Nicki Cleveland, School Librarian of the Year Honour List

Nicki Cleveland is school librarian and higher level teaching assistant at Cannon Park Primary School on the outskirts of Coventry. Here she explains how, with just 3.5 dedicated hours in the library, she has transformed reading for pleasure at her school.

Q: What was your route into becoming a school librarian?

A: I'm actually a higher level teaching assistant with responsibility for the school library. Over the last few years, I've worked with our reading manager to raise the profile of books and reading for pleasure across the school.

Although, time wise, it's a small part of my role, it's the part I find the most fun because it's about sharing my passion for books and reading, and helping the children discover why the library is such a magical place to be.

Q: Where are you now?

A: I work as an HLTA and school librarian in a one form entry primary school in Coventry. I get one afternoon a week and three lunchtimes to work with classes in the library and run book clubs. I also run an after school book club once a week for Upper Key Stage 2.

Q: How would you describe your library and your relationship with the students?

A: The library is a happy place. We've worked really hard to turn it into an exciting, vibrant environment that inspires children to explore its treasures. It's definitely not a quiet zone, as children are actively encouraged to chat about what they're reading and offer peer recommendations. In fact, we often had comments this year from Minecraft Club that After School Book Club were rather noisy. They could hear us laughing next door!

When it comes to books, my relationship is very much reader to reader with the older children. There is nothing better than discussing a shared adventure, and I love the different perspectives children bring to a story. With the younger children, I'm definitely the adult in school who is bonkers about books. I think it's really important that children see someone treasure books and stories, as this doesn't happen in every home, and I'm more than happy to be that person.

Q: How would you describe your approach to your role?

A: If you want children to fall in love with books, don't just tell them to read for pleasure, show them why they should.

Q: What are your school's priorities for the library?

A: In a nutshell, itís to build on our current success. Having run four book clubs a week for two years now, we have a large base of knowledgeable and enthusiastic readers from which we'd like to develop the role of pupil librarians properly, so that they not only help with shelving books and recommending reads, but are actively involved in supporting book clubs for younger children.

Q: How do you support other teachers and teaching across the curriculum?

A: I basically talk books at any given opportunity! I'll share my knowledge of books I've read that link to their topics, and actively seek out age appropriate class reads where nothing springs to mind instantly. I also make sure that as topics change, each year group's reference shelf in the library is updated to contain non-fiction and linked fiction wherever possible, making it quick and easy for class teachers to select books to support work in their classes.

I've also suggested books for whole class reading sessions that have novel studies on Literacy Shed. Our Year 4 class teachers found that text extracts weren't exciting the children, and asked for my help picking a book. Having read and loved Varjak Paw by S.F. Said and used it with a small reading group myself, I had no hesitation in recommending it. It was a huge success and demand for The Outlaw Varjak Paw has been massive. Bringing pleasure into reading lessons has seen a big boost to their reading for pleasure outside of school, too.

Following a successful trial of a one-to-one reading intervention, I delivered a staff meeting to explain the intervention to all school staff, and have trained and supported new teaching assistants in delivering it since. It continues to bring rapid increases in both children's reading ages for accuracy and understanding, as well as their desire to read for pleasure.

Q: What have been your biggest successes and innovations to date?

A: My biggest success has been the introduction of my school bookshelf, which has grown from two small boxes to a huge bookcase. It's a whole mix of books covering every age group in primary, and every genre, so there should be something to entice every child to find something that they will enjoy reading for pleasure. And, having read every book on there myself, I know which books to recommend to which children based on their interests and ability. Matching the right book to the right child is key in getting them to find the joy of books and set them on the path to becoming lifelong readers.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for you?

A: My biggest challenges, which anyone working in a school will recognise, are time and money. There will never be enough of either to do everything that I'd like to.

Q: What are your budgeting priorities and how creative do you need to be with your funds?

A: Our budget for the library covers our annual subscriptions for our library software and our local Schools Library Service, who are utterly invaluable. Their library loan, project boxes, artefact boxes and story sacks mean that we can keep topic resources fresh and relevant, and provide children with a wide range of books to help encourage reading for pleasure.

To get new books, I have to be creative. It's one of the reasons I started my own bookshelf and began blogging. All of the books I am sent to review go into school for the children to borrow, along with any I win on Twitter giveaways. Iím signed up to the #BookBuddy scheme set up by children's author and goddess, MazEvans, and have had glorious books, both new and used to boost our library stock. We've also run Scholastic Book Clubs and had the Book People Bus into school to raise funds to buy new stock for the library.

Q: How are you using technology in the library?

A: Our local Tesco store donated a flat screen TV to link up as a monitor to the Library computer. This now means that during Key Stage 2 Library Afternoon, and during bookclubs, I can share information, picture books and book trailers with the children, and use it to Skype authors from the library, rather than having to beg a classroom! It also means the library can now be used as a comfortable learning environment for small group lessons by all classes.

I also use Twitter, a lot. Book reviews written by the children are regularly tweeted to the authors, and any responses are printed for the children to keep. Being able to put children in touch with authors is hugely inspiring for them. We are so lucky to have so many children's authors and illustrators who are very happy to engage with their readers.

Q: What next for your library?

A: Book Clubs are already planned to judge the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize 2018 and all age groups in the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards 2019, and we have author visits lined up too, to inspire the children to read and write for pleasure.

I'll also be trialling a new library management software system that's been developed in partnership with School Library Services. It looks far more user friendly and reliable than our current system, which has seen me go back to hand written loan records on a number of occasions this year, and it's definitely cheaper which means that we'll have a small slice of the budget back for the most important thing - new books!

I've also signed up to take part in #BookPenPals set up by the truly inspirational children's author, Kate Scott, and I can't wait to share Mo OíHara's reading recommendations with the children.

I have other ideas fizzing away...

Q: Can you share three simple things you have tried out that you'd recommend to other librarians?

A: If you still have a local Schools' Library Service, use them, and if they run a Book Award, shadow them. It's an easy way to get high quality books into your pupils' hands, and gives a strong purpose to their reading and any reviews or work they do based on the books. We're very fortunate that Coventry Schools Library Service run awards annually with opportunities for children to think creatively and put together performances or videos based on their favourite book from the shortlists. We have had so much fun engaging with the awards; I know our pupils love the chance to read, talk and vote.

Listen In The Library was set up to enable Year 6 children to access age appropriate texts with minimal effort. The generosity of Lucy Strange, Emma Carroll, Dan Smith and Kieran Fanning, all sending audiobooks, mean that we've had four superb stories to listen to at lunchtimes. It's the easiest book club to run, and the children never fail to groan when time runs out each week.

Tweet children's reviews to the authors and illustrators. Not only does it inspire children when they get a response, but it's also a great way to promote books that otherwise might slip under the radar, both in school and beyond. And, as a huge bonus, some authors have all taken the time to send the children something to keep as a thank you and well done!

Q: What's the one thing you do that has the most impact on your library, and how do you measure its impact?

A: Read the books myself! I know the books and which children will enjoy them, so I can make sure I get the right book into the right childís hands. I know it works, because children who gave excuses for not reading are regular visitors to my bookcase and the library, borrowing, reading, reviewing and recommending books to their friends. Being a small school, I love that at any time of day a child might stop me to say how they're getting on with their current book.

06/09/2018Nicki Cleveland, School Librarian of the Year Honour List
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