As the autumn term begins, our first discussion with the board explores how this year will be different from years gone by, and how they will prepare for it.

The Board Members

Zoe Rowley, Senior Librarian, Wolverhampton Grammar School

Alison Tarrant, CEO, School Library Association

Toby Parker, Director of Learning, Research & College Archivist, Haileybury

Helen Precious, Head Librarian Tonbridge School

Donna Pocock-Bell, Librarian, St. Helen and St. Katharine

Question 1

How has your library changed in response to the pandemic?

In the face of the pandemic, Alison Tarrant noted that “no one library has been impacted in exactly the same way as others. Some have been closed entirely, others have been open to certain bubbles, others have been open nearly as normal. Many have been taking books to classrooms, quarantining stock for a time before reshelving it, and many have invested in online resources.”

Some, like Toby Parker’s library, were in the process of a major restructure when the government closed the schools, “emphasis[ing] the importance of changing from being a repository of materials and study space into an active service underpinning the educational activities of the school. We now have a large digital library which allows pupils and staff to access material at all times.”

Donna Pocock-Bell had to severely restrict the number of people accessing their library, applying new online tools to facilitate home learning. Some of the tools that fared particularly well have been kept for this year, now that they have returned to in-person library use.

Question 2

How are you preparing the library to keep it safe and accessible for all students this term?

Librarians are working hard to follow the Government and school’s guidelines on Covid safety while trying to make the accessibility as easy as possible. This includes spacing furniture differently, opening windows and hand sanitising to ensure staff and students feel safe getting the most out of the library. Many are aware that the situation could change, and are prepared to alter their safety provisions.

Tarrant is more hesitant: “How school libraries will be impacted in the next term is uncertain. Many school library staff are on term time only contracts, so many only have one day to prepare the school library for the new term. This will mostly depend on how the school is interpreting and dealing with the latest guidance. Many don’t have the space to socially distance, and restricting choice is limiting real engagement with the resources.”

Question 3

Are there any useful digital tools you have used, both before and since the pandemic?

Many schools began using tools like Show My Homework, Google Classroom and MS Teams for the first time. Canva and Wakelet have also been popular tools, as have e-books, which have seen an increase in school libraries. St. Helen & St. Katharine have always subscribed to online research databases and academic collections, but found that during lockdown digital magazines with Exact Editions have been very popular, as they can be accessed remotely from outside of the library. This reflects a larger move away from print versions and towards their digital counterparts.

Incredibly, Parker was able to turn the pandemic into a great opportunity, despite the restrictions. “Before the pandemic we had no digital tools and only a couple of on-line resources which had not properly been set up. This meant that when the school was closed in March 2020 the library had to change. Using digital magazines and journals rather than print copies has been a liberating experience. The fact that all children can access copies and search through them has meant that they are used much more than physical copies. Over the last 18 months, in partnership with a company, we have developed a series of tools/systems to provide a connected approach to learning including reading rooms, an eCommons, digital library and an API which brings together all of the available resources that form the resources of Haileybury Information and Knowledge Service or HIKS for short. My five year plan for the digital developments in the service which was written in February 2020 has been achieved and exceeded in 18 months.”

Question 4

What goals have you set your library for this new school year?

The SLA are seeing several enquiries about increasing footfall, working with teachers, outreach, engagement and staying safe. “For many re-opening will be a huge task,” says Tarrant, “with many missing the emotional positive reinforcement that pupils can provide.”

Parker is hoping to educate the staff and pupils, ensuring they understand that the digital and physical collections complement each other rather than thinking that each one exists in a vacuum. His other major goal is to continue to develop their digital service to offer best resources and support in every classroom and study space when needed.

Pockock-Bell expressed targets every librarian can relate to: “Our goals this year are to revel in the company and face-to face contact with our readers, enjoy some exciting author events and book groups and make the most of the great facilities we are so lucky to enjoy in school. We also understand that some students will find the new normal a bit daunting especially if they are new starters so we aim to be kind and encouraging to them as they find their feet.”

Thank you to the School Library Advisory Board for their fascinating insight into school libraries entering this term. Good luck to everyone starting the new school year.

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