Let’s Talk Libraries: Beacon Academy – Natasha Allen
Beacon Academy and Sussex Librarian of the Year, Natasha Allen, discusses how their English Department’s initiative to move to Accessit Library proved invaluable during COVID, allowing them to get books to their students with their home delivery service, despite the library being closed for two years.
Along with the continuous support from Accessit Library’s Support team, Natasha credits the Accessit Library Web App as a highly customizable platform which has allowed Beacon Academy’s students to completely own their experience of engaging with the library, increasing student engagement overall and promoting independence and autonomy with their information finding skills.
- Web App
- Digital & Physical Space
- English curriculum
- Home delivery service
- Student engagement
Accessit Library has allowed them to browse in a way to tailor their interests and to take back some authority on that. I believe the Web App allows our students a greater semblance of unity and ownership over their school library and reading habits which has helped create a more inclusive environment.
I think there’s something quite liberating about the library and what AccessIt Library has offered. It’s absolutely brilliant and quite unique to other things that go on in a school.
Natasha Allen is the Year 9 SEND Coordinator and Library Supervisor at Beacon Academy. Natasha has worked with the SEN department for 9 years, providing in class support as well as administration and intervention work.
I gained the role of Library Supervisor when the library was re-located in 2019. Our Librarian (Ms Brennan) spends her school hours managing the quiet study space at our 6th form site, she is still responsible for cataloguing, ordering and repairing. I am responsible for the day-to-day events, displays, promotion of reading and supervision of the library which encompasses the Accessit Library Web App.
I juggle many different hats and still have time away in classrooms, but I’ve started to base myself at the library desk and most people know they can find me here. I feel I’ve been rebranding myself and my identity is now synonymous with the library, which I love.
In addition to juggling her many roles, Natasha won 2021 Sussex Librarian of the Year, an award that has expanded to both Sussex and London, for which someone can be nominated by parents, colleagues, or students.
My award is very special to me, because it was actually a student that nominated me. I was at the ceremony for Support Staff Member of the Year, which I knew I was receiving, but then on the day they surprised me with Librarian of the Year as well.
Bringing old database ‘into the now’
Natasha was part of the library team when Beacon Academy decided to switch to Accessit Library in October 2020. However, it was Beacon Academy’s English Department that took the lead on pitching a new system to their Senior Leadership Team.
They wanted to bring our old database ‘into the now’. It was like a steam engine which was kind of dragging itself along.
With Accessit Library, the online capabilities and compatibility with Accelerated Reader were its stand out features for us. We had recently re-established Accelerated Reader within the school and this comprised of reading lessons held in the library; therefore, another important feature was how user-friendly the Accessit Library Web App was for issuing, as all of our English department would be accessing it.
I have it open all day long and have actually encouraged our English teachers to use it too during our Year 7 and 8s fortnightly lessons in the library. The issuing functionality is so smooth and user friendly that student librarians can use it too.
Also, cataloguing new books has been a far easier process than our previous database and updating existing catalogue items is a user-friendly option.
The catalogue on the Accessit Library Management App is invaluable.
Support team offering ‘unique’ experience
Since their initial move, the Accessit Library Support team has been a “real bonus” for Beacon Academy, assisting Natasha and the IT department in creating a “unique” experience – a welcoming contrast to the lack of support they felt with their previous LMS.
The process of switching to Accessit Library was incredibly straightforward and the ongoing tech support has been fantastic. The training session was informative and the capabilities have been very impressive.
With our previous LMS, we were on our own, whereas the Support team at Accessit Library have always been very prompt, either by phone or email. They are incredibly friendly, personable and very knowledgeable. I haven’t needed to contact them that often, but when I have, the service has been excellent and the situation rectified promptly. That has been a real bonus.
Our IT department have also been in contact with the Accessit Library Support team about ‘techie stuff’ that I don’t know about. So, we’ve had different people use them for different purposes and all of our questions have always been answered. Everyone’s always been so lovely and it has really shown Accessit Library in a good light.
Lockdown difficulties and how Accessit Library supported Beacon Academy
Beacon Academy’s switch to Accessit Library was during a period of heavy lockdown restrictions, but Natasha considers the move to Accessit Library “invaluable” and refers to it as a time when the library really came into its own – a result of Natasha and Beacon Academy maximizing on Accessit Library’s reservation function and running a home-delivery service.
