Guest blog by Emily Stannard, Head Librarian at Bradfield College. After being inspired at the first JCS Conference in 2018 by Abingdon School Librarian, Graham Gardner, Emily was able to develop and strengthen links with departments in her school. She delivered a lightning talk at the JCS 2019 Conference explaining how she was able to do this. In this guest blog she discusses her ideas and practical initiatives…

“The curriculum is at the heart of school life. Students and teachers spend more time and energy attempting to meet its demands than on anything else. If librarians are not embedded in the curriculum then our opportunities to contribute to the teaching and learning will be severely limited.” Graham Gardner, Librarian, Abingdon School

Time. We never seem to have enough of it, do we?! Let’s compare librarians and teachers. A school librarian’s time is (generally speaking) divided between preparing and running reading lessons, delivering research skills/information literacy sessions, day to day running of the library, administrative tasks, book clubs and homework clubs. Interestingly, according to an Ofsted Report on Teachers’ Well-being published in July 2019, less than 50% of a teacher’s time is taken up with teaching. The other 57% of their time is taken up with lesson planning, marking, administrative responsibilities, and ‘other duties’ which include pupil counselling, team work, extracurricular activities and communication with parents/guardians. As a result, teachers cite frustration at not being able to do a good job or have a good work-life balance.

This got me thinking: how can we as librarians help teachers save time?

I was inspired by Graham Gardner’s keynote at the JCS Conference 2018 to get into the mindset of being a teacher and speaking a language that would resonate with both teachers and pupils. Essentially that meant getting to grips with the exam board specifications (and in particular the assessment objectives) for the different academic subjects in our school. Daunting as that sounds, it’s not hard – your exams office will have details of the exam board and course code for each subject (usually in a straightforward spreadsheet) and then you can find the specification online. Within the specification there’s a lot of non-essential information; just pick out the summary of the assessment objectives and a summary of the key topics being taught and the mark weightings. That way, you can determine which areas to tackle first. By re-defining yourself as an extra member of the department, in essence their ‘research arm’, you are uniquely placed to be able to use your skills to curate resources quickly and organise them effectively to support the teaching of those topics.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Start with a ‘friendly’ department or a Humanities/Arts subject you know well (e.g. English/History) and get a teacher to give you a topic area to research and pull together some resources for.

2. Understand from the assessment objectives and the department just what is needed, and then go and find it. You don’t have to go far; the Hodder Education Review magazine series is excellent for A level courses (I started with A level because recently a few of our courses have changed and are new to the teachers as well). Other resources such as revision guides (try using the CLA Education Platform for this, or just scan pages in yourself) and Britannica also have concise information and articles.

3. Collate the resources (and links to the resources) together on a page on your library intranet and equate it to the syllabus for that subject (e.g. call it ‘Component 1: Socialism’).

4. Once you’ve done it for one subject, arrange meetings with other departments as you’ll have something to show them as an idea of how the library can support them.

I interviewed teachers from three departments (English, Politics and History) that I have been closely working with over the past couple of terms and created a video. The teachers speak for themselves but suffice to say they have been really happy with what we have been able to do for them and have said that it has either made or will make a material impact on their teaching.

Some challenges I’ve faced:

1. After you’ve been to a dept meeting it’s so important to get stuff done for them within a short space of time else you lose your customer enthusiasm! This can mean a lot of work initially but once things are up and running it’s just a case of reviewing them.

2. There are lots of subjects with (seemingly) endless sub-topics, some of which need constant attention (for example Business). Which leads to another issue: the currency of resources – how often should the page be checked? Some subjects like Politics need regular updates. Keep an eye on those subjects and review them every year.

I am fortunate in that I have a full-time deputy and two part-time members of staff which allows me the freedom to work with departments in this way. But even if you are a lone worker, I seriously think we, as librarians, need to look at how our time is divided and take a look at how to better engage departments with the library. We need to offer something which will have tangible benefits for teachers; they do not have time to research in depth and find resources whereas that is what we do best. And it’s no bad thing to blow the dust off those books which haven’t been touched for years by scanning in a relevant chapter for students to read…

“Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.” Laura Vanderkam

You can view Emily’s presentation slides from the JCS 2019 Conference here.