School Libraries Celebration Day
Perhaps it is because I am no longer working in school (which is why I was free to attend the event) that I am able to see just why the School Library Association’s annual selection of a Librarian of the Year is so important and deserving of wider coverage. Too many schools have poorly-stocked libraries. Too many schools do not employ a librarian to manage their libraries. Some schools have even decided that a traditional library space is no longer something they need to invest money in.
Telling the story of what a difference a good library managed by a good librarian makes is becoming ever more important. And in the coming twelve months that task can be undertaken by two rather than one. For this year there is not just one but there are two School Librarians of the Year.
Hilary Cantwell, librarian at St Paul’s Community College (http://www.stpaulswaterford.ie/), Waterford, Republic of Ireland and John Iona, librarian at Oasis Academy (http://www.oasisacademyenfield.org/), Enfield, Middlesex were both awarded the honour at a celebration held at the Hotel Russell in London, this afternoon (Monday, October 7th 2013).
Speaking to ACHUKA after the event, John said, “It was an absolute honour to have been awarded School Librarian of the Year, a great accolade to have received and I feel privileged to have had my work recognised in this way. We saw today why school libraries and librarians are a necessity in our school provision.”
Candy Gourlay, author of the award-wining Tall Story and a recently published second novel, Shine, presented the award.
Hilary previously worked in New York schools and public libraries before joining an Irish government programme to create school libraries. St Paul’s has 430 students and is in a rural county with the highest unemployment in Ireland. It is affiliated to the Irish government’s inclusion programme, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (http://goo.gl/GJ57jQ).
At his school, where some 70% of students have English as a second language, John creates award-winning resources, delivers the school’s Extended Project Qualification programme and plays a significant role in curriculum planning and support.
He actively promotes reading for pleasure with a number of initiatives including Reading Games.
Ginette Doyle, Chair of the SLA School Librarian of the Year Selection committee, who visits each of the nominated schools before drawing up a long list, said: “It was an extremely strong, and international, Honour List. In the end we chose two librarians both working in different ways to bring their libraries into the heart of the school and learning. They are not joint winners, but each deserves the accolade of SLA School Librarian of the Year.”
I arrived late just in time for John Iona’s presentation, not realising that I had settled myself on his school’s table. This was before lunch and before his success was known. During the lunch break I was shown the videos of the three presentations I had missed and can understand how the judges found it hard to pick a single winner (not that the videos are part of the submission – they are only prepared for the presentation day).
As Ginette Doyle explained afterwards, the expectations and role of the School Librarian of the Year are becoming ever broader and more prominent, so it is actually of benefit to have two people who can share the ambassadorial role.
In her guest speaking address to the audience after lunch, a passionate Candy Gourlay spoke about her first experience of a school library when she was growing up in Manila in the Phillipines. It had been neither positive nor encouraging. Her experience at the next school (her mother quickly moving her from the first) was quite different. The Phillipines remains a very poor country and she showed some photos of school libraries there which made the audience gasp. Dingy brown rooms stacked not with children’s books but with dissertations donated by the university. She described a charity – the SAMBAT Trust – that is actively working to improve the situation there and different photographs showed how, with limited funds, library areas are being transformed and made more colourful.
In the morning, another author, Stewart Ross, had spoken about a recent book tour in which he had visited six different schools. The better the library, the better the school.
He also spoke about the unique role of a school librarian. A member of staff but not a teacher. A good librarian is someone students can confide in and feel comfortable with. Removing a school library does more than remove a reading and research resource, it removes a nurturing and sympathetic core at the heart of a school.
The SLA President (2012-2015), Kevin Crossley-Holland, (pictured below with Lyn Hopson, another of the Honour librarians) was present throughout the day. It is good for the Association to have such an eminent, well-respected author as president.
Sally Cameron, the fourth Honor librarian (pictured below on the far left), had travelled from her early childhood and elementary school (3-11) at Marymount International School, Rome, Italy. Her library has a distinctive method of cataloguing suited to its young users.
The School Library Association also presents a Library Design Award (next year to become the Library Inspiration Award), this year won by a school which had to reinstate its library after a previous head teacher had closed it down and put books in a skip.
Specially commended for this award was Nansloe Academy Story Garden for a really impressive transformation of a courtyard space.
It was also announced that the SLA will be working with Kate Powling of the Siobhan Dowd Trust on a new initiative to support struggling school libraries. I understand there will be three awards (one sum of £6000 and two of £3000) schools will be able to apply for.
For details of how to nominate a school librarian for next year’s award, see the SLA website where you can also find full backgrounds on all four of the Honour List Librarians.
A video about the Sambat Trust
Video book trailer for SHINE