We are excited to share this guest blog written by Helen Farch, Library Technician at Forest Hill College.
Helen shares that after 8 years at Forest Hill she still loves her role. In particular, she loves that school leadership believes in the value of a school library and reading, and how important they are to the success of their students.
She also shares that she loves the challenges of the role – engaging reluctant readers and finding ways to improve the library space on a limited budget, and the creativity involved in outside the box thinking to tackle both.
“I love my job and look forward to coming into work each day. There is always something different to do and I do love feeling like I can make a difference to the students.”
How do I describe my typical day? Well, I think it would be by saying that there is no typical day.
I am a library technician in a government secondary school in Melbourne with approximately 650 students. I job share my role with another wonderful library technician, so one of us is in the library every day. We do everything to do with running a school library - from planning for the future, managing our budget, creating study guides to support the curriculum, purchasing, collection management, circulation activities, end processing, and shelving. If it needs to be done, we do it.
This is my 8th year at Forest Hill College and I still love it. I love the autonomy that our school leadership give us to run the library in a way that supports our school community in the best way possible. And I love that we have a school leadership that believes in the value of a school library and reading to the success of our students.
The library is open every school day from 8am - 4pm, including recess and lunchtimes.
I get to work just before 8am and open up the library. There are usually a couple of students already waiting for the library to open when I get there. I spend the time before school starts getting ready for the day - working out my priorities for the day, and catching up on emails.
While the library is quiet, I often take some photos for my school Instagram account. I post on our account twice a day, so I like to make sure I have photos to cover the posts on days I am not at work.
By 8:30am we have quite a few students in the library. During this time, they are socialising, reading or working on the jigsaw puzzle we have set up on our Community Activity Table.
School starts at 9am and so there are usually a few students who want to borrow books for the day as they head off to class.
If it is a Monday, I will post my weekly library newsletter out to our school community on Compass. The newsletter contains information on what is happening in the library and links to library resources on calendar events, such as Reconciliation Week, ANZAC Day etc.
The newsletter and our Instagram account are two of the things I do to keep visibility of the library and literacy matters high in the school community.
We have one classroom space in the library; this is often booked by classes who come in to use the library books or library computers. We are a BYOD school, but often students still don’t have a device so we have a small number of desktop computers available in the library.
During the course of a normal day we will have a class being run in the library, tutoring groups being held in the library, students working with staff to meet their individual needs, and Year 12 students using the library during their study periods - often all at the same time!
There will also be a constant stream of students coming into the library to use the printer or borrow books. Our students spend the first 10 minutes of each English class on silent reading. Students who don’t have a book to read are sent to the library to borrow one, so I spend time helping them find a book they might like to read.
We have just re-arranged our Fiction collection to be shelved by genre, so I usually spend some time with the students showing them how that works.
Often an English teacher will bring their whole class in to return books and borrow new ones, so I then run around between helping students find books and scanning out books to students who have already chosen.
To make this process a little easier, I have recently developed a “Help Me Find A Book To Read” online tool using LearnPath - including a section on “I don’t like to read” - so students can have a guided browse through the catalog and then choose some books to then look for on the shelves.
The library is a busy and active space during recess and lunch times. We get a yard duty teacher allocated to the library for the second half of lunch, so there is a lot of student supervision in my role. We definitely do not have a silent library. To help minimise the noise we have made a study room space we have in the library into a gaming room during break times. This allows groups of students who like to socialise through gaming a space to gather and it reduces the noise for other library users.
We are very lucky that we have a library courtyard space. It has become a bit rundown over the years, but this year the school has partnered with a local Indigenous artist to paint a mural along the back wall, with the help of our students.
The Year 11 VCAL students are also working on a project to plant an Indigenous garden in the space thanks to a grant from our local Rotary club. By the end of the year, we should have a beautiful, revamped space for our students to use.
The school has 2 wellbeing dogs who are often at school and they usually make a visit to the library when they do. This is always a hit with the students. Casey is an older dog, so pretty calm, but Echo is a wellbeing dog in training and is still full of energy.
We make it a priority for the library to be a safe place for all our students, whether they need alone time or time to socialise with their friends or somewhere to find someone to talk to, which is why the Community Activity Table is so valuable.
When I find time during the day when I am not directly helping students, I spend time on one of the bigger projects we have on the go.
This could be:
- Genrifying our Fiction collection, which are still fine tuning
- Cleaning out our library storeroom to make room for future plans we have for the library,
- Planning the future of our library space and how we want to use it.
- Creating LearnPath guides to support the curriculum. I often have staff asking me to create guides for particular subjects, but I also create guides based on the documented curriculum for each subject and then send them to the teachers to review before making them available to the students. I am also working with our Wellbeing Team on creating Wellbeing LearnPath guides on subjects such as bullying, mental health and LGBTQIA+ so students have easy access to information they can trust. This is an extension of the concept that they library is a safe space - a safe physical space but also a safe virtual space.
- Stocktaking our library collections - an ongoing process.
- During Term 2 we are running a Team Reading challenge for our Year 7 & 8 students, so the administration on this takes quite a bit of my time
As well as day-to-day library jobs such as:
- I usually place an order for books once a month, so I might spend time planning what purchases to make. We have a limited budget this year, so I spend quite a bit of time working out most effective way to spend our budget
- Cataloging new books
- Catalog maintenance
- Shelving and shelf-reading
- Covering books (although we do have a wonderful library volunteer who has been coming in once a week for 25 years who does most of our covering)
- Working on the library newsletter
- Managing our Instagram account
- Planning for displays
- Maintaining our staff room pop-up library that we have to encourage our staff to read recreationally
School finishes at 3:15pm and after that is usually a quiet time in the library, unless it is a Thursday, when Homework club runs. This is when I usually shelve the returns for the day and do a general tidy up of the library shelves and space.
Through our library Instagram account I get to interact with other school libraries I never would have had a chance to, all around the world. I have gotten so many ideas from seeing what other school libraries are doing. I get to interact with authors and publishers, which has resulted in being sent advance readers copies of books to review on Instagram, which results in more books for the library collection and our students. I also get to broaden my own reading boundaries, which is always a good thing.
I love the challenge of trying to engage those reluctant readers - the ones who say they just don’t like reading. I even enjoy the challenge of working out the best way to continually improve our library space and services with a minimal budget - the creativity of thinking outside the box in how to make things happen. We have so many plans for the future, such as starting student book clubs, that I can never get bored.
I love my job and look forward to coming into work each day. There is always something different to do and I do love feeling like I can make a difference to the students. Whether that is by providing a safe space for them to hang out in when they are at school, by helping them find books they love to read or just talking to them. Even just asking how their day is going.
School library staff do more than just read. We know that!
But responses to the Annual School Library Survey reveal a general sense that not enough is known about the amazing work that you do.
Share your story with us and help us to promote your role. Whether you are a Teacher Librarian, Librarian, Library Officer, Library Technician, Library Assistant… whatever your role, we’d love to hear from you!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.