A huge impact on reading: The School Librarian of the Year 2019

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Champion: Ros Harding, the 2019 School Librarian of the Year (both images)

From reading challenges to awards and visits, Ros Harding – the School Librarian of the Year 2019 – has been recognised for the wide range of literacy initiatives she undertakes with students. Emma Lee-Potter finds out more

Librarian Ros Harding has made a huge impact on reading at the Chester school where she works.

She does everything from recommending new books to pupils at The King’s School Chester to supporting independent learning in the sixth form. She runs book clubs and quizzes, organises author visits and Skype calls, and leads the annual school book awards.

Ms Harding has also pioneered a reading reward scheme for years 7,8 and 9. Pupils must read six books to achieve bronze, silver and gold levels, winning a prize of chocolate when each level is signed off. When they get to gold level they win a £5 book token.

Initiatives like these have led to Ms Harding being named School Librarian of the Year 2019, with the judges praising her professionalism and contribution to the school’s teaching and learning.

“Her caring and inclusive nature is appreciated by students, staff and parents, many of whom describe her as inspiring, not least in the way she makes things happen to the benefit of all who come into contact with her, from junior school pupils to the senior leadership team,” said Sue Bastone, chair of the School Librarian of the Year Selection Committee.

Dr Jane Byrne, the school’s senior deputy head, described Ms Harding’s work as “creative, inspiring and unstinting”, while pupils at the school were full of praise for her too. One told the judges that “you can talk to her about anything” while another said: “She’s more than just a librarian.”

The school library is open from 8am till 5.30pm every day of the week and features a computer suite, a study space for 50 pupils and a reading area with comfortable sofas, chairs and bean bags.

Ms Harding, who has a Master’s in library and information studies from University College London and has worked at The King’s School for 10 years, says there are two distinct strands to her role. One is to promote reading at the co-ed independent school, which has more than 1,000 pupils aged between four and 18. The other is to help children to develop information, literacy and research skills.

“When it comes to promoting reading the main thing is to have lots of different ways of doing it,” she said. “Rather than thinking ‘we just do this’ we throw quite a lot at them so hopefully something will stick with almost everybody.”

She runs a host of other book-related activities, including a reading challenge, which involves pupils finding and reading specific books, such as a book written by an author under the age of 25 (choices include Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Divergent by Veronica Roth and Eragon by Christopher Paolini) or a book about an indigenous culture.

The school also appoints a patron of reading every two years. Non Pratt, the author of young adult titles such as Trouble and Remix, held the post for the last two years and this term Mike Revell, who wrote Stormwalker and Stonebird, takes over.

“Non Pratt came up with the idea of book bingo,” said Ms Harding, whose official title is head librarian and archivist. “She designed book sheets for each year group. They have challenges like ‘read a book with a yellow cover’ or ‘read a book with a wolf in it’. Every time they get a line on the sheet they get a prize and if they complete the whole bingo sheet they go into a draw for a book.”

Ms Harding organises a variety of author visits, with writers either visiting in person or talking to pupils via Skype.

“I email authors or contact them on Twitter and they are very generous with their time,” she said. “We had Malorie Blackman two years ago and we’ve had Sarah Crossan a couple of times. Skype is a fantastic way of doing it. It’s very cheap, quick and easy and you can get a whole year group in, maybe more.”

Then there are the annual senior school book awards – one for books read by year 7 and 8 pupils and the other for teen titles. The whole school gets the chance to read the nominated books and vote for their favourites and the winners are announced on or around World Book Day in March. This year’s winners were Thornhill by Pam Smy for years 7 and 8 and One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus for teens.

Most pupils still prefer reading real books rather than e-books. “They like the fact that they can browse, look at the covers and have a little flick through before deciding whether they want to read it,” explained Ms Harding. However, the school has an online library catalogue that pupils can access at any time and an e-book lending service that allows them to borrow books on their own devices.

There has been nationwide concern about the number of reluctant boy readers but Ms Harding points out that there are reluctant girl readers as well.

“I don’t see it as a gendered problem,” she said. “I think it’s a coolness problem – and girls are just as susceptible to that peer pressure. How do you get over that? I think it goes back to ‘normalising’ reading, so it’s a question of making sure that our male staff are role models for reading. We also try and find books that have the coolness factor. A book called The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín won our teen book award in 2018 and was a big hit among year 9 and 10 boys in particular. They seemed to enjoy the challenge of not being scared by a book that terrified adults. It’s a real page-turner.”

The other part of Ms Harding’s role is to teach pupils about finding resources, referencing (her advice is “do it as you go along”) and compiling bibliographies.

Many sixth formers at the school undertake the EPQ (extended project qualification) so Ms Harding helps with their research and supervises several students a year.

The school also runs a history project (the Castle Project) each year and every year 7 class has five lessons in the library, learning how to manage their time, how to find useful resources and how to use them. “We do an evaluation at the end,” Ms Harding explained. “Thinking about what you could improve on the next time is a really important part of independent learning.”

Ms Harding keeps up-to-date with the best children’s and young adult literature. Her own favourite authors are Sarah Crossan and Patrick Ness and between January and July this year she read 65 books. When we spoke to her she was reading a proof copy of Jenny Downham’s Furious Thing, which will be published in October.

“I can’t think of a better job than being a school librarian,” she added. “I get to spend my day with amazing staff and incredible young people. I genuinely love reading books written for children and teenagers and it’s wonderful to be able to share this with others. I also love the variety of the job – getting to work with sixth formers finding high-level sources for their EPQ and giving out prizes to infants for book bingo.”

Ros Harding’s top tips for school librarians

  • Try different things – and do not be worried if they do not work. Different things work for different people.
  • Encourage teachers to “normalise” reading and show they are keen readers. Our teachers post “I am reading” posters on their classroom doors to highlight the books they are currently reading. They also include the details on their email signatures.
  • Introduce school book awards. We ask pupils to nominate books and produce a longlist and then a shortlist. Everyone gets the opportunity to vote on their choices.
  • Keep a wide variety of books in the library. We hold approximately 10,000 books, 3,500 of which are fiction. We get the i newspaper and the Chester Chronicle and subscribe to about 40 journals and magazines, including Vogue, GQ, Private Eye and the Phoenix comic. We try and ensure we have a good mix.
  • Talk to parents. The English department is based in the library for parents’ evenings and I am there as well. It gives me the chance to talk to parents and to see all the pupils, including those who perhaps do not come to the library of their own accord. I talk to them about why they are not reading and try and encourage them to take a book home.
  • Make sure there is no stigma around what children are reading. Some parents say their child will only read graphic novels – and I say that is absolutely fine.

Ros Harding’s book recommendations for secondary pupils

  • One by Sarah Crossan: This is nearly always in our top 10 most borrowed books. The verse style and unusual story make it very appealing to pupils. It is mostly read by girls but some boys love it too.
  • The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín: This was a big hit among year 9 and 10 boys in particular. It is a real page-turner and the sequel, The Invasion, does not disappoint.
  • Thornhill by Pam Smy: This won our years 7 and 8 book award this year. I loved how it appealed equally to boys and girls. Told half through pictures and half through diary entries, it is quite an easy read but it stays with you.
  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education writer.

Further information & resources

The School Librarian of the Year Award is run by the School Library Association, which also runs the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. Visit www.sla.org.uk/awards


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