In conversation with ASLA’s Teacher Librarian of the Year

For Library Lovers’ Day, we celebrate the work of Jane Viner, who was awarded Teacher Librarian of the Year in 2017. SCIS recently spoke to Jane about what makes her library unique and what she finds most rewarding about her role and working in school libraries.

‘I loved this book, Mrs Viner. Now I know why I like reading. Are there any more like it?’

Like music to the ears of any school library professional, these words play a particularly upbeat tune for Jane Viner.

Jane, who was awarded Australian Teacher Librarian of the Year last year, is the Head of Library at Kilvington Grammar School in the Melbourne suburb of Ormond. She originally joined the school library profession excited by the opportunity to make a difference within a whole school, rather than just one classroom or year level. Over 30 years later, Jane still finds joy in the core offering of the school library; that is literacy, and the transformation of children into lifelong readers. In particular, she loves ‘seeing a student’s eyes light up when you find them, show them, and order them the book of their dreams’.

Opportunities abound for making a difference in children’s lives at Kilvington Grammar School, where Jane is fortunate to work with students from the Early Learning Centre to Year 12.

Jane and her team have worked hard to create a culture that promotes reading. One area that supports this and makes their library unique is their Lounge Room. This video shows just how much the students value the work that the library staff have invested in creating a safe, welcoming, engaging environment that encourages student input and takes into consideration different interests across year levels.

‘When I first came to Kilvington a few years ago, I remember that the library was a quiet zone for people to come and study. There were posters everywhere that said ‘shhh, no talking’ … It’s changed into more of a lounge room area, where people can come in at lunchtimes, at recess, and after school to read books, do some study, mingle with people and play games’, a student shares in the video.

Another aspect that makes their library feel special for Jane is Kilvington Reads. Held in May each year, this five-day festival, organised by Jane and her team, has the whole school community celebrate their love of reading. Kilvington Reads includes author and illustrator workshops, competitions, dress-ups, and student-run literary quizzes for the school staff.

Jane knows that developing a passion for reading is just one aspect of the library’s role in the wider school community; building their information and digital literacy skills is also key. The same enthusiasm that comes from finding the right book can be found in ‘introducing students to quality digital resources and seeing their eyes light up at the possibilities’. Translating articles into a student’s first language, or one that they’re studying, is yet another way to connect students with texts — and a new way to find that gleam in their eyes.

Jane says that a good teacher librarian brings enthusiasm, energy and excellence to their work, which is made possible by the support of an effective, supportive school library team. For Jane, such a team is composed of ‘committed, passionate, flexible, friendly professional staff, who have a good sense of humour and a willingness to tackle any task’.

Despite the immense contribution that teacher librarians make to the school community, there remains a perception that their role is still undervalued, with more schools opting to fill the role with volunteers or staff already committed to a full-time teaching schedule. However, Jane — and a whole cohort of trained teacher librarians across the world — find hope in their situations. Jane recommends teacher librarians advocate for their role and seek opportunities to demonstrate their value within the school.

‘Collaborate and create opportunities for teachers and students,’ Jane says. That might be as simple as finding an opening with one student, one class or one teacher, and jumping at it. ‘Don’t make the mistake of saying you are too busy; no one is busier than a primary teacher on a full teaching load.’ Indeed, understanding the pressures placed on teachers provides yet another occasion for librarians to demonstrate their worth. Collaboration with teachers can ‘take the hack work out of their tasks’.

Teacher librarians can be faced with similar challenges to teachers: too many opportunities and not enough time. ‘We need to be thinking about impact and effort,’ Jane explains. For example, creating a thirty-minute library display can be just as effective as an extensive artistic display created over several hours. The key, she says, is to continue to ask, ‘Is this impact going to be high?’ — and to reduce the work that doesn’t support that.

In the always evolving landscape of school libraries, it is clear that Jane values their focus on literacy the most. Hearing how students have responded to the school’s development of a strong reading culture is a simple reminder of why Jane currently holds the title of Australian Teacher Librarian of the Year.

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Nicole is the Communications & Projects Coordinator at SCIS. She is the editor of Connections, and is interested in advocating for school libraries everywhere.

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