Recently I helped to organise a CDG London & SE trip to a school library: Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, west London. Though school librarianship has never appealed to me – mainly because children and teenagers scare me – I thought it would be interesting to find out more about how a school library works.
The library is only a year or two old and occupies a new building in the school. In some ways it reminded me of a public library, particularly a modern refurbished one: it is large and airy, with bookshelves around the walls, an enquiry desk in the centre, and tables – most of which have computers – dotted around the room. In one corner there are some comfortable sofas next to huge windows which let in lots of light. Like most public libraries, it shelves fiction A-Z by author and uses Dewey to classify non-fiction. The school caters for over a thousand pupils aged 11-18, with around 350 in the sixth form, so the library has to meet the needs of a variety of students. The library is staffed by two professional librarians and two library assistants. Students aren’t allowed to take their bags into the library with them, but have to leave them on specially designed shelves.
The library plays a key role in the life of the school. It is used before and after school (it is open from 8 to 6) by the students for study and reading, and during the school day primarily by sixth-formers who have free periods. Break and lunch times are exceptionally busy. The library is just one of the spaces available to students - others include the group study room and common room - the library offers a quieter, more studious atmosphere and silence is enforced, unlike in other common areas. English lessons are timetabled to take place in the library every fortnight and students are able to choose a book they are interested in and read quietly on the sofas (which are very comfortable!). Teachers are encouraged to get involved with the library, for example by checking the collection of books on their subject. The library catalogue, Oliver, has a clever feature which allows staff to provide subject reading lists which students can use.
Some enthusiastic teachers have provided lists of recommended fiction: there was also a Carnegie shadowing scheme which took place in the run up to the award, with participants reading and discussing nominated books.
The day ended with tea and biscuits kindly provided by staff, and gave us a chance to look over some of the books taken off the shelves during weeding. A few of these have been kept behind the desk, purely for their amusement value. I particularly liked the early 90s volume about the dangers of heroin abuse!
I found the visit really interesting and enjoyed learning about the different services offered by the library. It really brought home to me how valuable a library with committed, qualified staff is to a school and it makes me sad that a service like this isn’t open to all young people. School libraries are not statutory but they clearly provide such a huge benefit.