Saturday 27 February 2021

School Librarianship with Janet Syme

CLG Talk 10th February 2021

CLG were fortunate enough on Wednesday 10th February to receive a talk from Janet Syme, the school librarian of Simon Balle all-through school in Hertfordshire.

Janet spoke about her diverse career which led to her becoming a school librarian, starting within academic librarianship and pivoting to school librarianship, initially as part of a jobshare before proceeding to a full-time role. Janet’s 17-year tenure at Simon Balle had seen many changes and challenges in the school infrastructure, including a major remodelling of the library, the introduction of a primary-age library, and of course the response to the COVID pandemic.

Image from Janet Syme of the Library.

As an all-through school which encompasses both primary and secondary age children, Simon Balle presents unique challenges and opportunities. Janet talked us through various initiatives which the school librarian was involved in across age groups, which included:

  • Reading with early years groups – while children used to come over to the secondary school building for ‘reading time’, there had been a transition to a weekly after-school group in which children and parents chose books – this had proved popular.
  • A reader’s programme for transition between Years 6 and 7, now starting earlier at Year 5 – this transitionary programme was facilitated by the unique all-through nature of the school.
  • The opportunity for sixth formers to become student library helpers, providing CV experience.
  • Involvement with the EPQ – a 5,000 word project and presentation for sixth formers; the school librarian assists with accessing resources.

Janet spoke about the importance of the library to the school community, providing a safe haven for many students, particularly those who find unstructured time in the school day quite difficult to deal with. The fiction section in particular was said to be extremely well used, and up to 100 students could be in the library at a break or lunchtime.

An online reading programme was described in some detail which provides 130 levels of reading, with books assigned to each level. There were some surprises – the Mr Men books are ranked about a level 5 difficulty, while Harry Potter is a 5.5, and classics tend to be level 6 and up. Although some claimed the programme can be too prescriptive, it does well in providing interactive opportunities – including an online comprehension quiz – and useful statistics to assess student attainment. The school held a competition based around this online reading programme – with diverse categories including most improved reader – and with prizes including having afternoon tea with the headteacher!

Events in the library were said to be plentiful and productive – the library had had particular success with a ‘Speaker’s Corner’ event, in which students and staff spoke for 10 minutes about a topic of their choosing and participated in a Q&A afterwards. A ‘Book Fiesta’ was also part of the school calendar, in which authors and illustrators attended the school and spoke to year groups. The aim was for every student to hear one of these talks – no small task in a school of over 1500 pupils!

Children's Library

Finally, Janet spoke about the library’s response to the pandemic. This involved a robust elibrary, a Click and Collect service, staggered lunch times, and the extended use of student librarians in lieu of parent helpers – including children helping with some straightforward shelving.

It was a pleasure to listen to Janet and hear her evident and infectious enthusiasm for the job – and multiple members expressed an interest in visiting the school and its exciting libraries once circumstances allowed. As a current academic library trainee whose traditional scheduled library visits have been put on hold due to current restrictions, I found the talk incredibly valuable in demonstrating a very different kind of librarianship, and one which might be considered in the future. Thank you to Janet for her talk.

Post contributed by Katherine Knight, Graduate Trainee, Newnham College, Cambrdge