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.

What can a library be?

Do you ever stop and think about what the school library can be for your learning community? It is easy to get caught up in the daily activities and forget about the endless possibilities that exist for our learners. As I prepare to begin my 10th year as a school librarian, I’ve been thinking about how the library spaces and resources can transform our students’ lives. I would like to share some recent happenings that have illustrated this to me.

A safe place
Recently we hosted an 8th grade school-wide orientation. It was a busy day of meeting countless new students. As these young people arrived at the high school for the first time, I thought about how intimidating this transition must be for them. It was also easy to see which students were new to our district, since they were usually standing by themselves. How uncomfortable this must have been for them.

I enjoyed seeking these students out and introducing myself and our library staff to them. Such connections will undoubtedly direct some of them to find us again in the library. In years past, the library has been a safe haven for many of our students in all year levels. It is fulfilling to know that we can accomplish this by being friendly and showing interest in the students that visit. Most of the time, all it takes is a simple ‘Good morning’, ‘How are you?’, or ‘I’m glad you are here’. As I reflect back through the events of the day, I’m glad I took the time to visit with so many new students. This was an investment that will bring new customers to the library when school starts. The library is an important safe place in the school.

A place of inquiry and innovation
We started our brief orientation sessions in the fiction room portion of the library. My teacher librarian colleague, Mrs Kaitlyn Price, enjoyed telling the newcomers about her project to genrefy all fiction titles. (You can learn more about how she accomplished this genrefication here.) I imagine many students were curious about the titles they would find in the nine different categories she established in the space. I feel certain many will return to browse their favourite genres. In fact, one student proclaimed he would read every one of our science fiction/fantasy titles!

For the next part of our orientation, we moved next door for a brief tour of the non-fiction room. Then we allowed the students to explore the makerspace resources. We had View-Master Virtual Reality devices, Ozobots, Little Bits, Legos, colouring pages, jewellery making resources, and our Ollie robot out for everyone to try. Each group was very engaged with all the resources. As we interacted with all the students, I began to wonder how many of them might become proficient with our makerspace resources. Consider the numerous possibilities for these students: by having access to such resources at age 13, what progress might be possible between years 8 and 12? Students could begin designing and building projects using the 3D printer, learning the basics of coding, and designing video games. Such activities may change their lives forever. The library is an important place of inquiry and innovation in the school. 

A place of connections
In the past, we have used Skype and Google Hangouts to connect students all over the country and world. We are already planning to continue this practice in the coming school year. When I asked our new student visitors if they had ever Skyped with another place at school, some hands went up, but most had not enjoyed the experience. I wonder if those students are looking forward to the places we will connect with in the coming year. Will they associate the library as a place that connects them all over the world? Will they tell their parents and grandparents about the places they connect with in the library? How will this change the perception of the library and school?

We enjoy having guest speakers and performers in the library. In previous years we have had military veterans, local politicians, librarians from the county library, guest authors, local community musicians, and more. Many students have connected with these people during our brief lunch programs. I can’t help but wonder what connections await us this coming school year. What lives might be changed as a result of such programming? The library is an important place of connections. 

Final thoughts
I hope you will join me in pondering these things as the school year starts and progresses. I want to stay focused on what the library can be for our learners. We can make a difference in our school and community. Anything is possible in the school library! It’s going to be a great year.

Stony Evans
Library media specialist
Hot Springs, Arkansas, USA

This article was originally published by Stony Evans on his blog Library Media Tech Talk, and has been republished here with permission.

The full history of Connections is now online

2017 has been an exciting year for SCIS.

Our new website SCIS Data was launched in August, complete with a fresh rebrand and exciting new features to support school libraries. We also celebrated the 100th issue of our quarterly magazine, Connections, and to commemorate the milestone, announced that we would digitise and make available the full history of Connections.

We are proud to announce that — for the first time in our history — the entire collection is now available to view and download online.

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How the school library saved my life

Megan McDonald
Children’s book author

I grew up reading—at the school library, on the bookmobile, at the comic book store, at home next to the heater under the piano. As a girl, I found pieces of myself in the characters of Ramona, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Harriet the Spy, Jane Eyre.

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You think you know what librarians do?

Corey Thornblad
Kilmer Middle School, Virginia, USA

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the annual Virginia Association of School Librarians conference in Norfolk, Virginia. I’ll admit that I was a fish out of water – the only teacher in a sea of school librarians. Even though I don’t know much about the Dewey Decimal System or online catalogues, they made me feel right at home.

As I sat at dinner, listening to their conversation about teaching and learning, I realised that unless you have had the privilege of working in a school over the past decade you may not understand what school librarians actually do. Librarians are not a braggy bunch, so I feel inclined to set the record straight on their behalf. You probably think they spend their entire day shelving and checking out books, while shushing students. It’s time to set aside these stereotypes and give librarians their long overdue kudos.

