Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Being a school librarian - Not a 'nice, easy' job

I do enjoy being a school librarian. I really do. You get to work with some of the most interesting people in the world, who will make you smile every day. You get to read YA fiction as your 'job' and get to chat about them with your charges. And you get the school holidays too!

But it's not all wine and roses folks. When people hear 'librarian', they think 'easy job'. Or 'nice job'. Well let's go through some misconceptions I've heard about being a school librarian and take them apart one by one:


Myth: You get to do nice things like buy/read books, arrange author visits and run reading groups all day

Reality: You only get to do that sort of thing about 5% of the time. The rest of the time is taken up with things like: cataloguing, paperwork, paying invoices, creating displays, attending boring meetings, planning and leading informations skills based lessons, sorting out subscriptions, dealing with requests from teachers (ranging from putting together book boxes to full blown lesson plans), telling kids off, fixing minor IT issues, doing reprographics stuff, maintaining the library and other subject pages on the schools wildly non-intuitive VLE, chasing up overdue books/other library items, dealing with kids who are in floods of tears, helping kids with homework and research, the mundane things like shelving and issuing/returning...and you usually have to do all of the above whilst being interrupted every two minutes with everything from requests to show where a book is to borrowing a stapler.

Myth: The library is regarded as the true information centre in the school 

Reality: It's possible, but to start with, no one will think about the role you play in giving kids lifelong, independent learning skills. Teachers, and pupils, think you just sit around stamping books all day. True, this does make it easy to please them when you do something rather easy like, say, produce a reading list for a Year 13 Engish literature module. But rarely will the true extent of your expertise be tapped in to of a teacher's own accord. They're all too 'busy' to realise that a lot of staff, never mind students, are unclear over what plagiarism is, or that kids are relying on Wikipedia for their homework assignments. You have to get on their nerves, almost, by showing them how you can help to make their teaching lives easier...


Me "hard at work" (I'm the one in the white shirt, obviously)

Myth: Only the nice kids come in to the library at break and lunchtimes

Reality: Nope. You're just as likely to have to break up a fight as you are to get a keen reader ask when the next Robert Muchamore is out. Even in a nice independent school like my one the clientele regularly comprises a bunch of slackers who use it as a social area.

Myth: You are the "beating heart of the school" (copyright Anthony Horowitz)

Reality: You should be the beating heart of the school. But the status of most school librarians (support staff, often line managed by the bursar) hardly reflects this. Only a select few are heads of department, as you should be if you are in charge of resourcing the curriculum, leading information literacy, and leading reading for pleasure across the whole school. Attend a parents evening and no parent will want to talk to you, instead worried about how their little darling is doing in the classroom. You will probably see SLT about once a term. Certain teachers you'll never see at all. Once again, you have to fight to get noticed.

Myth: It pays well

Reality: Actually, that's not a myth at all. We all know it doesn't pay well.

So there we have it. It's not an idyllic job. It's a stimulating and important job...but it can also be a dispiriting, frustrating and boring job too. It's a sad fact that, in this day and age, we have to constantly justify our very existence, but that's how it is. Anyway, this isn't one of those impassioned advocacy for libraries post (see this post for that). I'm no Nikki Heath, or Anne-Marie Tarter, or one of the other school librarian of the year types who do heroic deeds every day. I'm just a guy who likes what I do, and likes to think I'm not bad at doing it. I just wanted to put to bed a few ideas that it's a 'nice, easy' job.


  1. It feels a bit like you've stolen my thoughts. This post is spot on!

  2. This has to be the quickest response to a blog post I've ever seen! I added one or two tidbits since your comment (call it a first draft post if you will), but the general idea remains the same. I think all of us school librarians think the same way!

  3. Wow! I didn't have a library like that when I was at school...well there weren't computers in those days (ahem). I know you love your job and I believe it should rank very high on the school hierarchy - the arts are getting to be somewhat down-graded (well, they are here in Portugal).

    1. It's the same here. All the public and school library cuts and closures...

      We didn't have a library like this when I was in school either. It was just a bookcase in the Deputy Head of English's classroom!

  4. How very true all that is, and how I identify with it.

    I am in awe of your beautiful library; it makes my 40 year old state school library look really tired. Still, I bet your pupils aren't any better than mine :-)

  5. Thanks Elspeth :-)

    My kids are a lot better than the ones in my charge at the two state schools I worked at before. I took my pupil librarians on a trip to Foyles today (now that's something I wouldn't have been able to do at my old schools!), and they were as good as gold. Not having to do as much behaviour management is definitely one big plus of working where I do now...

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  7. Hi. I found this post while researching info on working in a school library. I have an interview next week for a part time position as a school librarian and I'm really worried. The position didn't require any specific qualification - in fact they were looking for minimum grade A-C English GCSE! - nor experience, as training will be given, but though I am a qualified teacher with 25 year experience with both children and adult, and a published author (though not of YA fiction specifically) I have never worked in a library before and I'm panicking about failing the interview as much as getting the job! Any tip?