Using the school library to support teacher CPD

Written by: Elizabeth Hutchinson & Clare Brumpton | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Continuing their series of articles looking at what your school library and librarian can do to support your teaching and lessons, Elizabeth Hutchinson and Clare Brumpton look at how libraries can support the CPD of teaching staff

This is our final article in our journey through the five core instructional activities of the school librarian as defined by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions School Library Guidelines (IFLA, 2015).

These five core areas are:

As stated in the IFLA School Library Guidelines: “The school library supports teachers through providing professional development … especially related to new materials and technologies, new curriculum, and new instructional strategies.”

What should teachers expect from their librarians?

Many teachers will recognise “providing materials” in the statement above, but I would suggest that this is often unrelated to professional development.

Everyone expects the school library to provide new resources but how often do you ask your school librarian to highlight what is new and how often have you asked your school librarian to help you find and use new technology?

We know that there will be many teachers who are more than capable of doing this themselves, but there will be an equal number who don’t have time or don’t know where to start. Working together saves time and can bring different expertise into the classroom helping teachers to learn alongside their students.

Do you talk to the school librarian when you are considering a curriculum change or looking at new instructional strategies? If the school librarian does not know about these changes how can they provide the resources needed to support your students and teachers?

Giving them a seat at the table will allow them to share their expertise too. Often school librarians share best practice with colleagues across the world and will have many examples of ideas and strategies for you to consider. It is important that we give them the opportunity to share their knowledge for the benefit of the whole school.

Offering training

There are myriad ways that the librarian can lead professional development training sessions if they have the confidence and are enabled to do so. Many librarians will offer a library induction session to new staff at the start of the school year. However, this could easily be expanded as a refresher session to specific subject areas or departments.

Within this session, time could be spent ensuring staff know how to access the online resources available to them, understand the ways they can request and expect support in resource management, co-teaching, and so on, and start building up that all-important relationship with the librarian.

In addition, there are a range of other more specialised areas that any librarian may have enough knowledge in to run a whole-school training session. Examples may include copyright, developing a reading culture within the school, knowledge of contemporary authors and recently published books, updating “problematic” texts within the curriculum, developing new units of literature teaching, and developing a whole-school approach to inquiry, to name but a few.

There are some staff who would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the librarian. Indeed, it might be the case that every subject, department, faculty within a school might identify a library liaison or “champion” who could be tasked with working with the librarian and feeding back ideas or sharing examples of what has worked well within their collaborations.

One of the most recent developments in education is the impact of AI. Such a rapidly changing tool requires significant time and effort to get to grips with. The librarian might be one of a team of educators involved in this conversation. They have a cross-curricular perspective and are also embedded within a very strong network of library professionals outside of schools. They will have insight into practices in other schools, universities, and education systems outside the UK and are actively seeking out this information already.

Modelling within the classroom

While the librarian is encouraged to work in a cross-curricular capacity, most would struggle to be present in regular lessons within any one subject or area of the curriculum for a sustained period given the planning and implementation time needed to work in this way.

This is where modelling comes into play. Some of the most powerful advocacy for collaboration comes from a teacher once a successful working partnership has been nurtured.

This practice allows the librarian to model some of the skills to students and the teacher in the lessons, which can then be taken on by the teacher in future lessons. Both teachers and students benefit from this with consistent practices shared over time. And the teacher can put these skills into place in lessons with other students. This leads to the organic development of consistent school-wide practices that benefit everyone.

The practice of modelling is likely to be a two-way experience with the librarian also picking up good practices from the teacher in the lessons. All educators are busy people, and this collaborative modelling work is a good use of time for those who might be interested to learn more but who would not have the time to develop these practices outside of this environment.

What the librarian should expect from the school

What happens though if you start talking to your school librarian and they are shocked that you are asking them to do this? Many may have been employed in a non-professional role and it may never have been part of their remit. It is important to recognise that they may need training and support to give them the confidence to move forward. You may even need to consider how much you pay them in order to achieve this.

As with all professionals they need to be nurtured and supported and given the opportunity to professionally develop.

Through our experience of working with other librarians, many school librarians are not yet empowered to take on these sorts of leadership roles. They often feel disenfranchised, believe that teachers are superior in knowledge and expertise or that they are not employed in a capacity that requires or expects this type of collaborative and leadership development.

This is a management issue in terms of ensuring that all staff feel valued, that their expertise is recognised and respected, and in terms of a librarian’s role specifically, that the specialised nature of the role is not found elsewhere within the staffing structure of a school.

The most successful collaborations come from schools that are open to learning, open to welcoming new ways of working, and open to listening to staff who may not have been heard previously. The success comes from all staff being empowered to step up and lead or collaborate on projects that they might not have been invited to previously, and students will undoubtedly benefit from learning within such an environment.

What can the school do to empower their school librarian?

Find out what professional development your school librarian needs. Discover what is available and give them the opportunity to attend. There are two main bodies that provide CPD for school librarians:

  • The School Library Association (SLA) provides regular professional development, conference, support, and training opportunities.
  • The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, School Libraries Group provides conference, support and training including the opportunity for your school librarian to gain certification, chartership or fellowship – a recognised professional qualification.
  • There are lots of other trainers and consultants out there. We of course must highlight Elizabeth’s own membership training Engaging and Empowering School Libraries which includes mentoring and support as well as training opportunities.
  • And there are lots of free sources of support, from Facebook groups and Twitter to podcasts and the School Librarians’ Network (see further information).

Remember that librarians are often very isolated being the only ones in a school but it does not have to be that way. The school librarian should expect the school to support their CPD. The librarian should be proactive in finding what they need and be prepared to give some of their time for professional development.

What should students expect?

In the present climate of budgetary restrictions, school libraries and the specialist staff that manage them are often seen as a “nice to have” within a school.

It is becoming more commonplace to hear that it is fee-paying schools that have the luxury and budget to appoint a qualified or experienced librarian and that more and more state schools are cutting or reducing the provision.

The real shame of this is that so many students around the UK are missing out on the use of a library and the expertise of a librarian in their learning.

All students have the right to expect a library within their school, with an adequate budget to run it effectively and with a specialist librarian to manage it. Students can then benefit from a space where they can study, develop a love of reading, refine their information-searching skills using quality resources, learn the practices of academic honesty and integrity, feel safe, access any information they might need (for learning, personal development and interest), the list goes on.

A well-stocked and staffed library will ultimately lead to better teaching, better resources, more support for students, more support for teachers, and a better school experience overall.

The instructional role of the school librarian

Over this series of articles, we hope we have helped to highlight the powerful role the school librarian can have within teaching and learning. As the IFLA guidelines state: “A qualified school librarian works in concert with teaching colleagues to provide the optimum learning experiences for students.”

Understanding all that your school librarian can provide can only bring a positive impact to teaching and learning. This happens best through support and understanding from senior leadership teams.

A lack of knowledge or budget is not an excuse. Your school library is not a standalone department – it has an impact on the whole school and should be funded as such.

Student learning and development can be driven through your school library. Start by reading the IFLA School Library Guidelines or get in touch with either of us for a chat.

Don’t restrict your school librarian, help them to blossom through your support and watch your school and students grow.

  • Elizabeth Hutchinson is a chartered librarian and fellow of CILIP. With 20 years in school libraries she is now a trainer and advisor and an advocate for FOSIL Inquiry based Learning. Visit
  • Clare Brumpton has worked in school libraries for 25 years. She is head of research centre at the International School of London, an IB school where she is responsible for three libraries and the Research Institute.

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