Creating a friendly school library

Written by: HTU | Published:

Finalist in the School Librarian of the Year 2012, Gill Trueman offers her advice on how we can create friendly and inspiring library environments

Primary schools are vibrant, child-centred, attractive places. Commonly, there are areas where books are stored and these may even be called “the library”.

However, in my view, the creation and development of a truly “friendly” library involves more than the initial costs of furniture, resources and a library computer system.

All too often, running the library is delegated to a hard-pressed head of literacy, teaching assistant or to parent volunteers. This can result in too few hours to do the job and to a “keep the area tidy” process, rather than a policy of increasing impact and enabling development. For real progress to be made, a school needs to commit to a paid employee with a realistic number of hours to dedicate to making the library flourish.

In March 2006, Ofsted produced a report entitled Good School Libraries. Two quotes from the summary are particularly relevant here:

• “…the most significant element in bringing about improvements was the commitment and support of effective headteachers.”

• “Improvement was most likely to occur under the leadership of a well-trained, specialist librarian.”

When I started at Peasedown St John Primary School, the contract was for 10 hours per week, but as I began to implement our plans, I was awarded more hours as well as financial backing and an abundance of “can-do” attitude.

I would not have been able to develop my vision for the library had it not been for the 100 per cent support I received from our senior management team, under the able leadership of David Tilling.

Resistance from teachers, who perhaps felt that half an hour of precious class time might be wasted in library visits, vanished when the visits were enthusiastically embraced by the pupils and were subsequently timetabled into the school day.

I now teach research skills to some pupils and promote and develop a love of reading throughout the school. I am the first port of call for teachers when they want books for lessons, often saving them many hours of research. Our library is now at the centre of learning in our primary school and my work is highly valued by staff and pupils alike. I know how fortunate I am!

So, what are my top tips for creating a friendly and vibrant primary school library? 1.  Employ a knowledgeable/enthusiastic person (even better a trained librarian) with a realistic number of hours to fulfil your plans (10 to 20 hours per week dependent upon the size of your school).

2.  Enable the creation of a welcoming and lively area to give a wow factor.

3. Facilitate regular weekly (foundation stage and key stage 1) or fortnightly (key stage 2) library visits during class time.

4. Invest in a good computer library management system: Junior Librarian (search online) is robust enough for the children to use, sophisticated enough to keep close tabs on who has what, and provides enough impact data to satisfy the leadership team.

5. Ask your librarian to arrange the books in age-appropriate ways, with as many books shown face-up as possible.

6. Encourage your librarian to change the book displays regularly, particularly if they correspond to a particular whole-school theme.

7. Create a regular flow of new books through the budget and by earning commission from book magazines and book fairs.

8. Permit the librarian to deliver curriculum topic books to each class each term, returning those not being used.

9. Allow the librarian to teach research skills.

To conclude, a school library can provide an exciting doorway to imagination and learning if supported by a dedicated trained person. Why not benefit from one in your school?

• Gill Trueman is the library and information manager at Peasedown St John Primary School in Bath. She is the only primary school librarian to feature on the Honour List for the School Library Association School Librarian of the Year Award 2012. Visit

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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