The school I work in (St. Peter’s R. C. Primary, Earl Shilton), was built over one hundred years ago.
It is a school that has character and history, but it is fair to say that schools and what is required of them, have changed a lot since the time it was built, and character and history don’t always mean that things work well in terms of how we use space now.
Back then children would probably have written with chalk on slate and learned most things by rote in long, serried lines (I will not comment on how education policy seems to be leaning further back towards that as each day goes by – no. Not at all). Books would probably have been things that the teachers read to the children, not that the children got to handle and read for themselves.
There was no requirement for a school library in the way we think of it today.
As the life of our school has progressed over the decades, the need for a library has become more pressing, but it has been shoe horned into the current building in various spaces and places over the years, because the number of children attending the school has grown over the years and the need to physically house them has always (rightly) taken priority over where to put a load of books.
Currently we have two main library areas. I won’t call them libraries, because they’re not.
The first space is an open plan area just as you come into the school. It is right by the entrance to the dinner hall, the school office, the headmistress’s office, the naughty bench (doooom) and the toilets. There is also a large television screen on the wall opposite the chairs in the library space, which runs a montage of photographs of the children’s daily lives around the school on a continuous loop.
It is, as you can imagine, not a place of great tranquility. It is a place of constant, distracting activity, where it is nigh on impossible to get a child to concentrate on reading, especially when all hell is breaking loose on the naughty bench.
This space is also used as an overflow classroom when every other space is full, but small teaching groups are necessary. On top of that, it is used as a space to sit prospective parents, to corral children who cannot yet go to mad science club or after school club or to a sporting activity because their rooms aren’t ready yet, and generally as a holding pen for anyone and everyone who comes through the school.
It is not ideal as a library.
The second space is actually a section of corridor that has been divided up using one door across the width of the corridor and two doors into Key Stage Two classrooms. The shelves here have been built from MDF by our very handy care taker, and run floor to ceiling.
The space is not large, and to fit in groups and series of books we are reduced to using baskets which we wedge under the shelves on the floor. The children actually cannot reach any of the books on the higher shelves, but we put them there because there isn’t anywhere else to store them.
There are two chairs in here. One for the adult hearing the child read, one for a child reader. If you push them out of the way of passers by, you actually crack the back of your head on shelving. If you have them in a more comfortable position, people have to walk round you.
As it is a corridor with access to two classrooms off it, it sees a considerable amount of traffic throughout the day.
It is not quiet, or peaceful, or relaxing to read there. If anything it is less ideal than the first space.
And this is what we have managed with for several years of the life of the school.
Last year the school bid for and was successful in getting a building project off the ground that meant we could have an extension to our existing building. As of this term, we have a fully independent early years unit for our youngest children.
This means more space has opened up in the main school building, and we have now got an actual room for a library.
Here it is:
and again from a different angle:
Once more with feeling:
As you can see, it is rather bare.
We want to make the best use of this new library. We are really lucky to have it, and the space, though bigger than what we had before, is still limited when you think that two hundred children will be using it.
Rather than just piling all the existing books and shelving into it, we have taken a few weeks to take stock of what we have and talk about what we need. We have consulted with a professional, who has had over twenty years experience of stocking and furnishing libraries in the public sector, and have also talked to all the teachers about what they need, and what we feel the children need.
We have drawn up a list of requirements:
- A bright friendly space that the children actively want to spend time in.
- Shelving that the children can reach.
- Display areas to show the children the kind of books that are on offer.
- Different types of shelving, as picture books and regular books cannot be shelved together successfully.
- More up to date stock (we have been editing what we have. Some of our books go back to 1968, and many of the books are in a dreadful state of repair).
- Comfortable furniture both for the teachers and for the children. Size appropriate furniture for the children is also important.
- A flexible space that can be used for both teaching and quiet reading.
- A space we can run family reading events in and get the wider community involved.
- An updated library borrowing system we can use to allow more children to take books home with them to get the library back in regular use both in school and as a resource for children at home.
- Murals and decorations that make the library a magical place to be.
We are trying to recycle shelving where we can, but some of it is damaged and it is not all fit for purpose.
We have also been taking an inventory of our books so that we are not just buying new stock for the sake of it. Many of our books have had to go, due to either being too old (particularly outdated reference books), or in a bad state of repair. We really need new material that will be relevant and appealing to the children.
The bad news is that there is no money in the school budget for books or for the library. The book budget is spent yearly on replacing and updating our reading schemes, and there is very little left over for books which are for pleasure. The majority of new stock that comes in to the library is either gifted to us, or we earn through things like hosting our yearly Scholastic Book Fair.
The PTFA gifted the new library £1000 in the last academic year. We are going to try and make that money go as far as we can, but kitting out a library is an expensive business and we need all the help we can get.
This year, the PTFA have kindly agreed that the funds raised at the Christmas Fair will go to helping us realise this vision for our new library.
The next post will show you some of the things it is possible to do with a school library and we hope it will enthuse you the way it has us.