The Heart of the School

I am annually awed by the talents and commitment of the SLA Librarian of the Year honours list.  I’m sure you will find inspiration in the experiences of Ros Harding the current School Librarian of the Year from The King’s School in Chester. 

SLA Librarian of the Year 2019 

Head Librarian and Archivist at The King’s School Chester (, an independent selective school for 4-18 year olds), Ros Harding contributes in many ways to the life of the school and to the wellbeing of its students and staff. She was described variously as “caring, for people but also for the library itself”, “inspiring curiosity” and a “tour de force”. Ros is an excellent ambassador of research skills and ensures all aspects of the school have a place within the library. She empowers pupils and gives outstanding support and pastoral care.

@kingschester, @KSCLibrarian @thekingschoolchester

  • How do you maintain the status of the library as central to learning and not a convenient ‘add on’?

I think the most important thing that a librarian can do is develop personal relationships with teaching staff, so that you get the opportunity to talk about their plans and see where you can add value.  I attend staff briefings every week and try to chat to teachers in the staffroom. Even if the library is included in policies, these personal relationships are what takes policy into practice. 

  • Can you tell us how have involved other teachers with the development of the library, particularly the book selection process?

About 5 years ago, I ran a working party on developing a reading culture in school.  This ran for 2 years, and it was a great way of making connections with staff.  It also meant that I had support when implementing ideas, such as ‘I am reading…’ posters on classroom doors. I have also carried out staff questionnaires in the past, to make sure that I was developing the library in line with what the school needed. In terms of book selection, I encourage staff to recommend anything they need for their subjects, and for their own use. We have also been able to build up a decent staff collection (housed in the staffroom).

  • How do you select the books for your School Book Award?

We try to make this as pupil-run as possible. I ask for nominations from pupils and staff, but I also add in books that have been popular. We do have certain criteria, such as publication within the past 18 months and the books must be either a stand-alone or the first in a series.  I work with a group of pupil librarians to whittle the nominations down to two longlists of 12 books each (one list for Years 7&8 and another for Year 9 upwards). These lists are sent out to pupils and staff to vote for the six they would most like to see on the shortlists (we include the cover, blurb and a very brief review).  The top 6 on each list make it the shortlists which are announced in September.

  • How do you make your library appealing to the children?

I am very proud of the fact that most people comment on how welcoming the library is.   We talk to pupils and staff as they come in (if possible!) and make the effort to chat to them as we’re supervising. I have lots of posters up to provide colour and a good mix of furniture, including desks, sofas and beanbags. I try to have as many books on display as possible: new books, quick reads, themed displays, some face out on the normal shelves.  I run a weekly book club and I also run a ‘Society for Equality’ which doesn’t take place in the library but has a massive impact on my relationship with the pupils who attend. One of my assistants also runs a ‘book-craft’ club for our Year 7s, which is a lovely hive of activity every Friday.

  • What has been your favourite library display?

Displays are definitely not my strong point, but I am very lucky to have great pupil librarians and a fantastically creative assistant librarian. A few years’ ago, she created a few different displays for some of the books on the Book Award list. The display for ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ included an open pack of Wotsits (cheesy snacks play an important role in the book) made out of tissue paper, and in the display for ‘One’ she made Tippi and Grace’s plaits out of tissue paper and linked them together as on the book cover. These were eye-catching and got a lot of pupils talking. They also had a great response from the authors on Twitter.

A simpler, effective thing that we do each year, is to have laminated A3 sheets up for each of the books on our award and invite pupils and staff to add their comments using whiteboard markers. 

  • How do you work with the primary classes?

We have a Junior and Infant school on site and I am very keen to work across all three schools to develop a love of reading.  We do things like ‘Book Bingo’ for our Infants and Juniors, which was actually designed by our previous Patron of Reading, Non Pratt, and has been updated by our present Patron, Mike Revell.  This gives me the opportunity to visit the schools to give out prizes so that hopefully the pupils will have a positive impression of the library. We sometimes run other competitions throughout the year and organise author visits, whether from our Patron of Reading or an author on a book tour.  We also run a Book Award within the Junior School and organise some Skype chats with authors as part of this. From about February/March each year, the Year 6 pupils can start to use the Senior School library and we have an open event to mark the start of this, where parents can come in to see the library too and talk to us about book recommendations etc.

We run a Summer Reading Challenge for all pupils coming to the Senior School as Years 7s (from our own Junior School and external entrants). They get a certificate for reading at least 4 books (although some read a LOT more than that!) and they are invited to do something creative in response to the books.  We get some incredible entries each year, from comics based on a book, to posters, to stop-motion animations. We then have a celebration assembly in September where our patron of Reading awards prizes.

  • What is your proudest achievement as School Librarian at The Kings School?

Obviously winning the School Librarian of the Year award has been a career highlight, but in terms of what I have achieved within the school, I think it is the fact that so many pupils (and staff) love the library and enjoy spending time in it for a variety of reasons. I have tried very hard to make the library a place where pupils can work, read, be creative, discover new things, fulfil their potential, find new friends and simply be comfortable and safe. I think I have achieved this for a large number of people over the years and this makes me very proud.

