Liz Millett, who runs the library at Weatherfield Academy in Dunstable Bedforshire (a special school for students aged 7-19), was yesterday named School Librarian of the Year, at a presentation ceremony held in London.
Chris Riddell, guest speaker and presenter of the awards, found himself in action early on in proceedings when certificates for schools shortlisted for the Inspiration Award (previously the library design award) were slow to arrive because of problems on the rail network – no matter, Chris quickly manufactured some temporary certificates on hotel notepads and these were much prized by those who received them, albeit not framed (though I did notice one school chose to replace the official certificate in its frame (when they eventually arrived) with the original Chris Riddell sketch – and why not?
Riddell’s keynote after-lunch speech was an entertaining look back at librarians he had loved, and the books that had opened up the world of reading for him.
He talked of the importance of allowing children to pick up books that might appear at face value too ‘difficult’ for them, calling this, in a memorable phrase “the liberation of incomprehension”.
In this regard he paid nostalgic tribute to “Agaton Sax’, the first book to have given him true reading pleasure, in contrast to the repetitive nonsense of Peter and Jane reading scheme books.
One school librarian he remembered for her no-nonsense, authoritarian, thou-shalt-remain-silent rule – one which suited his nature, as he welcomed the chapel-like atmosphere she maintained.
Another he remembered for her looks and her dress-sense. At which point the talk drifted off into fascinating recollections of various girlfriends and individuals he remembered from a time living in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital where his father was chaplain.
The other two shortlisted librarians were Tracey Needham from Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Barrow-inFurness and Helen Cleaves of Kingston Grammar School.
The presentations for the Inspiration Award (mainly delivered in video format) were definitely inspiring. I was particularly impressed with the library at Ashington First School in Northumberland, which has been zoned off into many differently themed areas – a castle area for information books, a jungle area, a space-age section etc. What was most impressive about this presentation was that the children clearly loved their library, and loved reading in it, and that the head teacher as well as Rachel, the ‘Reading Champion’, is fully committed to it – and rather proud of one design touch that he personally added to the space section.
A second presentation that impressed me was that of Budmouth College in the secondary school category. This school has created a ‘Hub Library’ in the atrium of the main building. Using the sort of wheeled, hinged shelving deployed by visiting school book fairs (but made to a higher design standard) the library is able to reshape itself throughout the day for different purposes. This was very professionally demonstrated by overhead shots in the course of the video presentation.
In the end though the awards were given to:
- Oak Tree Primary School, Nottinghamshire
- Dixons Allerton Academy, West Yorkshire
The SLA School Librarian of the Year Award is the School Library Association’s prestigious honour to recognize the excellent work that is carried out in school libraries every day and highlights the best practice of those whose work is outstanding.
Ginette Doyle, Chair of the SLA School Librarian of the Year Selection Committee said: “What we found so inspiring about our winner was that the students she deals with were confident and efficient library users. Liz Millett uses whatever means she can to ensure that they have books that they can access, at their level, and the response that the students gave us, their enthusiasm for the Library and for Liz herself, showed that she is doing an outstanding job for Weatherfield Academy.”