This week I began a Work Placement at my local Council City Library. I am immensely grateful to the people who make work experience and placements possible because it is a major disruption to the normal flow of their work and in this case, my workplace supervisor has only just returned from two weeks leave. So rather than catching up with copious amounts of emails, prioritising and developing a plan of attack for her backlog of work and reacquainting/catching up with colleagues, Andrea was taking me on a Work Health and Safety induction and tour of the Library facilities.
This Council-run Library is well-organised, well-serviced and, on the first day back after a 4-day long weekend, was well attended. One of the staff mentioned that it was usually their busiest day of the year and it sure looked like it! The returns machine was running on over-drive, with destination bags being filled every few minutes and staff rushing to sort and trolley, ready for shelving across the three floors of the Library. I sympathised with them but couldn’t help feeling envious of the level of automation that a large public library can afford, compared to my rush to return, shelve and borrow books class by class in the school library and make sure you save enough time for a targeted learning experience for my students. Like all libraries though, there are never enough trolleys and trying to get books shelved to meet demand is always an issue.
One of the ways of managing workflow is to increase the level of self-service and this public Library has had self-serve kiosks running for a few years. The Circulation desk is still always staffed by one Librarian to do manual borrowing and assist patrons with the self-serve kiosks. They are also supported by one or two additional Librarians rostered in the returns room at the same time. Like most Teacher Librarians, especially those of us providing Release from Face to Face having additional support for returns and borrowing is sometimes a luxury so training our students to self-serve is a sensible and necessary step, if not to ease the pressure on ourselves but to prepare students for the real world. Self-service for computer use and other services such as photocopying and printing is also encouraged in the public library and this area seems to require significant support from Librarians rostered on each of the floors.
The Collection is distributed across the three floors according to tradition (fiction versus non-fiction) as well as non-traditionally (junior non-fiction is distributed between adult non-fiction on the third floor and the Children’s collection, on the second floor). The distinction between the two is made by the specialist Children’s Librarian who determines whether a non-fiction title, targeted for children would also be useful for youth and adults, perhaps who are new to English or struggle to read. This professional judgement also comes in to play in the school library setting when determining whether a chapter book should be classed as a junior novel or placed in the Fiction chapter books sections, or whether a picture book should be shelved in the general collection or located in the Teacher’s Reference section as part of a teaching unit. Here we rely on our understanding of our patrons’ preferences for location and reflect on their queries when searching for specific resources, to tailor our libraries to their patrons. Library Management Systems (LMS) can provide us with the data we need to make these decisions. This public library uses the Spydus software which is a very user friendly interface when compared to the LMS I currently use (thankfully planned to be upgraded this year to a more user/ patron friendly system).
The decision to identify, and perhaps separate texts found on the Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) Book Lists is also managed in a variety of ways in school and public libraries across Australia. For some schools, the PRC is not a focus. Their students have access to a wide variety of good quality books, but for others, their families do not have these resources readily available, and so Teacher Librarians place greater emphasis on students being able to readily identify and select books from these booklists, encourage borrowing from them by requiring younger students to borrow at least one of their borrowing quota from these sections and supporting students and families in logging their reading of these texts with the reward of a Certificate at the end of each Challenge period. This is my current situation and the increase in interest in the Library, student participation in the Challenge and overall improved student engagement in Library programs has been encouraging. This supports continued expansion of these sections and ongoing refinement of identification processes for these texts. So of course I asked: “Does the public Library have separate locations for Premier’s Reading Challenge books?”
