The highs and lows of school librarianship

Frustrated by the lack of opportunities in public libraries, Caroline Fielding became a school librarian. Here she explains why it was the best decision she could have made.

I've been working in a school library for nearly two years now, after having spent five years as an Assistant in public libraries during which time I got a Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCL.  I decided to leave public libraries and go into a secondary school because I wanted to concentrate on working with young people rather than attempting to climb the hierarchy of management.  It is a decision I have never regretted.

5 brilliant things about being a school librarian

1. Having a captive audience - something that made me sad working in public libraries was how difficult it is to persuade teenagers to come in, but I'm in their territory now.  They may just use it as a nice space but getting them comfortable in a library is half the battle and all of them will pick up a book at least occasionally.  I guess it depends on the size of the school, but in my school of about 700 pupils I'd say half of them are regulars in the library.

2. Choosing all the resources - obviously pupil interests and departmental needs must be taken into consideration, but the library budget is mine to play with!

3. Supporting learning - being given the opportunity by teaching staff to equip pupils with Information Literacy skills.  I've worked with teachers from a variety of departments (Science, Geography, History, R.S., English, Modern Foreign Languages, and even the P.E. department) on engaging pupils with resources for whatever purpose.

4.  I'm the king of my castle - Obviously there are school-wide rules, but the Library is my domain and My Rules Rule.

5.  Job satisfaction - Nothing is better than knowing that you are making a difference to children's lives, and a School Librarian does make a massive difference.  You are there to make their lives easier and more fun, a Gate Keeper to wonderful things.  It is a great ego boost when a child dashes into the Library to tell you how much they missed you during the holidays and ask you to find them a book they'll enjoy.

5 lows of school librarianship

1.  Salary - as in a lot of schools (especially now that budgets are being squeezed), my contract is term time only so I'm paid pro rata to work 39 weeks a year.

2.  Isolation - it can be a solitary life being a school librarian.  As I open to pupils before schools, during breaks, and after school, I sometimes won't see another adult all day!

3.  Unruly pupils - as lovely as most of my pupils are, in my school there are a number with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and being the only member of staff in a room with up to 100 pupils can be pretty stressful even if they're all behaving impeccably.

4.  Lack of understanding - unlike other libraries, you're likely to be the only person in your workplace that has any idea what you do.  It is up to you to make others know what you can do for them and what you need from them.  Also, in this age of austerity you have to make it clear that you are invaluable so get going with self promotion.

5.  Budget - being in control of the budget is brilliant, but the size of it is not so great...

I love my job and found it easy to identify five great things about being a school librarian.  Although the five lows came to mind quite easily, the positives far outweigh the negatives.  

Caroline Fielding is Librarian at a school in London.

image courtesy of Enoksen via Flickr.