On Tuesday, Kate, Harriet and I visited The King Alfred School in Golders Green for an informative and pleasantly shortbread fuelled tour of what a career as a school librarian might be like.
Located far enough away from central London to feel like a whole different place (Kate and I walked there - it seemed very far and VERY hilly), King Alfred’s is a school based on liberal principles of respect, trust and mutual responsibility and has the motto: “Ex Corde Vita – out of the heart springs life.” Because of this progressive ethos, its (obvious) child focus, and its emphasis “on discovering and maximising the potential of each child” both academically and socially, the task of the school librarian - Jenny Monaghan – contrasts markedly with the makeup of most of our academic research libraries. For that reason, the trip provided a hugely interesting and informative afternoon which we all got something out of. Our thanks go to Jenny for organising such a comprehensive session.
Collections and library space: The library itself was really just one very large open plan room with computers at one end, a seating area in the centre, and a corner dedicated to reading groups to one side. Roughly half the space was dedicated to curriculum based books with the other half comprising of fiction, comic books, newspapers and dvds primarily intended to be used for pleasure. Given that it’s a private school and therefore has a) money and b) autonomy over its curriculum, Jenny has quite a bit of freedom with what to buy and buys multiple copies for reading groups and book clubs.
Use of library: As with the physical makeup of the library, the library’s function also seemed roughly divided between being an academic resource and a pastoral space where pupils could pursue their own interests. Jenny collaborates with teaching staff whenever possible and welcomes classes from all disciplines to use the library as part of their curriculum. Sixth formers are taught Research Techniques in the library (we got to listen in on one of these lessons and all agreed we could’ve done with knowing that sort of stuff before we’d left school – or even uni!) and English classes make use of the library for book projects and reading groups.
On the general interest side, Jenny also follows the big literary prizes - such as the Man Booker and Carnegie medal – and sets up reading groups, book displays and author visits to encourage reader development. On top of that, she’s set up a knitting club (seemingly inspired by a Ryan Gosling appreciation, who, it appears, is a knitter himself)!
School librarianship as a career choice: Though initially it was something she “fell into” after graduating from UCL, Jenny set out a really clear and comprehensive appraisal of why she enjoys being a school librarian and what it offers as a career choice. Being in almost total control of the whole library and therefore being able to set the agenda for its development and policies was a highlight for her, as was working with young people and observing their development. Jenny also highlighted its relative good pay, the length of holidays, and the benefit of professional networking groups for school librarians. The downsides included a limited career progression, and the responsibility and isolation of working alone.
All in all, while I don't really envisage myself becoming a school librarian anytime too soon, King Alfred's certainly seemed an attractive place to work and one which presented interesting and satisfying challenges.