Emma Suffield, librarian at Saint Wilfrid’s C of E Academy (saintwilfrids.co.uk) Blackburn, has been awarded the honour of the School Librarian of the Year 2018.
This is one of the most significant awards of the children’s book calendar. The School Library Association – which is a body committed to supporting everyone involved with school libraries, promoting high quality reading and learning opportunities for all – created the School Librarian of the Year Award in 2004, at the suggestion of Aidan Chambers and in response to the need for recognition of the excellent work that is carried out in school libraries every day. Nominees do not need to be members of the SLA, and may be from any phase of education.
Lauren St. John, whose books include The White Giraffe (Orion) and Kat Wolfe Investigates (Macmillan – one of the award’s sponsors) made the presentation at a special ceremony at The Judge’s Court, above Browns in St Martins Lane, earlier today. Just beforehand, St. John had given a brief keynote talk, explaining how she had not had the luxury of a library while growing up in Africa, but had nevertheless devoured books whenever they were on offer, frequently reading the same book many times over. She read everything, from Westerns to Sherlock Holmes, and books that her parents had lying around. At boarding school she read books that were passed from girl to girl, mainly Mills & Boons.
She referred to some research she had read about the benefit of books on the growing mind, in which reading was described as “training in the art of being human”. She also spoke glowingly of an article in The New Yorker, “Growing Up In The Library” by Susan Orlean, who also has a whole book on the subject due out in the UK in January.
St John read directly from the New Yorker piece, in which Orlean remembers her childhood library visits:
Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs.
In the interval after the four separate video presentations, and before the final winner was announced, I spoke with the Honour Listed librarian from India, Dr Chhavi Jain. The video presentation made it clear that her role is very curricular linked, with an emphasis on information literacy skills, so I wanted to learn more about the reading for pleasure tastes of her students. Although the school is described as ‘International’ the student body is predominantly Indian and she told me that Indian children’s tastes in reading are very much like those of children in this country. They will frequently request new fiction titles and Dr Jain passes their requests to the school management who invariably provide the required funding.
The CBSE – Central Board of Secondary Education – in India apparently makes it mandatory that every school has a properly funded library and librarian. How shameful that the situation in the UK is currently so different. The Award information booklet gave a two page summary of each librarian’s situation. “One of the challenges that X faces at work is that there is no school budget allocation for library stock.” WHAT! One thing this particular primary librarian did have however was a vocal fanbase, including one boy who captured the hearts of the audience with his emphatic and dramatic endorsement of her qualities. She simply had to stay at the school for generations to come, he said, so that his ‘sister and my other descendants’ would benefit from her role.
The winning librarian’s official title is Learning Resources Centre Manager, but Emma Suffield is seen more as a member of the family by many of the 1400 students at Saint Wilfrid’s C of E Academy in a diverse area of Blackburn, thanks to her personalised, thoughtful and supportive approach to engaging all readers across the school – something that came across well in the school’s polished video presentation. Innovative, imaginative practice, frequently going the extra mile, has led to an impressive 450% increase in book borrowing rates since Emma became responsible for the library in 2014.
Lesley Martin, Chair of the SLA School Librarian of the Year Selection Committee, said: ‘‘It is exciting for the profession to have someone as forward thinking, creative, passionate and professional about school libraries and no doubt with a great career ahead of her. Emma makes a real difference in her school and her community and her contribution to the wider library profession is already making an impact.’’
Noting that the award is a unique and wonderful celebration of the work of school librarians, Alison Tarrant, Chief Executive of the School Library Association, said: “The School Librarian of the Year Award is a brilliant opportunity to showcase the impact that school libraries can make, not just on pupils, but on staff and school culture. Our Honour List this year were all strong contenders and demonstrate the nuance needed when talking about school libraries – no two are the same; they are all reflective of the school around them, and it’s aims and priorities. Last month the launch of the Great School Libraries campaign – a three year campaign spearheaded by SLA, CILIP SLG and CILIP. The campaign has three aims: to secure school library funding; to produce a national framework for school libraries and recognition of school libraries within the Ofsted framework. Our Honour List support this aim and prove that supported school libraries can make a difference.”
The three other school librarians on the Honour List are:
- Nicki Cleveland at Cannon Park Primary School
- Dr. Chhavi Jain at Manav Rachna International School, Gurugram, New Delhi
- Alison Kennedy at St George’s Ascot