We are delighted to share this guest blog written by Louise Moore, LIFT Facilitator and Library Officer at Carnaby Rise Primary School.
“When writing this article, I came to realise how much being a part of such a fantastic group has enhanced my passion for my job. I have been a Library Officer (LO) for 18 years and the biggest challenge has been the isolation of the role. The majority of us work alone and are one of a kind in our schools, making the opportunities to discuss specific job issues limited.
The small team I work with is so passionate and dedicated to bringing LOs together and giving them opportunities to learn and share. It is so important for the workshops to be relevant to our role and I think that is why LIFT has become so popular, we are LOs sharing with LOs. I learn something new at every workshop and am constantly amazed at the lengths LOs will go to get "the right book into the right students' hands".
The power of "community" is incredible and when that community is made up of passionate, dedicated LOs who will come to your rescue as quick as you can turn a page, it is unstoppable. Our school libraries are in great hands whilst LOs are at the front of them.”
A school library is an essential tool in fostering a love of reading and the power of words. In Western Australia many of our school libraries are staffed by Library Officers (LOs) working alone, advocating for their share of already tight budgets and time, in a curriculum packed day, for classes to experience the value of the space.
The role of the LO can be an isolated one at times and networking, training and workshop opportunities are highly valued.
Since 2011, a group of school LOs had been meeting as a committee with an appointed member of the Institute of Professional Learning (IPL). This was the division of the Department of Education WA (DoE) tasked with facilitating relevant training and development opportunities for the various work types. We would propose themes and topics of importance to Library Officers, and collaborate with the IPL on sourcing appropriate speakers or trainers.
Unfortunately, the brief of the IPL changed in 2015 to focus on the leadership level within schools. At this point we could either disband or choose to find another way to keep LOs connected. As a collective the committee had a wealth of experience in what is needed to be an effective LO and a passion for providing great libraries in schools. Our skill sets included qualifications in business, librarianship, retail management, information technology, and the arts.
Whilst individually we were nervous as to our ability to provide effective and relevant skills sharing opportunities for LOs in WA, as a group we had the courage and hands on experience to give it a go.
The timing was relevant as the DoE was encouraging schools and staff to facilitate their own professional learning and skill sharing opportunities. Karen Giacomucci, Principal of Carnaby Rise PS, encouraged us to be the leaders for LOs in getting this happening. With her endorsement and the support of the principals from our various schools in 2016 we began what has been, at times a frustrating and time consuming journey but one that is incredibly satisfying and has allowed us to learn along with the hundreds of WA LOs that we reach.
Library and Information Focused Training is what we wanted LO’s to have access to, hence our name and its acronym LIFT represented what the community would hopefully receive.
Our vision was clear and we set a list of objectives to guide us along the way:
A Facebook page was set up as a way for LOs to connect, share ideas and ask for advice. As at April 2021 the page has 673 members and is a constant source of inspiration and activity. We also set up a Connect (DoE communication tool) page currently with 538 members and receiving over 200 visits per week. In 2020 we launched a website, and this has grown to include 365 contacts. The website provides members with access to all files from our workshops, our newsletter, and a range of other items.
Our first workshop was held at the IPL with the title of “Surviving a Year in Your Library”. Hoping for around 30 attendees, we were delighted with the 70 who booked. Topics covered included displays, finances, collection development, and allowed time for valuable ideas sharing. The event was a success and the feedback on our Facebook page and via email was humbling.
We put the word out that we needed schools to host future events and we soon had a list of schools in the metro area putting their hands up, as well as invitations to present at country schools. Since 2016, we have facilitated a minimum of 1 metro workshop per term and 2 country per year. All workshops have sold out and capacity is only determined by the host school. Topics cover everything from weeding to DoE policy. Presenters include members from the committee and experts from DoE and other areas.
As our community grew, we saw the need to celebrate its strength and commitment on a state-wide basis. From this idea our first LOAD (Library Officer Appreciation Day) was held in Term 4 2017. We had over 100 attendees from across the state at this event, held at a primary school. LOs coming together in such a vast state as WA was incredible, some flying from our far North and others driving 4 or 5 hours to attend. A range of speakers entertained and educated all the attendees and the culmination of the day was the presentation of Excellence Awards. We had asked for nominations from schools for these and it was great to see so many LOs recognised by their schools.
LOAD is now an annual event that is now held at a function centre and includes displays from suppliers. We have been honoured with speakers such as the Commissioner for Young People, the wife of the Premier of WA (herself an educator and mother), CEO of the State Library, Federal and State members of parliament, authors, children’s librarians and the list goes on.
In the background, LIFT has worked on many other projects to ensure our original objectives were achieved. Our Survival Guide provides a great reference tool with ideas and links to policy to maintain a library. We advocate for libraries to Principals and constantly provide mentoring to other LOs. Our aim is to provide them with the tools and confidence to advocate for themselves and their space.
Everything the LIFT committee of 9, does is because we are passionate about libraries and the students who use them; we believe by bringing the LO community together we can help our libraries thrive. The committee does not receive any payment or gain from their work and with the support of their schools carry out all the tasks on a voluntary basis.
LIFT continues to grow and evolve along with our libraries and the LOs that work tirelessly to make a space that supports curriculum, teachers, and students both academically and socially.