Real life stories
Whether you're thinking about your job or training options, there's almost certainly somebody, somewhere, with a story to tell that might help inspire you to make your next move.
Karen Hans - Librarian
Name: Karen Hans
Job Role: Librarian
School: St Martin-in-the-Fields High School
Bio: Worked in a range of library sectors including public, academic, health, industrial and schools
I am a school librarian and have been in post since 1999. Initially it was just me working in the library. Now I job-share with an assistant librarian and we also have a senior library assistant and a part-time library assistant, so things have changed a lot over the years as the school has grown and the library service has developed.
I have worked in lots of library sectors over the years and have volunteered in schools. I studied part-time to gain an MA in Information Services Management, becoming a qualified librarian. Although the school advertised for a chartered librarian, I applied anyway and I was offered the job on the understanding that I would gain chartership status as soon as possible, which I was happy to agree to.
There is no typical day! I can spend time planning lessons and schemes of work or team-teaching with teachers (library induction, research skills, reading development). I might be asked to investigate and implement e-learning databases and platforms for the school and encourage staff and pupils to use them. I am responsible for buying library resources and making them available to staff and pupils, I run clubs at lunchtimes and take pupils on relevant trips, I also arrange author events in school. I might redesign the layout or signage of the library, renew displays or simply spend time chasing overdue books and weeding out tatty ones!
The skills needed include: time management; project management; strategic planning; patience; tenacity; diplomacy; enthusiasm for learning, reading and teenagers; budgeting and supervisory skills; an interest in pedagogy and technology; a sense of humour; information handling skills; and in my particular case an ability to communicate / work as a team with my job-share partner and assistants. If only I had the necessary skills in greater abundance!
I have a BSc Hons in Social Science, which helps with the research skills aspect of my job, particularly teaching 6th formers or carrying out surveys. My MA focused on user education and also covered other aspects of librarianship. Experience has been my greatest help, however - time spent in different sectors as a library assistant learning from the librarians, the year I spent teaching abroad and the work-based reflective portfolio I produced to gain chartership of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). Recently I became a Chartered Fellow of CILIP, again this was through writing reflectively about the work I have done. In the school environment life is extremely busy, so it is necessary to build in evaluation time, reviewing the evidence-base in order to plan for the future in an informed way.
I work closely with teachers who value library resources or research skills input in their lessons, with ICT technicians who manage the network so that electronic resources and platforms are accessible, with premises staff, office staff and senior leaders - everyone really!
I attend lots of training: INSET with teachers and more specific librarianship CPD and networking. School librarians love to share their ideas and best practice so I have learned lots over the years from librarians in other schools. I like to keep my knowledge and skills up-to-date in areas which are always changing such ebook platforms or copyright law.
It's a challenge to fulfil all aspects of the job as there are so many possibilities; school librarians can major in research skills work across the curriculum, pastoral care through pupil helper schemes and providing a safe haven, or reader development projects. To succeed in all these aspects of the job is a tall order, but working across this spectrum means the work is varied and definitely never boring. Helping individual children is very satisfying - whether finding exactly the right book for them or seeing them develop from starting school with lots of problems to leaving school as confident, knowledgeable and articulate library helpers.
Volunteering in a library is a great way to gain experience and to understand the breadth of tasks and skills involved. If that doesn't put you off, contact the School Library Association and the CILIP School Libraries Group.