Just as the capacity for the Teacher Librarian to make significant changes in the Library program, collaborate and support other teachers and impact on literacy outcomes is dependent on Principal support and understanding of the impact that trained Teacher Librarians can make in schools, Public Libraries reflect Corporate approaches and ideas. Similar to schools, a change in leadership can see some programs supported and others let go. In the case of PRC locations in this public library, titles on the PRC Book Lists were/are identifiable to patrons by an appropriate sticker on the spine of the book. This was completed as part of the accessioning process in years past, was discontinued a few years ago but is now being undertaken retrospectively. However, all of these texts are located within their appropriate general collections to assist the general populations of patrons in selecting the most appropriate resources for their needs rather than meet criteria for a reward. I feel that this is most appropriate in the public library as its patronage is far broader than the school library setting and just by attending a local library, children are more likely to develop a love of reading for pleasure anyway, without the enticement of a Certificate
This brings me to Community Involvement and my assistance to the Children’s Program Officer, Mandy, yesterday. The Children’s Program focuses on pre-school engagement throughout the school term , but this Program really revs up in the School Holidays. I was fortunate enough to assist Mandy with setting up, performer liaison and participant management for a Puppetry Workshop, performed by Emily Beale, the owner, creator and performer of Bamboo Theatre. Throughout the school term, Emily delivers interactive performances to primary and secondary schools on a wide variety of issues including anti-bullying, personal growth and change and netiquette. Emily’s puppetry workshop though was a fun-filled, interactive, hands-on two hour workshop for children. As the Council books events such as these well in advance for publication in the Library’s “What’s On” booklet which is distributed at the beginning of each year, these school holiday events are always popular and often booked to capacity. Yesterday was no different with just over 50 children attending the show to learn the techniques of puppetry and create their own sock puppet. What really struck me about this workshop though, was how the processes that the children took to develop their puppets’ characters strongly supported oral story-telling. Putting on my teacher’s hat, and reflecting on the new NSW English Curriculum, the children were also scaffolded to develop and expand their creative and imaginative minds, in preparation for their sock puppets’ performance.
Not only do programs such as these continue to support children’s learning, they are also very effective in bringing families into the Library. Once there, children and parents read, play, draw and, most importantly, borrow texts.
To follow up this event I had the opportunity to assist with the Library’s promotion and publicity activities. The Library’s blog is maintained on and off by two different Collections Librarians who have been mainly focused on the upgrade of the Library website over the past few months and have only had time to add brief snippets to the blog during this period. I was given the task of drafting a short piece about the Puppetry Workshop for the blog and took some photos to add to it. Similar to the school library setting, Photography Permission had to be sought from the performer and there was discussion about gaining permissions from parents but, given parents’ reluctance in the past to sign permission forms, I decided to only take images where children could not be identified. This process is much easier in the school setting as Photography permission is sought and confirmed at the time of enrolment and at the beginning of each year. It is also a much smaller pool of subjects to choose from, so for school librarians, promotion and publicity issues are somewhat simplified. However, I sympathise with the Librarians in finding the time to plan and deliver community engagement activities and promote school library events. My school library publicity and promotion strategy is still in development and I have focused on well-placed promotion of PRC participation, updating the New Books signage and location, small, targeted special weeks displays and used Book Week to encourage families into the library for morning storytime events. Whilst public libraries are able to develop strong social media strategies for publicity and promotion, school libraries are restricted in these areas due to necessary age restrictions associated with social media. However, my school library has created a Twitter profile, targeting parent’s rather than students, and this will be developed to form a significant part of our social media strategy for the next two years.
Overall, Day 1 was a very productive start to my Work Placement.
Day Two was just as exciting. I was placed with the Processing section and the Periodicals Librarian. Again, the level of automation that the much larger scale of the public library requires is overwhelming. Similar to school libraries use of the Schools Catalogue Information Service for outsourcing cataloguing activities, the public library outsources cataloguing to a few private companies. These companies not only provide MARC records for each of the titles purchased from suppliers, but they also place relevant call number stickers, professionally cover (yay, no more contact bubbles!) and include RFID stickers on each item. They arrive at the Processing section boxed, with Invoices, ready for checking off, activating, quality control and allocation to the main Library or Branch Libraries. Those sectioned for Branch Libraries will then be picked up for delivery each couple of days to the Branches, along with items reserved by patrons at Branch Libraries. It is clear that processing involves very similar activities regardless of the size of the Library but the volume of the public library necessitates a broader range of these activities to streamline the process, especially given that resources are spread across sites. Before heading off to the far less familiar Periodicals section, I ‘borrowed’ a “Living Book”.
Living Books originated as real books that were often written by one person with a specific interest in a topic and written in a conversational, narrative style. The Living Books program at this Public Library formed part of the ‘Courage to be Free’ display and school program where people who had specific experiences during World War II could be ‘borrowed’ or booked for a small group talk about their experience. I had the opportunity to meet Mimi, a Jewish World War II survivor who talked for almost an hour about her experiences from the age of 20 months to 9 years old, throughout which time her family hid and were hidden from the Germans. moving throughout unoccupied France and then as an immigrant, settling in Auburn in Sydney’s western suburbs. This type of first hand experience through oral stories is easily integrated into the school library setting and I hope to be able to offer such opportunities to my students in the future.