“That ‘light-bulb’ moment is when you see the look on a child’s face - when they realise they can perform the given task, they do understand that complex concept, the awe of learning moment, the moment of self-belief – we never tire of seeing this.”Jonathan Weighall, Library Manager
|At a Glance|
|Core Benefits to Users||
|Supported Users & Library Staff||
Fortis Academy (formerly Great Barr Academy) is a large secondary school 6 miles north of Birmingham city centre. The academy caters for approximately 1700 students aged 11-18, with high numbers of SEN, EAL and Pupil Premium students. With learners coming from a variety of backgrounds from across the city, the academy is organised into four mini-schools: Brunel, Darwin, Franklin, and Johnson to create a sense of belonging.
Head of School, Andrew Williams, explained:
“Our aim is to ignite in all people the passion for learning, encouraging our students to be knowledgeable, reflective, and respectful hence our motto: Ready, Respectful, Safe.”
“Our two library sites are hives of activity that are in constant use throughout the school day.”
The sixth form Open Learning Centre provides an area to read, study, and access a wide range of resources during non-contact periods, while the main library provides open access to all pupils before and after school, and during break times, as well as running timetabled lessons.
Every Year 7 English group receives a fortnightly library lesson for the duration of the academic year, led by the Library Manager. These lessons include a huge variety of activities that promote library resources and develop reading and research skills, as well as utilising the Accelerated Reader programme.
Mr Weighall explained:
“This allows us to provide every pupil with frequent access to the library and opportunities to share our passion for reading and literacy.”
Library activities include author and genre spotlights, performance poetry, set texts and storytelling.
Using Accelerated Reader, all pupils are set over forty reading challenges to complete by the end of the academic year. These include reading texts at a variety of levels and genres, recommended texts, and achieving book points and scores.
With 10,000 available resources, the libraries cater for a huge range of tastes and abilities. Library staff frequently create new fiction collections to highlight new and existing resources, including Graphic Novels, Librarian’s Choice, Quick Reads (focusing on dyslexia and SEN friendly resources), Movie Tieins, Carnegie/Greenway Book Awards, Poetry, Shakespeare, and a Literature Loft containing texts for A-Level students encouraging wider reading.
The Non-Fiction collections include Revision Guides, Careers and Higher Learning, Academic Journals, and the Recovery Lounge – a relaxed area with resources that cover topics such as Well-Being, British Values, Inspirational People, Positive Thinking, Personal Hygiene, Sexual Health, LGTBQ, and more.
Mr Weighall continued:
“The day-to-day interaction with the pupils is reason we do what we do. As a team, we’re very lucky - we get to play a significant role in working with the student body throughout their academic journeys.”
The Year 7 Library Lesson Programme allows staff to work with every pupil in the cohort, establishing a rapport that lasts throughout their academic life. This is a huge benefit when pupils reach Key Stage 5, move to sixth form, then continue to receive support in the OLC.
Having been in post since 2011, Mr Weighall has found it extremely rewarding to see some cohorts right through from Y7 to Y13, commenting:
“Even in a school of our size, we feel that we know all of our pupils! Seeing them grow and develop on both their academic and personal journeys, and becoming young adults, is very rewarding.”
Jonathan especially appreciates the ‘light-bulb’ moments. Many pupils experience moments of feeling overwhelmed or reluctant, struggling with assignments or school-life in general. Library staff aim to offer support, guidance, and reassurance.
Mr Weighall explained:
“That ‘light-bulb’ moment is when you see the look on a child’s face - when they realise they can perform the given task, they do understand that complex concept, the awe of learning moment, the moment of self-belief – we never tire of seeing this.”
Jonathan has been working in libraries for nearly 25 years using a variety of library systems. In a school environment, he believes a system needs to look good to fully engage users, without being limited on functionality.
Mr Weighall enthused:
“I had been a loyal customer for over ten years to another popular software provider, but was extremely frustrated on a number of issues; for example, intermittent connectivity, poor tech support, limitations on customising catalogue and data records, and difficulty syncing with other school software systems".
“On more than one occasion we had to create a temporary Browne card issue system (I’m not kidding!). Things were so bad that we abandoned the system half-way through the academic year, leaving our service agreement to expire.”
