Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oh yeah, I'm a librarian too...

Yes, and have been one for over three years now. That's at least one year more than I've been a writer, so I can probably talk about it with a bit more authority...

When people think 'librarian' they think Ronnie Corbett from that seventies sitcom whose name escapes me. And people with spidery glasses, cardigans and a penchant for shushing people. Or at least, that's the stereotype.

I know dozens of librarians, and their perfectly normal people. Their idea of a good Saturday night isn't sitting in a rocking chair with a pipe in hand, steadily working their way through Proust's Rememberance of Things Past. They like the same things as you do. They go to the pub, watch gash TV, save up for holidays. They just happen to like books more than some people do (I say some, because there are countless people on the tube reading books/kindles: they can't ALL be librarians).

I'm a school librarian. Most folk think PUBLIC LIBRARY ASSISTANTS when they think 'librarian'. Sorry for the shouty capitals but it really gets my goat. The people who sit behind the counter, stamp your books (or, more likely these days, show you how to use the self issue machine) and put books on the shelves are NOT librarians, OK? The librarian is the person who runs the whole show...and there are many different types of libraries that said librarian can run.

What do I do as a school librarian? Lots of stuff. I suppose it could be broken down in to three areas:

1. Resource and support the curriculum. This basically means ensuring all the text books and other useful reference research materials are in the library. This includes books, periodical subscriptions and suitable, reliable, authorative online resources. By which I mean subject databases: Grove Art Online, The History Reference Centre, Britannica Encyclopedia online etc etc. To put it at its crudest: stock acquisition and maintenance. Buying stuff, subscribing to stuff, getting rid of stuff.

2. Teach information literacy. What the hell's that? Well, I'm not going to give the official defintion because it's stupidly pretentious. It basically means, teaching people how to distinguish the good information from the bad. No, you can't find what you want by relying on Wikipedia. No, you can't type one or two words in to Google and click on the top result. You need to be able to scrutinise website quality, use sound advanced search strategies, learn how to skim and scan the information you find. That's where we come in. We develop the kids' independent learning and research skills: which is a lifelong skill, isn't it? People who tell me we don't need libraries because we have the Internet also piss me off. Most of the information on the World Wide Web is hidden from view, locked away in subject specialist databases. Who has access to this priceless information? Libraries, stupid. Did I also mention that the library has books? Ever thought about looking up what you need to find in those?

3. Promote reading for pleasure. This tends to get pushed to the forefront in the conferences I've attended, neglecting the previous two somewhat. But, yes, it is important. As the good folks at the National Literacy Trust will tell you, the majority of prison inmates are illiterate/have poor literacy skills. Reading gets you on in life. So it's up to the school librarian to get the kids at their school reading. How? Well, organising author visits, running reading groups that show a bit more imagination than the norm, coming up with schemes to get kids borrowing books (I'm piloting a loyalty card scheme at my place, and it's started well), organising reading challenges. It is, admittedly, the most enjoyable part of my job. And it's what got me writing...

So there you have it. That's also what I do.

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