The Innovative School Librarian, 2nd edition

May 2016 | 224pp

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The Innovative School Librarian, 2nd edition

Sharon Markless, Elizabeth Bentley, Sarah Pavey, Sue Shaper, Sally Todd and Carol Webb

This book takes a strategic approach to the leadership of school libraries, examining notions of professionalism, their effect on identity and models of library practice.

The Innovative School Librarian raises important questions about the functions of the school librarian and sets out to encourage the reader to think outside the box for new approaches to traditional challenges. It aims to inspire and enable school librarians to think creatively about their work and the community in which they operate.

Written by current leaders in the field, each chapter addresses the practical issues facing school librarians. This new edition has been fully updated to incorporate curriculum revisions, resource changes, developments in the use and integration of technology and new routes into the profession.

Key topics covered include:

  • the librarian's vision and values
  • bridging the gap between different visions for the school library
  • identifying and understanding your community
  • making a positive response to change
  • keeping inspired and inspiring others in the library
  • integrating the library into teaching and learning.

Readership: This is an essential, thought-provoking book for all school librarians, practitioners in schools library services, and students of librarianship. It has plenty to interest school leadership, headteachers, educational thinkers, public library managers and local government officers and also has an international audience.


1. Professionalism and the school librarian

  • What influences the school librarian’s professional identity? 
  • Our professional identity 
  • The discourses of professionalism
  • Where does this leave school librarianship in the 21st century? 

2. How others see us

  • People within the school community
  • Bodies outside the school 
  • What influences how others see us and how can we influence their perceptions?
  • What are the implications of others’ perceptions of the librarian? 

3. Bridging the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us

  • Is there always a dichotomy between principles and practice? 
  • In what circumstances might a dichotomy between beliefs and practice occur? 
  • How can we resolve the dichotomy between beliefs and practice? 


4. Identifying and understanding your community

  • How do we define our community? 
  • What informs the ways we explore our community? 
  • Ways of thinking about your learning community 
  • What does learning look like in our institutions? 
  • What does learning look like for the individuals in our communities? 

5. Making a positive response

  • Getting into position 
  • What is possible in the real world of school libraries? 
  • Making a difference 
  • Tapping in to school priorities 
  • How do we make line-management systems work for us? 
  • How do we use other relationships to help us? 
  • Learning from students 
  • How well are we doing? 

6. Generating and using evidence of impact

  • Using published evidence
  • Generating and using our evidence
  • How can we make learning in the library visible to others?
  • Evaluation to retain visibility
  • Does the library have an academic monitoring role?
  • A more informal approach
  • The place of benchmarking
  • Critical reflection


7. Inspiration

  • What is inspiration?
  • Why is inspiration important to school librarianship?
  • How does inspiration operate?
  • How do we keep ourselves inspired?
  • Inspiration from inside ourselves
  • Inspiration from inside the school 
  • Inspiration from outside the school
  • What has inspired us?
  • Reality check
  • Sharing inspiration

8. Becoming integral to teaching and learning

  • Becoming an integral part of the teaching team
  • Forging constructive relationships
  • Sustaining integration into teaching and learning
  • Being innovative with library space
  • Using the virtual library to enhance integration
  • Building into the structure and management of the school

9. Innovation

  • Connect
  • Act    
  • Evidence
  • Managing change 
  • Process and principles of managing change
  • Using whole school processes and the key change agents 

Appendix 1 Levels of education 
Appendix 2 School library self-evaluation questions
Appendix 3 An example of a completed self-evaluation summary sheet
Appendix 4 SWOT analysis

Appendix 5 Choosing priorities in development planning
Appendix 6 Example of a force field analysis: a tool for managing change
Appendix 7 Managing change: process and principles

“The format of this second edition is apparently similar to that of the first (2009), with the regular use of short scenarios or ‘vignettes’. The first of these heads the preface, and others are then used frequently within each chapter to illustrate new subjects. This approach is designed to increase the readability of the text (in which it succeeds) while aiming to offer examples of ‘real-life’ everyday situations for those managing libraries in secondary schools. The contributors note that the vignettes are drawn from comments and queries on the popular School Librarian Network, and this gives them a ring of authenticity.”
- Ariadne

"For me the book really made me question what I do and how I do it when over time it can be easy to become complacent. It was also great to find an index with the book to allow quick reference back to key ideas at a later date. I'd thoroughly recommend this book as a great read for school librarians to reflect on their practices."
- Mandy Wilson, The School Librarian

Sharon Markless (the editor) is Senior Lecture in Higher Education within King's Learning Institute where she draws on many years of experience in both teaching and research. She initially taught in secondary schools and further education before moving into H.E. in 1990 as a Senior Lecturer in Professional Development at Canterbury Christ Church University College.

Elizabeth Bentley is Librarian and Learning Resource Centre Manager at Addey and Stanhope School. 
Sarah Pavey is an Independent Consultant and Trainer for school libraries. Visit her website at www.sp4il.co.uk.
Sally Todd is School Archivist at St John’s School.
Sue Shaper is Director of Library Resources at The Broxbourne School.
Dr Carol Webb is Head Librarian at Portsmouth Grammar School.


1. Professionalism and the school librarian

Why should professionalism be important to us? This has always been a hotly debated topic, across all sectors of librarianship because of its links to status, conduct and quality of service. In recent years we have been travelling through a global economic downturn, which combined with changes in UK government policy has resulted in a rapidly changing educational environment. In order to negotiate our identity within this context we need to make difficult choices, amid a plethora of changing expectations. This chapter will examine professionalism in the belief that it remains fundamental to our work identities.


