“Sir you must hate us – we are always in here borrowing your books!”
Yesterday I had two girls come into the library, make themselves cardboard moustaches and then walk out wearing them.
Today I had a bunch of students singing the theme song from The Gummi Bears, and not two minutes ago I read the first two chapters of Wolf by Tommy Donbavand (with added vocal effects) to a year 7 audience who listened with enjoyment and howled with dismay when I closed the bookand people wonder why I love working with teenagers!
In February next year I will have lived and worked in the UK for a decade, most of that time I have been involved in working with teenagers in one capacity or another. For years I stared into the unknown – the eyes of teenagers, who for years had been looked upon with fear, suspicion and loathing and bade them step into my library (to be fair a number of them were already there, hiding out from the mean streets). Chatting to them I designed activities and groups based around their interests creating vibrant youth library communities where I worked.
I have been a school librarian for the past 18 months and working with a captive audience is more of a challenge than working with teen groups that I started when I was in the public sector. Working as a school librarian has been a real eye opener for me. For the first time I came up against the term ‘solo practitioner’; I had thought that as a former teen librarian I knew what working alone was but noooooo! Poor, deluded innocent that I was, being left alone to work with teens is not solo work, it may have been isolating not having anyone able or willing to fill in for me when I was away but I was part of a team.
I miss the backroom bods who ordered what I requested, covered what I needed in record time and made sure that invoices got sent where they needed to go. I still speak to a number of ex colleagues from public libraries but it was good having someone to chat to in the e (rare) quiet moments on a service desk, nowadays I use twitter to converse with other school librarians in the UK (and abroad). School Libs tend to be a technologically literate lot – back when I was trying to break in to the field I had so much help and I still speak to a number of people that I have never met because they understand, it also makes sharing ideas so much easier!
Nowadays apart from book pushing, I am chief book orderer, cataloguer, coverer and putter away of everything. Never have I been more thankful for being good at cataloguing & classification (and blagging an up to date version of DDC). I can also sticky-back plastic cover a book in under a minute. It takes me about an hour every day to tidy the library – it is not massive, it just gets used a lot.
These jobs are things that are needed to keep the library running smoothly but as time consuming as they are they are not THE job.
My job is to be School Librarian, and what that entails is creating and constantly reinventing the space where students can be introduced to books, research and a love of reading. I get one library lesson a week with years 7, 8 & 9 and, working with the English Department, I have been developing a programme of introducing individual students to books they may enjoy. One of the joys of working in a small, private school means that I am able to do one to one work with students that need it (and also the students that enjoy reading and want to talk about the authors they love and be introduced to new writers).
During break-times I become a mix of referee, guide, homework helper, agony uncle as well as attempting to train up student librarians.
My biggest headache to date has been trying to break into school departments, (the English department has always been onside, but I did have to get them used to the idea that neither the Library nor I belonged to them but to be fair they had been looking after the library for years).
My library is a haven, an area of (relative) calm where everyone is welcome to shed the worries of school , sit, read, relax, have a comforting chat if necessary and a storytime where possible.
Basically it is the Babylon 5 of the school.
[link for the Babylon 5 reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon_5_(space_station)]
Matt Imrie is the London chair of the CILIP Youth Libraries Group. According to his Twitter profile he is also a geek, IT whizz and lover of stuff. He is also very tall.