NEWS INDEPTH

Amy McKay: School Librarian of the Year

We spoke to Amy McKay, recently announced as School Librarian of the Year 2016, to find out what makes her library at Corby Business Academy special and to share some of her insights into creating a great school library.

The SLA School Librarian of the Year Award is presented by the School Library Association to recognise the excellent work carried out in school libraries every day, highlighting the best practice of those whose work is outstanding.

Ginette Doyle, Chair of the SLA School Librarian of the Year Selection Committee, said of the winner, "Amy McKay injects fun into her activities, whether to promote reading for pleasure or to demonstrate study skills. Her library is vibrant, colourful and full of displays promoting books, authors and reading. Passionate about her work she is a kind and caring individual who has an impact on the lives of her students: she is a very worthy winner of the 2016 award."

We asked Amy to tell us more about her work at Corby Business Academy and to share some of her ideas for developing the school library.


Q: When did you become a school librarian?

A: I finished my degree in English and Education and was pretty certain I wanted to teach but I wanted some time out of school first so I worked for the Legal Aid Board and then applied for a job as a school librarian with the idea of going on to do a PGCE, but after a week I knew it was the job for me, I adored it.


Q: What do you enjoy about the job?

A: The librarian tends to develop an overview of the entire school; you know what's going on in the curriculum and in the lives of individual children; we see students in very different way from the rest of the staff. The students all call me and my colleague, Christina, by our first names.

Plus we have a lot of freedom and if there's something we're interested in, we can pursue it. I love poetry and I can explore that with our students, especially the reluctant readers. And it's fun! My job is predominantly focused on reading for pleasure; our job is to get the students to pick up a book and to read for pleasure.


Q: Who manages your role at the school?

A: My direct line manager is one of the vice principals and from there, to the principal. It's so important to have that direct line to management because we need to let them know the value of the library. I send the principal a weekly report about the library; how many books have been borrowed, updates on the gender gap, what presentations we've done, so everything that's happening in the library.


Q: How do you communicate with other school leaders?

A: We do sessions on INSET days with middle managers on how to use the library and explaining what we can do for them. Teachers don't have a lot of time and don't have time to explore things, so I will explain what we can do for them to support their teaching. You have to build that relationship so when I am asked for help with the smallest thing, I will jump on it.

I also make sure I show my face around the building. The school doesn't have a staff room so that is important, and because the school is large we communicate a lot by email. All the new staff receive a library induction and that's really important, otherwise it would be the last place they come to check out.


Q: What kinds of support do you offer teachers?

A: We do a lot of bibliography services and 'better Googling' classes, for example, taking sessions in the library or in their classrooms. We also do activities like 'book quests' on whatever subject the staff want, such as World War II for Year 9. We will organise a 'treasure hunt' where students have to use different books to get the answer to each question. So it's a great introduction to a subject, extending their knowledge but it's fun for students. And then we will cover more day-to-day activities so if students are studying Elizabeth England, we will support reading across the curriculum and create displays in classrooms to reflect what they are learning and also reading for pleasure.


Q: How do students perceive the library space?

A: For many of them it's a strong social hub and a safe haven. We run lots of clubs and activities and students will come here if they are feeling a little lost; there are some days where the timetabling means they are not with their friends for lunch.

The clubs are directed by what they want, so there's a Lego Club where students don't need to be too sociable if they struggle with communication, but there are also five different book clubs from the traditional 'sit down and talk about a book' and others with games and activities based on books they might like to go on and read.


Q: How varied is your 'reading for pleasure' stock?

A: We're strong on graphic novels but also non fiction, as well as fiction books. We have to realise that not every readers is going to enjoy fiction although it's almost not allowed to think like that until you're an adult. But there's a lot of interest in 'real life' subjects. We do shopping tripes once a year to buy the books the students want; we take them to a bookshop and give them 50 each. I think we appreciate that every reader is different.

We also have good levels of investment in library stock because they recognise the value of the library and how much we are offering.


Q: How are you tackling the 'gender divide' in boys' and girls' reading?

A: We've managed to narrow it by listening to what boys want to read. Graphic novels are huge for us and we spend a large proportion of our budge on graphic novels and manga and we make sure we have a gender-neutral environment, so we have sets of Top Trumps around to make it engaging for boys as well as girls.


Q: What about transition from primary school, how do you support incoming students?

A: We work actively with students before they even cross the threshhold. We run our own 'Summer Reading Challenge' and get the incoming students to read the same book and we give them an activity sheet where they have to do certain things like learn to do a magic trick, or tell us what was the most revolting thing they ate over the summer.

I go and meet the incoming students before they arrive so they will know me by sight and they will know the library is a safe place.


Q: How successful are you in turning students into readers?

A lot of our students arrive at the school with no interest in reading; they just don't think it's for them and it's not something they do because they want to. So I work by stealth; I get them to enjoy being in the library. We have games, puzzles, quizzes, Pokemon Go, colouring - so they can engage in what they enjoy and they're much more likely to pick up a book in that situation.


Q: What would your main message be to other school librarians with the same goal?

A: Keep it fun, at least that is what has worked here, and try to enjoy the work. It's not the easiest thing, always, working with young people - and we're certainly not doing it for the money!


Q: Do you have measurable 'outcomes' in terms of how many students will eventually read for pleasure?

A: One of the things we track is how many students are borrowing books. If by next term there are any KS3 students who haven't used the library and who are not reading, they will be invited to have a library session with me where we will talk about the barriers to their reading and we'll put some budget aside to buy the kinds of books they want to read.

We do find that by the time they get to year 10 or 11, even if they are committed readers, their reading for pleasure will drop significantly because of exam pressures but when they come back in Year 12 when they have a more open timetable, they want to find out what they have missed and what is available - so we are turning them into 'readers'.



MORE ABOUT THE SCHOOL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION:

The School Librarian of the Year Award is run by the School Library Association, an independent charity established in 1937; it is a membership based organisation which trades as an incorporated company. The School Library Association (SLA) is committed to supporting everyone involved with school libraries, promoting high quality reading and learning opportunities for all. The School Library Association offers:

- Advisory and information services, online and in person
- Lively, practical publications
- The School Librarian, a quarterly journal
- Relevant and focused INSET, conferences and training courses
- A network of branches for local support
- Advocacy for school libraries and School Library Services and a significant voice at regional and national level

The website - www.sla.org.uk - is full of news and information do visit and have a look!

13/10/2016Amy McKay: School Librarian of the Year
  • I remember going to a presentation including Amy some time ago at a conference, probably joint YLG and SLA, and Amy's enthusiasm was infectious- congratulations on a well-deserved award!
    Diana Barnes 20/10/2016
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