2. How others see us

In Chapter 2 we look at how other people see us, enabling us to explore the congruence, or lack of it, between those perspectives and our own. We will discuss the library’s relationship to the curriculum, the extent to which the librarian is included in the planning and delivery of teaching and learning in all its manifestations, and how different groups regard this relationship and the effect this has on what the librarian can achieve.


3. Bridging the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us

A gap between practice and professional beliefs can arise in all sectors of the library world and, it appears, in all areas of education. Indeed, some experienced teachers are finding that the ideals that attracted them to the profession are no longer valued and that priorities they do not share rule the day. Cognitive dissonance is a term that describes what happens when someone has to absorb opposing points of view (Festinger, 1957) or when new information or a new interpretation of information challenges existing knowledge or ideals (Atherton, 2013). We may experience this when our vision differs from that of our school community. What may seem the ‘professional pathway’ for us may conflict with the school leadership’s plans. When this happens, a dichotomy may arise between principles and practice. This chapter explores how we can bridge the gap between others’ expectations and our beliefs.


4. Identifying and understanding your community

Throughout this book a key message has emerged: the librarian who is closely identified with the processes of teaching and learning within the school has the power to make the most difference. Understanding our community and the range of opportunities there is crucial if we are to make this a reality. This is not as easy as it might first appear. Schools are highly complex organizations and political in nature – and things are not always as they appear. In this chapter we explore beneath the surface to help us to ascertain the teaching and learning priorities of the school so that we can focus our energies. Ultimately our research informs our management of change and leadership of learning.


5. Making a positive response

Developing relationships requires energy and that needs to come from us. It takes time to build trust and confidence between people, especially in such a hectic work environment as a school, so persistence and resilience is essential. How can librarians stay positive when, as we have seen, others are unlikely to find the time or energy to come to us with ideas? We need to ensure that we position ourselves so that we can capitalize on possible opportunities and this depends on us being alert, proactive and determined. Our aim should be that in the longer term, when our role is well established in the minds of senior leadership and staff, we will automatically be involved in the school decision-making process.

Good positioning requires research and awareness on our part. Who are the budget holders in the school? What are the current big projects (e.g. demonstrating pupil progress, social inclusion for all, independent learning)? When we have answered these questions we should consider how and what we can contribute. If we can go to a project manager with a proposal or solution this will allow us to be identified as someone who is knowledgeable, who participates and can be relied on.

6. Generating and using evidence of impact

Evaluating what we do is a crucial part of our professional practice. We work as librarians in order to make a difference for others but how do we know if we are succeeding if we do not evaluate? How can we persuade others of the value of our work without having evidence to support our claims? For example, head teachers want to see a return on the investment made in the library and evaluation evidence helps to make its impact visible. Practice that is evidence-based has credibility in the eyes of others and enables us demonstrate the library’s strategic role and improve services. In addition, active use of evidence reflects the wider move across education towards evidence-based practice. We need to be seen working at that level.

It is important not only to generate our own evidence, but also to keep up to date and actively use published research to raise awareness of the possibilities that school librarians can offer and the conditions most likely to make any initiative effective. This chapter will look at using both published evidence and standards, and evidence we generate ourselves.

7. Inspiration

Inspiration can be a frightening word to use. It implies passion, creativity, imagination and enthusiasm. To be inspired suggests being endowed with vision and insight, having the confidence to take ideas forward to action and perhaps transforming practice (e.g., Reynolds, 2008). People who are inspired brim with excitement and motivation and are prepared to take risks. We believe that most of us have vast potential; we can do extraordinary things if we have the confidence to take risks. This chapter features a case study on two librarians and looks at how we keep ourselves inspired and where we can find inspiration.

8. Becoming integral to teaching and learning

We believe  that becoming an integral part of the teaching and learning process is an important goal for school librarians. However, in the literature of school librarianship, and indeed the whole field of librarianship, integration is presented as the Utopia, which implies that we may aspire to but never achieve it. We believe, on the contrary, that becoming integral to teaching and learning within schools is not only a valid aspiration for school librarians but achievable. It is the process of working together with members of our school community to achieve integration that gives real purpose to our work. In this chapter we will explore how we achieve integration.

9. Innovation

To innovate involves taking risks. Paradoxically this may happen most easily when people work in a safe and secure environment, one which encourages them to experiment in order to turn problems into opportunities. As librarians, many of us do not find ourselves in such a supportive situation, so why should we bother to invest energy, enthusiasm and hard work into something that might fail?

We may prefer to maintain the status quo rather than bring any extra stress on ourselves but, as we saw in Chapter 1, being professional involves looking continually for ways to improve our services. Just as a business cannot afford to stand still but needs to introduce new ideas and technologies to keep ahead of its competitors, so school librarians should not stagnate in the world of educational change and development. Furthermore, we all need intellectual stimulation to sustain our interest and innovating is a good way to keep us motivated and fresh.

Ross Todd (Todd, 2001) exhorts school librarians to re-conceptualize the role of the library, turning it from an information place into a knowledge-making space (see quotation at the end of Chapter 8). Using his three drivers for change: connections, actions and evidence, we will explore innovative practice for school librarians.

Appendix 1: Levels of education 
Appendix 2: School library self-evaluation questions
Appendix 3: An example of a completed self-evaluation summary sheet
Appendix 4: SWOT analysis
Appendix 5: Choosing priorities in development planning
Appendix 6: Example of a force field analysis: a tool for managing change
Appendix 7: Managing change: process and principles


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