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Top Tips from Amy McKay, School Librarian of the Year 2016

Just Imagine congratulates, Amy McKay on winning the School Librarian of the year Award 2016. Our Libraries Adviser, Caroline Bradley attended the ceremony and afterwards talked to Amy about her top tips for developing the school library. Read on to find out more about it.

It is testament to the especially high quality of nominations received this year that the Honour List for the SLA School Librarian of the Year Award 2016 was longer than usual. This year five exceptional librarians from a wide variety of schools were included:

Sophie Chalmers (Southbrook School, Devon)

Rachel Knight (Sherborne Girls, Dorset)

Amy McKay (Corby Business Academy, Northamptonshire)

Alison Tarrant (Cambourne Village College, Cambridgeshire)

Lauren Thow (Portobello High School, Edinburgh)

These Librarians have made a huge difference to the lives of the students and people they work with, igniting a passion for reading, setting students on a learning journey, teaching them essential skills, as well as supporting staff and reaching out to the wider community. Any one of these five could have been a worthy winner of this year’s award.

The ceremony was presided over by former SLA Chair Alec Williams who opened proceedings with his usual expert delivery relaying his vast experience with quality practice in school libraries. This was followed by wise words from president and much loved author and poet Kevin Crossley Holland.

Catherine Holpot shared her own relationship with school libraries and laid testament to her own positive experiences of books and libraries to her current position at Macmillan Children’s Books.

Melissa Morrison, Schools consultant from Softlink presented some impressive figures and urged librarians not to be disheartened by decreasing budgets, to be creative and share their good practice through social media. Films of the five shortlisted librarians in action made by pupils and staff at their respective schools showed the wide variety of activities they have introduced through their work as School Librarians. Kim Slater took to the judge’s chair with glee to herald the excellent work of school librarians and announce the deserving winner: Amy McKay from Corby Business Academy in Northamptonshire.

Humble in her acceptance Amy shared her success with her team and praised the support she receives from the school, evident by the attendance of her assistant and Deputy at the ceremony. Congratulations to Amy as she takes up her Year of office as School Librarian of the Year. We look forward to seeing which exciting projects she gets involved with.

Despite all the Librarians on the honours list being from Secondary schools this year, much of the excellent work going on can be and indeed is replicated in the Primary sector. Some of the excellent activities practised by the shortlisted Librarians include:

  • Curated book boxes for individuals with special needs (accessible reads and books relating to their special interests)
  • Bibliotherapy – using books to tackle issue such as bullying or separation in a book group or drop in lunchtime club.
  • Shelf tags – for pupils and staff to complete to recommend their favourite reads.
  • An advent of Christmas/seasonal titles:put the spotlight on a different Christmas title during December. We have a Christmas pack available on our website if your Christmas collection needs refreshing.
  • Desert Island Books – teachers could do this to model their own reading preferences – this would make a great week of assemblies during Bookweek.
  • The Book Doctor with surgery times at lunchtime – the Book doctor (this could be your Library Monitors) prescribes a suitable book for those in need.
  • Topical displays – reflecting the outside world whether that be the season, current festivals or cultural and sporting events such as the Olympics or the World Cup. Please view the Bookpacks on our website for some ready made display packages.
  • a projector and large screen so that book trailers, performance poetry, plays etc. can be screened

Support from your management team is vital. As winner Amy McKay states:

“An aesthetically impressive library is great, but it needs to be financially supported to allow for a consistent stream of exciting, new books.  Encouraging reading for pleasure is so much more effective if you offer the books young people want to read. Being able to bring new books into the library as soon as they are published is important to creating buzz; new stock arriving six months after paperback editions have been cheaply and widely available in supermarkets doesn’t excite young readers.”

Amy shares some of her excellent practice with us in this interview:

How do you make your library appealing to the children? 

We try to make it as colourful and interesting environment as possible, with lots to look at and be inspired by.  Displays are changed at least three times a year and are designed to reflect student interests and needs.  Most importantly though, it’s a friendly, safe place and we work hard to make the students feel welcome.

How do you involve staff and students in the book selection process? 