Jonathan was very impressed with the demos and features of Oliver v5 presented by the Softlink Team, adding:
“From purchase to installation, the experience was a breath of fresh air.”
Jonathan said that the integration with existing school systems was the first significant difference – tasks they battled with for days in the past, like syncing borrower accounts, were completed in minutes!
Mr Weighall continued:
“We saved so much time on the day-to-day tasks; the team loved how quick and easy it was to catalogue new resources".
“Previously, we had always allocated a two-week shutdown period to stock check our libraries. This caused so much disruption and limitations to our service, we gave up and did not complete stock check for three years. Our first stock check using Oliver took three days to complete over both library sites.”
For Jonathan, functionality and customisation are more important than aesthetics, but with Oliver he feels that he has the best of both worlds:
“Oliver and LearnPath have proven to be excellent tools to promote and highlight our resources, making it easier for pupils to locate and discover books more efficiently, while exposing them to a wider range of authors and genres. They have also allowed us to break through the limitations of our physical library and offer services to the wider school community.”
Mrs Gurney, OLC Assistant added:
“I like the OPAC display features the best; they have made promoting our resources so much easier; we’ve seen a healthy increase in borrowing as a result".
“We’ve engaged teaching staff too, by inviting curriculum leaders to create recommended reading lists for their subjects. By using the display functions on the OPAC and LearnPath, we have been able to highlight new and existing collections. It’s a simple, but highly effective, way of promoting resources".
“Staff can also display the OPAC on their classroom projector screens and highlight resources during a lesson. This has created an incentive for wider reading and generated discussion.”
Oliver’s cataloguing functions have made easy work of organising the academy’s collections, making search and retrieval simple for both staff and students, with Mr Weighall commenting:
“As we save so much time completing admin tasks, we can spend more time customising the system to best suit our users".
“The flexibility to fully customise catalogue records and available functions is the best I’ve used in my near 25 years of working in libraries.”
The school have also recently bought a subscription to Wheeler’s E-Platform. Along with a ClickView trial, all additional digital resources have embedded themselves seamlessly into Oliver, with the school impressed by the helpful and responsive service provided by Softlink’s Support Team.
Library staff have found the OPAC and pupil login areas have been an excellent way to re-engage pupils and offer services remotely, which was a great advantage during COVID-19 school closures.
Mr Weighall explained:
“Due to the issues we experienced with our previous software provider, the ability to explore our catalogue independently is still a relatively new feature for our pupils. The customisable slider function is a great way for pupils to see recommended books, check availability, and read summary details."
“However, the thing we get the most comments on is the function to play a birthday jingle when issuing a book to a pupil on their special day. Pupils run into the library on the morning of their birthday to borrow a book.”
According to Jonathan, the Oliver Community Portal is the ‘jewel in the crown’, saying:
“In honesty, in the beginning we were a little overwhelmed by everything Oliver v5 had to offer. The Community Portal was invaluable during this time and continues to be our first port of call with any issues."
“The training videos alone are worth the tech support fee, and we sign up for nearly every webinar offered. The bespoke remote training sessions are brilliant – we feel like we’re genuinely talking to library specialists rather than tech support."
“Every member of the Softlink team we’ve engaged with has been welcoming, knowledgeable and supportive, sales, tech support, and especially the trainers (we love the videos!) – we’ve yet to submit an enquiry that has not been resolved."
“We’ve had a very positive experience Softlink and their staff so far. The hosting service provides peace of mind, so much so that I rarely even consider it – it just functions, leaving us to focus on all the fun stuff!”
Main Library Assistant, Mrs Whitlock, added:
“The helpdesk staff have been so helpful with all my enquiries and very swift in their responses. I’ve never had to chase up an enquiry – excellent service!”
Jonathan shares that they have been very happy with their Oliver/Softlink experience. From visits, meetings and conversations he’s had with other library colleagues in schools across the Midlands, he knows many have experienced similar problems in the past, and those that have converted to Softlink have only ever had positive things to say.
“We’ve only been with Softlink for two years and I feel we’re still learning - we have yet to use the software to its full potential. But we’re enjoying using it and are excited by the huge amount of ideas and possibilities it has generated. We’re eager to explore Oliver and develop our library service in the future.”