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Effective Use of Libraries to Support Reading

“I don’t like reading” or “I can’t read properly”.

How many times have we heard this when asking children to read? Especially after covid lockdown when children have lost that reading habit?       

My name is Jane Hughes and I am a HLTA at Compass Primary Academy who oversees the school library and organises the BWT Big Book Quiz.

Over the 31 years I have worked here I have seen many changes in attitudes to the importance in a school library. But research and our experiences have proven that libraries have an important part to play in inspiring our children to read and learn.

To inspire and encourage a love of reading (Reading for Pleasure), we should all aim to make our library an inviting and inspiring place, as well as a place to learn. At Compass we have done this!  We have an inviting library in which we provide reading opportunities and library lessons throughout the week.

I feel that children should experience as wide a variety of reading materials as possible.  They do not always have the life experiences that others have and reading and listening to stories/texts gives children more of an understanding of their wider world. It is important that a library offers non-fiction books which are current and up-to-date, and fiction books which mirror the school’s context and interests. Equally, a library should contain a variety of literature such as books, audio, newspapers, comics and magazines. This allows it to appeal to all children.

Reading is the very basic skill that all children need to be able to be successful adults, whether that’s for work, further studies or just for pleasure. No child should leave primary school not being able to read. Improved reading skills (and as a consequence their writing skills) help improve self-esteem and the feeling of success and accomplishment (all proven to be associated with children’s regular use of the school library). Today’s children should have access to resources that engage them, providing them the bridge to real literature and future learning. 

I see it as the library’s job to offer a variety of texts to expand and complement the subjects and learning children are exposed to in classrooms - selecting texts that secure and expand their learning and knowledge of the world.  Doing cover across the school gives me an insight as to what children learn, and helps me select the appropriate texts that don’t just replicate their class reading, but also widens the breadth of the learning and reading materials going on during lessons.

It’s our job as teachers and education specialists to provide reading experiences - through our school libraries - that challenge, are highly motivating and varied to inspire and engage young minds. We should be creating the atmosphere to be able to light that spark and push them onwards to the next level of reading experiences and competence.

We have been lucky to get the top 50 reads for each classroom in our school as well as having over 9,000 books in our library.  These top 50 recommended reads form mini libraries in each classroom that are specifically recommended for the age of the children. As outlined in the Reading Framework, every classroom should be a mini-library, a place for children to browse the best books, revisit the ones that the teacher has read to them, and borrow books to read for pleasure. Our main central library links to the themes and authors within our mini libraries to marry the two together and keep children reading: That is despite having a regular purge of books each year due to condition and age of books. (Yes, as a consequence of the children reading more, the books do suffer wear and tear much faster).

The children are devouring the classroom books, reading every spare second they can: They keep their books on their tables for reading for pleasure time.

Regular book quizzes and competitions help to keep the children enthused and excited about books and the library (although throughout the covid pandemic this has been somewhat stunted), and we are lucky enough to have a school book vending machine that children are awarded a token for at any opportunity for reading related achievements. These are stocked with books that children love to read from our mini libraries and main library.

Themed book nights, book clubs, reading clubs all enhance the reading experiences of children, and are all linked to the books we have in the library. It is important that everything centres around it as it instils a love of reading.

Within a section of our library, we are introducing a school book shop this year too! Children will be able to buy used and new books far cheaper than in a shop. The aim is to encourage children, who do not have books at home, to have the opportunity to buy one for a few pennies to build their own mini library at home.

I have encouraged and integrated classes into the Accelerated Reader (AR) Renaissance Reading programme over the last few years, introducing a year group each year until we now have AR reading starting from our year 2 children all the way up to year 6. We realised that although hearing children read each week was happening, they didn’t always comprehend what they had read. The AR programme encourages the children to understand and comprehend what they read and those skills are now showing improvement. I am able to print off levels and results for the teachers and keep track of our children who don’t regularly read.

I oversee the library with the help of our Junior Librarians from year 5 and 6. This enables us to have our library open to the children at morning break and lunchtimes. At the start of the year, children are invited to apply for a Junior Librarian position with a formal application form. They are then invited to a formal interview, which also includes a member of SLT (an introduction to job application and interview for the future). The interview includes an alphabet sorting activity and a number ordering activity to assess if they are able to put books away in the correct places on the shelves, which is a fundamental part of the jobs in the library. It encourages children to be confident and contribute to our school.

We meet regularly to share problems, arrange rotas and I am able to demonstrate jobs such as labelling and preparing books ready to be shelved. They are also a great primary source to discover what they children are currently reading. The library is a very popular place to be, and so we have had to introduce a year group timetable to ensure the library doesn’t become overcrowded on any one day. The whole point of the library is to be a relaxing, reading environment. It has contributed greatly to the children’s love of reading.

The library system is operated through the Reading Cloud, which is a great analytical tool to inform what is being read, who is borrowing books and who is not. This means we can target individuals and encourage them to take out books, we can buy in more stock of popular books and make connections about key themes that the children can enjoy.

Running a library is a very rewarding job, and is vital for meeting our ‘Reading is our priority’ school improvement target. Yes there are times when things are going wrong, technology lets you down, software goes glitchy, your junior librarians don’t show up, too many librarians turn up, books are late and require chasing up, or it looks like a tornado swept over the shelves. But would I swap my job?

Absolutely not.