I organise an annual stock selection trip to either (depending on that year’s focus) a local indie, Waterstones or Forbidden Planet and “give” each student a sum to spend on stock whilst they’re there.  The only time I’ll intervene is if they choose something we already have.  Students are prepped before to find out about and consider other people’s preferences as well as their own. Throughout the year I am repeatedly telling staff and students that if there is a book they’d like us to stock we’ll endeavour to do so.  Obviously we can’t say yes to everything, but we manage to get about 95% of requests in.  This gives a lovely sense of communal ownership to the library and means we have a stock that reflects diverse and different tastes. I involve Directors of Subjects by discussing their schemes of work with them at the start of each academic year to ensure we are prepared for likely requests. Once a year we invite a mobile bookshop in after-school and invite staff and students to have a browse and suggest things they’d like us to purchase.  We’re a small town in Northamptonshire and the only place to buy books locally is WH Smiths or supermarkets, by inviting a bookseller in we’re able to widen students’ knowledge of, and interest in, the wealth of amazing reading material available.

Can you explain the ways you have involved other staff and senior management with the development the library? 

I present in SMT and middle management meetings to keep everybody aware of what we’re achieving and current initiatives.  We run annual competitions in which staff model reading for pleasure.  I hold book talks for English staff to help them stay up to date on current titles. We run a yearly reading battle between staff and students.  We listen to feedback and ask regularly what other staff would like to see with regards to library development.

How have you narrowed the gender gap in your Library? 

We’ve involved boys in the stock selection process a lot over the last four years, this has resulted in a superb, student driven graphic novel collection.  It also saw the extension of our true crime selection, after discussions with and input from Y11 boys.  We’ve offer activities that appeal to non-traditional users – such as a zombie apocalypse course, Manga groups, exotic meat tasting sessions etc.  We listen to their feedback and act on it.  We benefit from a number of author visits each year and have had a number of authors visit who are known to appeal to boys.  Perhaps most importantly, we expect all students to read regardless of gender.  If as a society we’re forever telling boys that they don’t read this is a) false and b) potentially self-perpetuating.

How do you work with your local primary schools?  

I visit all our feeder schools in July to meet incoming Y7s and tell them about our Transition Reading Challenge.  This gives me a chance to talk about reading with them, highlight to them and their parents just how seriously we take reading for pleasure, and give them a chance to get to know me a little.  Since doing these visits we’ve found that Y7s are excited to start using the library immediately in September and view it as a fun and welcoming part of the school.  There were 27 feeder schools this year, so visiting all of them is no small task, but the results make it well worth the extra work. We are always included in the Transfer Day programme too; this gives us another chance to get to know students and allows them to explore the library before starting. When appropriate, I invite local primary schools to author talks we hold.

How does your role as Carnegie Co-ordinator for Youth Libraries Group inform your work in the Library? 

I honestly don’t think I’d have had a chance of winning the award without my involvement in CKG and YLG!  It has increased my confidence, knowledge and enthusiasm for the job no end!  The role of school librarian can be quite isolating, but CKG and YLG give me the chance to be in regular contact with and learn from some of the most inspirational, engaged and enthusiastic children’s librarians in the UK. As CKG co-ordinator I am constantly reading possible nominations and I read all the titles that are nominated alongside the judges.  This means that I read much wider than I would otherwise.

You are clearly very hands on, helping pupils with presentations etc.. Can you give some examples of this element of your role and tell us how important do you think this type of involvement is from the school librarian?

I think this type of involvement is essential for school librarians, if we want staff and students to view libraries as more than just rooms full of books we have to show them just what we can do to support teaching and learning. I deliver bibliography and plagiarism sessions to all Y12s, these are tailored to their studies to ensure students see the link between the theory and how they can apply it in their own studies.  I also deliver sessions to students on improving their research and making better use of online resources. For KS3 I write Bookquests on requested curriculum subjects and deliver them to the classes.  These can be on any subject and are a great way of embedding info lit skills whilst working within the curriculum.

What is your proudest achievement as School Librarian of Corby Business Academy? 

Mostly I’m proud to run a well-used library that students engage with and view as a fun place that belongs to them.  There are, of course, lots of individual initiatives I’m proud of (transition challenge, shrinking the gender gap, CKG, survival camps etc.), but it’s the overall atmosphere of the library that regularly makes me swell with pride.  The buzzy noise at lunchtime as students involve themselves in a multitude of things, their willingness and excitement to get involved with new things, seeing once non-readers walking through the school with a book or discussing their favourite read; these are the things that make me feel so lucky to do the job I do.  Not everybody is lucky enough to enjoy their job, never mind love it the way I love mine, so to receive an award for simply doing what I love is mind blowing.

Congratulations, Amy on your well-deserved award.

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