some of the ‘tongue in cheek’ comments following this article reflect the range of thoughts and questions that virtually all Teacher Librarians working in schools would want to pose!

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