The English department still wanted the students to be quizzing and reading using the Accelerated Reader, so we were teaching students about the reserve function on the Accessit Library Web App and the ability to borrow books from the library, which we could drop off to their homes. It was the only way that they could safely get books whilst maintaining some semblance of COVID safety.
- We actually stayed closed for a year, even when all the students came back, so it was the only way we were getting them books.
- We were able to provide a streamlined service despite numerous restrictions and the students were able to engage with the library catalogue, fast-track their understanding of browsing and reserving. Our previous database we used wouldn’t have been able to do that, so it was very fortuitous timing.
- It was also nice to keep those relationships going with my regular readers and still being able to discuss some semblance of normality.
The Accessit Library Web App
Along with the reserve functionality and home-delivery service, the Accessit Library Web App as a whole has offered an attractive platform to encourage Beacon Academy’s student body to engage with the library and reading.
The interactive, customizable homepage on the Web App is fantastic – having a personalised interface has made the library feel current and accessible. The students have found the ability to browse an attractive platform incredibly refreshing. The ability to leave reviews, see peer reviews and have accelerated reader information available have allowed for more suitable reading selections.
Our Web App includes information around competitions, events and student made content. Video content is always really popular and I also include author interviews, short films and trailers for book adaptations.
Because I’ve made the Web App homepage interactive as well, they have the opportunity to research more on topics of interest or understand something that may have interested them. And they have adapted well to the variety of interactive elements.
Increasing student engagement and promoting independence and autonomy
Moreover, Natasha believes the Accessit Library Web App has helped increase student engagement and promote independence and autonomy for her students’ information finding skills, allowing students to completely own their experience of engaging with the library.
User engagement has most certainly increased. Students are more familiar with the catalogue and appear to enjoy browsing the library shelves more with a better understanding of the selections available. It has encouraged more questions and conversations around recommended reading and suggested inclusions.
I think more about our reluctant readers and seeing the library as a bit of an unpleasant space as it were, and I think that they were being told what to read. But AccessIt Library has allowed them to browse in a way to tailor their interests and to take back some authority on that. I believe the Web App allows our students a greater semblance of unity and ownership over their school library and reading habits which has helped create a more inclusive environment.
It’s their space to be whatever they want and to have some ownership. Much of their school experience is dictated to them, and I just think that this is quite unique in offering a completely different experience. I think there’s something quite liberating about the library and what AccessIt Library has offered. It’s absolutely brilliant and quite unique to other things that go on in a school.
Linking the physical library space with the digital space
As Beacon Academy’s students continue to engage with the Accessit Library Web App, Natasha continues to enjoy working with it behind the scenes, making it interactive and linking the physical library space with the digital.
My ambition is to inspire a passion for reading, a thirst for knowledge of the world around us and a love of the library. The library has always been a space I was keen to keep vibrant and inspiring and I can complement the artwork and themes we have in the physical space online on the Accessit Library Web App .
I aspire to keep content as relevant as possible, tailoring it to our school but also reaching the wider literary community. I aim to make as many news items as interactive as possible so that students can learn more about any given item that piques their interest. I try to include national events, global news, membership suggestions and complementary curriculum content.
A local school who has had Accessit Library for five or six years contacted us asking for advice on how to improve their Web App. It felt really good that, in theory, a far more established school was looking to us for advice.
A couple of other key features of Accessit Library which have supported Natasha in her role as Beacon Academy’s library supervisor is the Web App’s Visual Search and the Management App’s Automated Overdues.
The visual search function is brilliant for more reluctant readers or those with lower reading levels, it means that browsing the catalogue is still an accessible and interactive option for them. We have a lot of low-level readers, so the Visual Search offers an opportunity to really narrow their field of search in a really user-friendly way. It doesn’t feel like they’re being penalized or have to have a special way to access it, it’s just an alternative.
And they’re so familiar now with our reading levels because of Accelerated Reader, so to be able to just instantly narrow a search to a reading level is invaluable to them. Our geography department in particular were keen to set up subject specific scholar shelves and now have their own Visual Search included within the Accessit Library Web App.
The Automated Overdues functionality has proven to be a really useful tool. It is great that we can customize the letters to match it for its purpose and how we want to send the message. We don’t use it frequently during regular setup, because they’re so familiar with online communication and I don’t want to bombard them with messages, but it is very useful when we do use it. When we do, it’s great that you can just do it as a mass distribution, because we have lots of overdues at once – I think I sent 218 yesterday!