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The Australian Reading Hour – a perfect fit for school libraries

Anita McMillan
Knowledge and Learning Resources Manager
West Moreton Anglican College

It is exciting to be involved in a process where different industries band together to create a whole that is worth far more than the sum of its parts. It is both professionally and personally exciting when it’s all about what we love best – reading.

I’ve had the honour of working with the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and a number of other book industry giants to take the Australian Reading Hour campaign to new heights. This year on Thursday 14 September we are asking all Australians to set aside one hour to read. Libraries, bookshops, publishers, authors, illustrators, politicians and corporations will all be involved.

As school library staff, we are in the perfect position to organise, facilitate (or at the very least encourage) such a reading activity for our entire school community – staff, students, parents and supporters.

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Self-advocacy through evidence-based practice

Cathy Costello
Teacher librarian
Campbelltown Performing Arts High School

As teacher librarians, we can become frustrated and feel we are victims of occupational invisibility – that our contribution to whole-school programs and student outcomes is unseen and undervalued. This feeling may be due to the nature of our work in empowering colleagues. As a result, our contribution is often swallowed up in the successes of others (Oberg 2006). Our invisibility is also because, while we can see the impact we make on a daily basis, we can usually only offer anecdotal evidence regarding our contributions (Hay & Todd 2010; Lamb & Johnson 2004–2007).

To remedy this, we need to throw off the victim mentality and advocate for ourselves. We must become proactive. We must self-promote and make visible our contribution. To this end, we need to gather hard evidence to unequivocally prove that we make a difference (Bonnano & Moore 2009; Hay & Todd 2010). According to the Australian Library and Information Association (2004), excellent teacher librarians ‘undertake research which informs evidence-based innovation in school library programs’. Likewise, Hay & Foley (2009) advocate that, to build capacity for student learning in the 21st century, teacher librarians need to employ evidence-based practice to support a ‘continuous improvement cycle’. Similarly, The NSW Department of Education and Training (2010) has posited evidence-based practice as one of its foremost recommendations in creating sustainable futures for school libraries.

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Highlights of Connections 102

Here are the highlights from Connections issue 102, which is now available online. To download a PDF of the latest issue, please select this link.

Tinkering, making and building in the school library
With the increasing popularity of makerspaces in schools, school libraries are frequently seen as the leaders in hands-on technologies such as coding and robotics. Jackie Child shares ideas for engaging students with computational thinking — and resources to make it as easy as possible for library staff.

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Ignite wide reading with diverse resources at your school library

Josephine Laretive
Teacher librarian
Moriah College, NSW

School libraries have a vital role in the provision and promotion of quality and diverse reading materials that inform, value and ignite reading. Promoting ‘a reading culture through the active promotion of literature’ (Australian School Library Association, 2004) is one of the ASLA teacher librarian standards. Promotion and access to varied reading materials ‘helps students to engage imaginatively and critically with literature to expand the scope of their experience’ (Australian Curriculum: English v8.3). Encouraging wide reading and access to a variety of reading materials increases students’ interests and motivation to read (Miller, 2012). ‘Numerous research studies prove that wide reading improves children’s comprehension, background knowledge, vocabulary, fluency, and writing’ (Krashen, 2004 as cited in Miller, 2012). Furthermore, literacy development and achievement is benefited by recreational reading and reading for enjoyment (Merga, 2016).

The following resources have made a difference to the diversity of reading resources available to children at my school library, adding to the existing range of imaginative and informative books. The resources that follow also link to the Australian Curriculum in that they provide access to imaginative, informative and persuasive texts in different formats and for different age levels.

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Planning on renovating your library? Think again

Laura Fleming

Think your library needs a renovation? You might be right, but before spending unnecessary money on a major overhaul, you might want to think again. I receive inquiries all of the time from schools whose libraries are not used, and thought that renovating their space was going to do the trick. Oftentimes, even with a big referendum that allows for a state-of-the-art renovation, those spaces continue to be unused.

The solution to turning a library around is NOT a renovation. It is the culture.

Upon my arrival at New Milford High School, in New Jersey, I walked into a library that was unused and that was referred to by my principal at the time, Eric Sheninger, as a ‘barren wasteland’. We didn’t have the luxury of a big sum of money to renovate our space, so we were forced to think of other ways to change it. Those changes focused not on how the space looked, but on transforming the culture of the space.

Thanks to a few core changes, our space went from being completely irrelevant to our school community to what Eric described as a ‘thriving learning metropolis’.

Continue reading Planning on renovating your library? Think again