Reading, Research and Recreation: the three R’s of a school library

Last night I had the undivided attention of a small but appreciative group of parents who had come along to the monthly PTA meeting to listen to me talk about how our school libraries support their children’s learning and ways they, as parents could be doing that at home.

Reading, Research and Recreation: the three R’s of the School Library

In this presentation I introduced parents to the school-wide information literacy programme that I have developed to date and described how it fits across year levels and curriculum areas.
To support parents in their endeavours to help their children with homework and enthuse them to read (or keep reading) I also created a Parent Resource Livebinder with some good links in it for author websites, book reviews, book trailers, research help and online safety.
I had several parents stay behind after the presentation to discuss various things that had occurred to them during my talk as well as to talk about their favourite books and how some of the strategies I mentioned had already worked for them or how they intended to try this or that one out.
There was definite interest in sessions for parents to up-skill in their use of the internet and searching strategies so I am adding that to my goals for the 2013 school year.
We have also invited parents to become members of our library for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how many take up that offer and how that aspect of community involvement develops.

Sometimes it’s the little things ……

So Term 4 has begun and even though we’re only at the end of week 1,  I have to say I’m very happy that Labour Weekend is ahead of us and with it a welcome three day weekend!

2012 might not be quite done and dusted yet, in fact quite a bit still remains to do before I can say that, but I already have my 2013 Ideas Notebook open…..

……..and entries being made for consideration for next year.

One of the ideas I played around with and ended up adding yesterday was thanks to a link and an idea Michele Coombridge posted on the SLANZA Facebook page.

The Catalog Card Generator is a neat little tool which is fun and very easy to use.  It is similar to the Newspaper Clipping Generator that’s been around for several years and some of you may have seen and used it.  The Catalog Card Generator allows you create an old-fashioned manual card for any book you want to, complete with scribbles on it for a little authenticity.   Michele’s great idea was to use it to promote a book which has just a black cover.

I wanted to know what a generated card would look like so I grabbed the book that’s sitting on my desk at the moment (which happens to be my new favourite read for this year!!) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, an absolutely brilliant debut novel, a treasure and a fortunate find.  So I whipped up a catalog card for it in less than a minute, printed it out, and here’s what it looks like:

This visual highlighter will work nicely with some of our ideas for promoting specific books next year.

Some of our ideas include:

  • Pick of the Day – This will be selected by one of our Library Team and will have pride of place on the main desk so visitors can see it when they come into the library
  • Odyssey Book of the Week – this relates to a new reading initiative I’ve been working on this year.  It’s being trialled this term and will be part of our English programme from 2013 (More to come on this in a later post)
  • Highlighting Non-Fiction – We have some great non-fiction reads on the shelf that we need to market to the students, who would enjoy them but might not necessarily find them.  This could be a great way of making these books stand out

Sincerely, a big thanks to you Michele for sharing this simple but great idea – and not just the link! With the overwhelming number of links and emails I receive each day it’s impossible to explore them all so the links shared that actually have a suggested use or a “this is how I use it” story means I’m more likely to take a look at it.   The great ideas don’t always have to be the big ones.  Sometimes they are the very simple, easy but extremely effective ones that have already worked for someone else.

Have you knitted your library? Be inspired by someone who has!

Emma loves her present! Photo by Mackenzie Brunson
Emma loves her present! Photo by Mackenzie Brunson

Every now and then, if you’re fortunate, you’ll receive an unexpected gift.  Not because you’ve done anything to deserve it but by way of an unsolicited encouragement and a genuine inspiration.

I had one of those rare experiences on Saturday during morning tea at the Wellington SLANZA event.

I met Hue Ng.  Hue is the very quiet, unassuming Library Assistant at Churton Park School.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Linda Forbes from National Library making a point of introducing us I probably wouldn’t have had the very real pleasure of hearing Hue’s story.

Hue might be quiet and unassuming but she has a real fire in her belly and is one of the most passionate, child-centred librarians I’ve been lucky enough to meet. And the gift she gave me? Response and action.  How often do we interact with others in a variety of ways and never know what our influence or impact has been?  Some of you may remember a blog posting I wrote about six months ago,  Are You Knitting a Library? It was an idea I was quite taken with, but for me it has never gotten past being just that – an idea.

Hue on the other hand took that idea and has run with it!  And what an amazing story she had to tell me.

Her initial idea was to have some of the children at her school each knit a small square which could then all be joined together to make a blanket for the library reading corner or to mount on the wall as a mural.  However, most of the children had never knitted before so she changed her plan to have students trying French knitting or making pom-poms which seemed a little more achievable for those total beginners.

To her surprise and delight the students absolutely love their knitting sessions in the library. It has been an unmitigated success due to Hue’s enthusiasm and the total support of her school community.

And the best things to have resulted from these creative, collaborative lunchtimes?


Everyone involved, both the young and the NOT so young, have experienced so much fun, enjoyment and satisfaction through making connections with each other, learning and sharing knowledge and skills.


The library is a buzzing and popular place to visit during the cold lunch breaks.  Hue comments it’s lovely to see clusters of kids chatting, laughing, teaching each other and creating around the library.  These lunchtimes showcase how the whole school community work happily together.  School staff, senior students, grandmothers, parents, friends and even a retired teacher all work together in comfortable companionship.


The children have been talking so much in class and to their families about their knitting sessions.

The parents are coming in to see Hue in the library and telling her their children have come home and said “It’s one of the best things at school.”  and “Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days at school (because of the knitting)!”

The teachers have said “It’s awesome! The kids are loving it!”

And the children don’t want it to come to an end when term finishes.

“We’re having so much fun!”

“Knitting is fun, I like it.”

“Can we have it again next year?”


Hue has an abundance of stories.  My favourite is the story of the nine year old boy who French-knitted his mum a necklace to give to her for her birthday.  She said it was the best present she’d ever had!

Hue tells of a six year old girl who impressed her the most with her determination, trying her hardest and never giving up.  She made a pom-pom, did some French-knitting but what she really wanted to do was knit a blanket using two knitting needles.  They got her started and over the weeks she managed to double her number of stitches without being taught how to.  She got help in picking up lost stitches, undoing knots and instead of ending up with a blanket square she has transformed her knitting into an art work which would make a nice dress for her dolly.  The other children loved it so much they want to make their own! And just this week she told Hue she’ll knit a blanket at home once the knitting classes come to an end.

It’s those stories and the spirit of that little six year old that keeps everyone going even when there are so many children who need help and support.

On Tuesday this week, Hue shared a story from last week’s Wellingtonian with the children called Really Big Yarn.

via: The Wellingtonian on Stuff

Wellington artist Mia Hamilton took a childhood hobby to a new extreme when she used industrial cable reels and plastic to create a French-knitted artwork which is now on show at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.  Hue wanted the children to dream, to see how what they are learning and creating now can come to something bigger than they realise later in life.  What an awesome message to give them, Hue!

So now that you’re all inspired by Hue, you’re probably thinking, how did she do this?!

Well, here’s what she did:

  • Casually chatted to school staff during tea breaks, parent helpers, in fact whoever she met that would listen about the idea of knitting in the library.  She told them she really liked the idea,  that she wanted to give it a go in their library and asked for their thoughts.
  • She used the school newsletter to recruit helpers who were prepared to volunteer their time and come to the library two lunchtimes a week to teach the children to knit.  She also put out a call for donations of needles and wool.  She didn’t just stop there, she also asked her friends and neighbours who also donated needles and wool.
  • She went out and bought some wool in nice colours and some French-knitting dolls. This may have come out of a school budget, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that she used her own money to do this!

And this is how it works:

  • Each session Hue, along with her “angel” Carol, the retired teacher and parents and grandmothers and senior students, spend Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes working with between 30 and 40 mostly junior and middle school children teaching them to knit.  And of course, these are not the only children using the library!  There are some playing board games, some on computers, others using the listening posts and of course there are those there to read.  A very busy library indeed!

And on a personal note, I was even more thrilled to hear all about Hue’s effort as my two nieces attend Churton Park school and get the benefit of such a dedicated, passionate librarian who loves her library full of children!

So what’s the message for us all?

message of hope
message of hopeDream dreams and don’t be afraid to act on them.

Share your ideas with others. You may never know who will pick them up and run with it

And tell everyone about your passion. They might just share it.

A big thank you to Hue for sharing her story with me – and now you all. I hope it inspires you as much as it has me.

Are you knitting a library?

Since returning to work this week after an amazing three trip to UK I’ve been consumed with the inevitable catch-up which comes with time away from school.  However, this morning I feel like I’m starting to get my head above the water and have been inspired to share this image which I came across through CILIP on Twitter this morning.

Take a closer look.  See all the very cool little knitted books all connected by a knitted cord?  My mind immediately went into overdrive.  Being the visual learner that I am I could envisage all the cool ideas you could use in all sorts of libraries. 

Public libraries could hold “knitting bees” where patrons could come and knit a book for their knitted-book-library-collection which could, on completion, be strung up as a fantastic visual display, kind of like Christmas streamers across the ceilings or above bookshelves. 

School libraries could also try something like this – maybe as part of their Library Week activities and festivities.  Or what about knitting little book badges to give to Book Club members or as reading challenge prizes.  Schools could enlist the help of the wider school community and find parents or grandparents or aunts or siblings who are creative to knit these.  A great way to partner with families who sometimes feel disconnected from their schools and probably have never even set foot in your library.

Some of your curriculum areas might be keen to get in on the act.  We have a very pro-active art department here who are always designing cool artworks which often find their way to our library walls.  Or maybe your fabrics teacher might be keen to run with this idea.  In primary schools, maybe each class could design their own little knitted “book-worms” to be displayed in the school library.

I think the other thing I loved about this picture and the concept behind it is the idea of how books are all connected (in this example, by a knitted rope!) but the bigger idea that books and libraries and ideas and people can all be connected in some way.  What a great illustration of this.  Everything we do – not just with a pair of knitting needles and a ball of wool – is knitting our libraries together, in every sense.

So people ….. I know these are not the only great ideas for knitting a library.  What are yours?  Please share them with me and others!

Thanks to Annie Mauger for her wonderful photo of knitted books in Saltburn.

Where are all the crazy ideas for libraries? Take 2

I’ve been thinking …… a lot …….

I came across this blog posting thanks to Sally Pewhairangi’s Twitter link today.  I’ve recently been introduced to the wonderfulness of  The Wikiman, Ned Potter. I really like what he has to say.  He’s thoughtful, insightful and most importantly inspiring.

No more so than in the posting he published almost a year ago entitled Where are all the crazy ideas for libraries? Take the time to read it …. and the responses to it.  The gist of it is really that the day before a break-through idea becomes a break-through idea is is just a crazy idea.  And that if it weren’t a crazy idea it would just be the next step in a measured plan.

I particularly appreciated the response posted by Andy Woodworth with two creativity quotes:

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” – Sir Ken Robinson

“The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.” – Seth Godin

He went on to say: “I think librarians are the caretakers of creativity. We are surrounded by acts of creativity in all forms of expression: books, music, movies, prose, journalism, websites, databases. All full of acts of creativity.

We shouldn’t be afraid to get a little creativity on ourselves. =D”

So ….. I put this thinking into a New Zealand school library context.  I find as Kiwis we’re a pretty inventive, risk-taking lot who are freely willing to share our good ideas.

The thread of responses to The Wikiman’s posting affirmed a number of projects currently in planning for our 2012  library school year here at Hargest.  I feel we are definitely on the right track.  We are a large secondary school, with a very busy library.  We get over 800 visitors a day, with a portion of these being students coming in during their interval and lunch breaks.  Lisa, my wonderful “librarian partner-in-crime” (often referred to by me as Batwoman) and I have been working on a series of activities we can offer these students to make their time in the library more meaningful.  We want them to want to keep coming back. So, we’re in the process of brainstorming some great competitions and weekly events in an endeavour to make this a reality for our students.

I also had another “crazy” idea around the marketing and promotion of libraries that just felt too big for Hargest alone, so I have begun a discussion with SLANZA National Executive to see where it might be able to lead.

What are your “crazy ideas” for our school libraries?  How can we promote our products and services in a new and fresh way? How can we market ourselves in a way that makes us more relevant to our communities? How can we get our message out beyond our library walls, our school gates, our professional boundaries to get the movers and shakers in education listening to what we have to say?

Many of you may already be very aware of the plight of school libraries in this country, in their fight for recognition of the great work done and the tenuous nature of budgets earmarked to enable this to happen.  If you don’t you can read about it in both the recent PPTA News article and the Sunday Star Times follow-up to it.

From PPTA News: Library manager at James Hargest College and former president of (SLANZA), Senga White, says forcing schools to fund their libraries out of the operational grant is failing. “Some schools value libraries but some simply aren’t aware of the benefits of putting their money into them,” she said. “Schools spend money as they see fit which means that there isn’t any continuity for service across the country.“ A lot of school librarians fear for their
jobs and are concerned they won’t get any budget at all,” she said.

And from Sunday Star Times: Library manager at Invercargill’s James Hargest College, Senga White said “forcing” schools to fund their libraries from operational grants isn’t working. “There will be a number of schools in New Zealand, for a variety of reasons, that may not have libraries at the moment,” White said. The former president of the School Library Association (SLANZA) said adequately resourced libraries can make a “significant difference” to the achievement levels for all students. “In the schools where they employ knowledgeable staff for their libraries, the curriculum underpins all planning.” White said in an “ideal world” schools would be given a little extra money – calculated on roll size and decile – set aside for the library. And library staff would also be paid out of the staffing fund – not the operations grants.

With the best will in the world, it seems that most of this sounds fairly doom and gloomish.  But what I really want to say is this: I have an enormous faith in our sector, in our people and in the library profession in general.  Yes, we have massive mountains to scale and although it may look impossible from where we stand, some of these crazy ideas of ours might just hold the key to that next major breakthrough, to ascending our Everest.

So ….. why not begin your ascent here, today. Share your crazy ideas with each other and see where that takes us!

Libraries belong at the hub of schools

Many of you may have already read the article published in the latest edition of the New Zealand PPTA News with this headline – Libraries Belong at the Hub of Schools.  As librarians, we all know this already. However, I’m getting ready to celebrate this idea with those colleagues outside of my library sphere.  I hope we all see this article as an opportunity to talk with our teaching colleagues, our principals, our senior leadership teams, our Board of Trustees about their views of school libraries in general and the one you share specifically.

The budget issue many schools are currently facing  is a symptom of our fight to be recognised, but what is the cause? Is there only one cause?  Undoubtedly not, but I believe the over-riding granddaddy of them all is the level of value placed on the work that can be done through an effective school library to support not only the teaching and learning in the school linked to the curriculum but foster and inspire a life-long love of reading.

So how do we get those in our schools who make the decisions to recognise and value the worth of their library?

Donna Watt in her presentation at 2011 SLANZA conference has already alluded to the need for strategic planning and advocacy within your schools.  Having a clear approach to where you want to be will help you plan the steps you need to take.  Every one of you will be starting from your own unique place.  Once you have gone through your own “needs assessment” you will have a clearer understanding of what that next first step will be.

Let’s use this forum as a way of collecting together to share what our own vision is for what makes a good school library.

Imagine you had 5 minutes of Anne Tolley’s undivided attention to talk to her about that makes libraries crucial in schools.  What is the one message you would want to leave her with?

Non-fiction books – the good oil and why to drill for it

I followed with interest the discussion last week on the school library listserv on how some schools are handling the issue of purchasing non-fiction material for their school libraries, and it was very thought-provoking. If there is one thing I’m certain of, it’s that library staff are in a rapidly changing environment and it is very good for us to be challenged in the how and why we make decisions in our libraries.

I make no bones about it – I am a huge fan of quality non-fiction print resources, both for recreational use as well as to support the curriculum.  I am also the champion in my school for the use of quality online resources.  How I make decisions and go about purchasing print resources has undoubtedly changed over the past two or three years, and we will all need to continue to review our buying plans and decisions as our options alter.  What we do need to do is to get smarter about what we purchase and then make sure these titles are well utilised by deliberately promoting them to our teachers and students.

One of my biggest concerns is the growing gap between the resources available to our students, especially for research purposes, and their ability to find and use information.  I’m finding more and more frequently that many student’s literacy levels are impeding their ability to not only locate but then comprehend suitable material. I’m sure this is no different for primary-aged students, where there is a real shortage of quality information available on line at the right reading level for these kids.

At my school I have intentionally purchased print encyclopedias at different levels in an attempt to be able to provide just the right resource for the right student at the right time. I have two sets of both the full World Book Encyclopedia as well as the Student Discovery Encyclopedia and several specialised sets as well.  So much quicker and easier than getting students logged on to a computer and having to wade through a myriad of choices before, finally, hopefully finding something suitable in less than 2 minutes. (After all, will they even be prepared to invest that amount of time?!)

We must avoid falling into the trap of relying on circulation statistics alone to determine how well our non-fiction collection is being used.  Many books are used during class time without being issued to students.  To seriously have a good, clear overview of how well any area within our non fiction is used, we need to look further than what’s being issued.

Just in the past week I encountered a situation with one of my Year 10 classes, who were partially through their In My Backyard research assignment on Pacific Island countries when our internet access was unavailable for the entire period.  I had previously taken a session with this class on the various print resources available to them, suitable for this particular assignment.  The plan for this period had been to demonstrate the Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre, through EPIC as a quality online resource available to them, which naturally went out the window.  I was heartened to see how well this class adapted and used the reference section for the rest of the period. Their teacher even commented on how successful the lesson had been, considering the lack of access to the internet.

There is a danger in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  We must resist thinking we must be gearing up for the advent of “book-less libraries”.  My philosophy is that it’s not “either/or” it’s “both” when it comes to the variety of resources available for research.  If we don’t provide the “either/or” we’re doing our school community a disservice.

I have designed and collaboratively teach information literacy units at both Year 9 and Year 10 levels.  In order to reinforce the benefits of using books, the Year 9, Top Secret Assignment through English is 95% print-based.  Both the student and staff evaluations feature predominantly how successful using books (specifically biographies and encyclopedias) is.

I don’t envisage doing away with our non-fiction collection – instead I dream up ways to promote it and link it to the curriculum. Our teaching colleagues are stretched and I know they value any professional input we as librarians can have to the planning of their research units. We know what the good oil is – we just have to stake our claim and show others how to drill for it!

Library Week 2011 – not just the what but the why

It’s the first day of the 6th annual James Hargest Library Week …. and it’s time for me to launch myself on the world.  Well, the library world anyway, hopefully.

And what a start to Library Week it has been! I’m a big believer in collaboration of all types and once again, my Hargest Book Club guys have been a great team to collaborate with.  I’m constantly amazed, though never truly surprised at what these young people can come up with.  After arranging them into groups with specific responsibilities, they have organised Dress Up Day (a highlight of every Library Week), quizzes, competitions, displays and posters.  I quite literally couldn’t do it without them.

A new dimension to our Library Week this year is an activity being run through our English Department and coordinated by the wonderful Kerri Sullivan, English teacher extraordinaire. This is as simple as having students fill out a  visual book template which begins with the statement You’ll love this book because ….. Students will be encouraged to finish the statement for their favourite book.  At the end of the week Kerri and myself will compile the best ones and create a poster of student-recommended reads which will be put up in the library for students to look at, and hopefully help them find other good reads for themselves.

While setting up Library Week can take quite a bit of work, the pay-offs are well and truly worth it.  This can be the single most important marketing tool you can create within your library and your school. It is a way of bringing students into your library who might not otherwise come, gives you an opportunity to invite staff who might not normally visit.  It creates a buzz that you might find difficult to sustain or even replicate at other times of the year.  And it may just give you the impetus to have those conversations you’ve been wanting to have with key members of your management team.

What do you have to lose? If you’re not already, why not start planning your first library week today.  Here’s just a few ideas to get you going

If you already have Library Week firmly on your school calendar, I’d love you to share your top activities to inspire others to get started.  That’s what we school library flock-mates do!