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- Issue 90 2014
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Bring the teachers in: enticing teachers into the library
The primary focus of the school library has always been to support the information and learning needs of staff and students. However in most schools the focus invariably falls on providing for the needs of students, whilst supporting staff professional development is an auxiliary function.
Two years ago virtually all library services and collections at Wellington College were aimed at meeting the needs of students. Displays and competitions were focused toward students, and little attention was paid to how teachers and support staff used the library. In an effort to boost the profile of the library within the school–and align with our mandate to support the learning and information needs of staff and students–Bevan Holloway (Teacher with Library Responsibility) and I devised a plan to get more buy-in from teachers. We wanted to entice them into the library space and in turn, achieve greater patronage from staff and students.
These new initiatives were obviously supplementary to the traditional strategies that school libraries use to stimulate engagement: blog posts, participating in staff meetings, sorting resources for departments, and working with classes. Twelve months have passed since we began implementing our four-pronged plan to 'Bring the teachers in', and we are busier than ever. Our library is humming and the compliments from staff are flying.
Monday 7 April 2014 - Period 2. Three classes downstairs plus another upstairs.
Here is a breakdown of our method:
1. The library as a place for staff professional development
In 2013 the Deputy Principal requested to use the library as the venue for staff professional development sessions that take place before school every second Friday. Despite students being unable to access the library during this time slot, and the frequent rearrangement of furniture, we welcomed the opportunity to host these sessions. A new projector was promptly installed in our central learning space, and once a fortnight nearly 100 teachers enter our library. Little do they realise that the displays are aimed at them. Those who arrive early invariably select a magazine or book to flick through. Many are surprised we have the latest Donna Tartt novel, or The Luminaries available to borrow at the counter. Undoubtedly as a result of this, several teachers have become avid library users. A maths teacher dismayed by the 'rubbish on TV' has started ploughing through a novel per week based on my readers'advisory. Similarly a science teacher took an interest in the A Song of Ice and Fire series after enjoying A Game of Thrones on television, and has since branched out into other fantasy novels. With these teachers and others, I now have a connection, and it has provided me with a 'way in' to the more elusive departments.
2. The way to a teacher's heart is through their stomach
Throughout the first half of 2013 we invited a different department, including the support staff and senior management, every week for morning tea in the library office. It is surprising what real coffee and scones will do to people. Each week we had our recent arrivals prominently displayed and asked those present for book and magazine subscription suggestions. During this process around 80-90% of staff attended and learnt first-hand what the library has to offer. Many placed reserves on new books, and if someone suggested a purchase, it was in their pigeon hole within the next few days. In my opinion, timeliness is next to godliness in this profession. This goes for students too. If somebody requests a resource, I do everything in my power to get it to them as soon as possible. Not only will they be happy their need was met promptly, but they will forever see you as the professional you truly are.
3. Involving staff in displays and events
'Stranded on a Desert Island' display.
A recent display at the Girvan Library asked eight teachers to choose what book, film, and album they would take to a desert island. The discussion around choices permeated the staff room, and many teachers who did not take part have visited the library to view the display, some proffering their choices.
As a boys' school, Wellington College is particularly concerned with promoting reading to boys. To facilitate this, we organised an event that involved some of the senior male teachers reading excerpts from their favourite books. Titled, 'Mid-Winter Tales', the objective was to show that even tough, 'scary' blokes could enjoy literature. It also encouraged a set of teachers who visited the library infrequently to come in and watch their colleagues.
4. Targeted marketing
Targeted marketing works as it makes the recipient feel that they are special, or that the service is being tailored to their needs. The predominant angle I use is to corner an individual in a corridor or elevator and alert them to a new item or service that may interest them. More specifically, when an item is acquired by the library that meets the needs of an individual department, the Head of Department is informed and invariably comes in to check it out. We use this opportunity as a teachable moment and discuss possible services for their department. Informing staff personally of resources and services you know they will be interested in is an easy way to encourage engagement. Plus, it avoids generic, impersonal, 'all staff' emails that are so easy to delete before reading.
A school library should be at the heart of school learning, and gaining buy-in from teachers is one of the best ways to promote library reverence amongst students. The four strategies above have encouraged the staff at Wellington College to take notice of, and use, the fantastic services we provide. It has also stimulated a general perception throughout the school of the library as a professional learning environment.
Monday 7 April 2014 - Period 2. Three classes downstairs plus another upstairs: © 2014 Brett Moodie.
'Stranded on a Desert Island' display: © 2014 Brett Moodie.
Brett is Library Manager at Wellington College in New Zealand. He holds a Post-graduate Diploma in Information Studies from Victoria University and has worked extensively in public and special libraries in Devon (England), and throughout the Wellington region.
Image courtesy of Victoria University of Wellington.