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How can Primary Schools use their libraries to their full potential?

This is one of those perennial questions that comes up in the regular cycle of school life as schools appoint new librarians or teachers with responsibility for their school library – and there is no one answer. Every school will find a different way of using their library potential depending upon the school community, the needs of the students and the support that teachers expect from their school library.  But that doesn’t stop me or other school librarians offering thoughts on what has worked for them – so here goes with a few well-tried ideas and some further reading that might help…

 

Primary school libraries are usually expected to be both a resource for the teaching that happens in school and also a means to stimulate a love of reading for pleasure – with several ways to do both.  A great starting point for thinking about the provision that is available and the place you might be planning to aim for is to assess what is already there by asking the school community what it would like and need from its library for the future – that means teaching staff, pupils and parents.  There are some excellent assessment and survey templates available on the Open University Reading for Pleasure website. There are several organisations that can help with planning and perhaps a good start would be to look at the Primary School Library Guidelines – a website compiled in partnership by ASCEL (Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians), SLA (School Library Association) and CILIP (Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals). The website provides short pieces of information on everything you could possibly need – from planning and policies, to staffing, stock, space, organisation and using the library.  You might also find the Great School Libraries Campaign website useful – in particular the links to Case Studies and the Funding page may help with putting all these good ideas into practice.

 

The original question that set me off with this was about using the library for wider reading – so here are a few ideas. One great thing about librarians is that they are always keen to share ideas that have worked for them – so never be afraid to ask – there are discussions on Facebook and Twitter about libraries and reading for pleasure overflowing with great ideas and answers. For example, it is well worth joining the Reading for Pleasure FB group.

Two recent documents available for download also make good aide memoire for all these things. The SLA produced Get Everyone Reading: A Primer on reading for pleasure by Alec Williams in time for World Book Day 2021.  Packed full of information it gives the librarian lots to think about!  The CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) also produced a useful document called Reading for Pleasure: What we know works which contains research from their Power of Reading Project – again, this is packed full of helpful information for creating a reading school. The aforementioned Open University website also has lots of case studies and practical suggestions as well as research evidence to back up your endeavours.

 

One of the best resources that could be available locally is the Schools Library Service – these are available all over the country and offer advice, resource loans and support to schools. Check out your local service  and what is available nationally.

 

So, what would I recommend? Well, I will choose just a few of the things that I know work well. 

  • Timetabled Lessons

Perhaps the first could be having a timetabled library lesson every week for every class – giving pupils the agency to choose their own pleasure reading to run beside any other reading the class is doing. 

  • Recognise All Reading

Plus, recognise every type of reading as valid – information books and comics can be a real stimulus for reading for pleasure, it doesn’t always have to be novels.

  • Book Chat

Make talking about books absolutely the norm – talk about what you are reading and share recommendations between pupils, staff and pupils and parents. Reading is then seen as a ‘good’ activity.

  • Book Clubs

Run book clubs for groups – and this could include parents too, they often need help negotiating packed shelves in libraries and book shops and this can be a good solution, it will also emphasize the value of reading to those families who may not have a history of reading for pleasure.

  • Reading Aloud

Encourage teachers to read aloud and share their love of reading with pupils – and not just so the children can create work from the reading. Reading for pleasure is not necessarily about creating physical work – it’s about allowing a private stimulation to the imagination and creativity. 

We have created three collections, with books we think are particularly well suited to reading aloud :

Great Books to Read Aloud to Reception Classes

Great Books to Read Aloud to Key Stage 1

Great Books to Read Aloud to Key Stage 2

  • Sharing Library News

The other thing I would do is make sure the library gets a regular slot in any school newsletters, and on any noticeboards be they physical or virtual.  Make sure all the staff know what the library is doing – then they become library ambassadors, as well as library users!  In amongst all this in-house activity never underestimate the buzz and activity that an author, poet or illustrator can create within school – be it via a virtual platform or actually in person. If you can arrange book sales for the event it’s amazing how many children can be stimulated this way.

  • The Benefits of Reading for Pleasure

In all this activity it can be easy to overlook the intrinsic benefits of reading for pleasure – benefits to empathy, mental health and well-being as well as the boost to academic achievement. For further reading around these subjects there are many useful resources – a couple of which are listed below - and we explore this further in our discussion piece, How to Encourage Reading for Pleasure.

Empathy lab - https://www.empathylab.uk – a way to walk in another’s shoes thus understanding the wider world around us.

Nicola Morgan is a highly regarded trainer on reading and the way our brains react, full of ideas and the research that underpins it; Nicola Morgan’s blog on Readaxtion.

And of course, don't forget to utilise all of the resources we produce here at LoveReading4Schools.

  • Have you checked out our Recommended Reading Lists for every year group, which are updated annually?
  • Have you read our User Guide to check that you are utilising every element of our free service?
  • Are you signed up as a School to receive our newsletter?
  • Have you shared your School page with your parental community to ensure that they know how to encourage Reading for Pleasure at home?
  • Each school page also houses all of our content created to help support you in embedding a Reading for Pleasure culture in your school.

However your school tackles this question, just enjoy your reading!

 

Tricia Adams & Joy Court

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