  • Have you implemented anything new since receiving your award, or do you have developments in the pipeline you can share with others?

The main new initiative for this year has been our Book Clubs for parents. It was something that was mentioned to me as a potential idea by another librarian and I decided to see if there would be any demand for it through a survey emailed to parents. There turned out to be such a demand, that I have had to create two clubs to be able to fit everyone in! Each group meets once a month and we discuss the books that are on the School Book Award (one from each shortlist each time). The school has been very supportive of the idea and we are able to hold the meetings in our lovely new Sports Centre café, with drinks and biscuits supplied.  The parents involved have been wonderful and we have had great discussions about the books, how much we have enjoyed them and what we think about their appeal to the children. It’s been a great success so far and I hope we will be able to continue with this every year.

Could you be the next School Librarian of the Year or does your school librarian deserve a nomination. Entries are invited from all sectors and from both state and independent schools. You don’t have to have a big book budget to enter. It’s more important that you make a difference to children’s reading lives as Ros has clearly done. Nominations for 2021 can be made in the Autumn on the School Library Association website.

If your school is not a member of The School Library Association, do consider joining this wonderful organisation.

It is clear from reading Ros’s insights into her own practice that people are the heart of an effective library, personal relationships are what takes policy into practice’. The Library is for everyone in the school and it should be central when curriculum planning and developing pastoral provision. Does everyone in your school have a voice where the Library is concerned? The views and needs of senior management, classroom teachers, LSAs, parents and children should all be included in a review of the current and future role of the library. The involvement of the school community should also be evident beyond the library walls. Simple ideas used at The King’s School such as ‘I am reading…’ on the classroom, headteacher’s and site manager’s office doors show anyone walking into the school that there is a strong reading culture.

Developing and maintaining a book rich environment is a challenging, but highly rewarding task. 

Three things you can do this February to celebrate Library Lovers Month

  • hold a special event in your Library (include biscuits or cakes!) 
  • give the library a facelift with a new display. Spring, plants, trees and the environment are good themes for this time of year. And even better if the children are involved in putting it together. Ask them to find favourite books that connect with your theme and display them with the children’s recommendations.
  • make sure there are a least 10 books displayed front-facing in your library. It really does make a difference. You will need to replace them regularly because the children will inevitably take these books first.

Quick Display Ideas

Adding interest and interactivity to your collection will create a more significant impact. Simple creative displays will encourage children to engage with the books and pique their interest in new titles. Here are some of the current ideas that we are using:

A sports themed book collection is kicked into the spotlight by simply placing a football alongside. Any interesting piece of sports equipment could be used.

A selection of biographies has a display of silhouetted images presented in interesting photographic frames, picked up cheaply in a sale. The silhouettes relate to the subjects in the books. we have attached some clues to help the children work it out. The children then have to find the books to see if they have managed to solve the puzzle.

Creating atmosphere to engage the sense is something we try to achieve. To make this collection of spooky stories extra inviting, we used three candles with LED flickering flames. It certainly attracts the attention of visitors. sometimes we even use theatrical smells. A recent display for the picture book Town Is By The Sea included a range of original mining artifacts and an aroma block of coal dust from a theme park supplier.

A book in a jar: inspired by a World Book Day idea, we recently had a team competition to create a book in a jar. The Just Imagine team came up trumps with The Iron Man being the firm favourite. Shown here, Michaela Morgan’s Walter Tull’s Scrapbook  and Chitra Soundar’s A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom.

Collections to support the development of your library

Of course the effective use of the library is contingent upon good quality and plentiful stock.  With years of experience in the education sector as teachers, librarians and consultants, the Just Imagine team has the expertise to help you stock your library with a collection that serves your school ethos, supports your curriculum delivery and engenders a reading culture.

For an instant facelift and injection of a wide range of quality stock, we have a Library Refresh collection. These are quick ways to refresh a tired library that needs a quick update.

Library packs offer targeted collections to ensure your stock is inclusive. Some current collections are inclusivity collection, empathy collection, PSHE collection, values collection. We also have a ‘WOW’ nonfiction collection, which really will give your library the WOW! factor.

Our recently updated curriculum collections offer 10 books per collection that support National Curriculum subjects. Indicative titles are: Materials, The UK, Plants, Explorers, Polar Regions, The Vikings and many more.

To support reading for pleasure, take a look at The Reading Journey  This resource is based around 20 high interesting themes. Each theme includes recently published books to engage readers and to broaden their reading choices. Themes include The Lake of Long Ago (historical fact and fiction); The Funny Forest (humour); The Magical Mansion (fantasy); Curiosity Caves (high interest nonfiction); The Wordless Waterfall (wordless books). Each area includes titles for children reading at expected level,  accessible titles and challenging titles.

The accompanying free app (currently available on iPad) provides a platform for children to explore different genre and record their reading journey with their own interactive bookshelf.

Who is the Library for?

For library lovers month, let’s remember who the school library is for and the difference that it can make to children’s lives. For a dose of inspiration, we revisited this Ted Talk by Michael Beirut 

We’d love to hear what you have been up to in your library so do get in touch and we can feature your work in one of our forthcoming blogs: