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Hearts & Minds (& Appendix)

An update:

After over 12 months of navigating our way around methods to stay connected in a ‘remote-only’ world and only having just got to grips with which button is used for unmuting myself we can finally make plans to leave the safety of our makeshift offices and desks.

Unfortunately, it came a little too late for a number of annual conferences, which have been organised and run remotely with amazing success, given the potential pitfalls. The beginning of the month saw this year’s SLG National Conference, which focused on how school librarians can move forward from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have had the great pleasure of attending and presenting at two previous conferences in 2016 and 2018 and it is fair to say my memory is a little clouded by the equal levels of delight and fear that consumed me when I had to prepare a two-minute slot, on day one, to stand in front of the delegates and introduce myself and give a little information on our company!

In both instances I was under the steely gaze of the timekeeper and took the stage both times with a feeling of light-headed nausea and sweaty palms!! In 2016, completed unprepared on what to say to a room full of highly qualified, experienced, and skilled librarians, all keen to enjoy a coffee and the chance to talk to one another rather than listen to an awkward sales pitch I decided to jump in two footed and debunk the ‘heart of the school’ tag line attributed to school libraries. In all honesty and with the power of hindsight, that put me on thin ice with the crowd!!

My declaration being, whilst many good things are espoused by schools about how their libraries are the beating heart of the school, this is not always realised away from school prospectuses or websites. I instead likened libraries to the appendix; most have one, very few know what it actually does and, if push comes to shove, we can do without it. It is fair to say I probably lost the room at this point!

(Tenuous link alert!)

It seems opinion on the role of the appendix has evolved somewhat as: a theory that the appendix is a “safe house” for symbiotic gut microbes has emerged. (Hodge. B. “Anatomy, Abdomen, Appendix”). Meaning it protects a collection of important bacteria, which are used to recolonise the gut after infection. I did warn it would be tenuous but I think the analogy still stands up to scrutiny – a largely forgotten or overlooked organ, providing a haven for many and quietly going about its important business, largely undetected aside from an occasional low scale grumble!!

Five years on from that fateful day, having been fortunate enough to visit a lot of school libraries in this time, my opinion has not changed. I have yet to meet with a librarian that is not passionate about their role and not dedicated to providing the highest level of service to their particular school community. The majority though are swimming against a tide of budget restrictions, aging collections, changes in technologies and a blanket objective of getting kids to enjoy reading, to name but a few. This is before the discussion on a post COVID-19 era is considered. The National Literacy Trust research report ‘School Libraries‘ in 2017 surmised that: school libraries play a vital role in contributing to pupils’ success (p37). The report provides a thorough review of all aspects that are attributed to a successful school library and how these relate to pupil success. It included a list of 11 elements associated with good library provision, I do not believe the list was in any particular order, however number two was ‘Supportive senior leadership team’.

Having spoken to lots of school librarians and been privileged to sit in on SLG conferences I would argue this support is the difference between an appendix and a heart.

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