Let’s Talk Libraries: Somerhill – Susan Smith
The library is at the center of Somerhill’s aim to make reading accessible for readers of all levels, and in this discussion, Susan shares insights to the pupils’ relationship with the library and how Accessit Library assists the support of Dyslexic and reluctant readers and growing a culture of reading for pleasure.
- Reading for pleasure
- Supporting dyslexic and reluctant readers
- Online resources
- Writing competition
- Reading at all levels
They became quite familiar with how to use the Accessit Library Web App which changed user engagement, as they now use it to look things up, write reviews and make reserves from home. The usage increased by 200% when I was visiting the classrooms and explaining how they could use Accessit Library in November 2020.
What lead you to the decision to switch to Accessit Library and how did you find the process?
We switched from our old library system because it kept freezing and there just wasn’t enough support for the many problems.
My friends in LIPSSEE (a group for Librarians in Prep Schools SE England) advised me to investigate other Library Management Systems, so I went to see a fellow librarian who had Accessit Library in her school. I was impressed and we decided to switch.
During the switch I had a day’s tuition from a lady at Accessit Library who came into the school to help me, which was super and very much needed.
The Accessit Library eLearning Centre (ALeC) content is also great. I went through many of the tutorials during COVID and was on the phone with people at Accessit. They were wonderful. This made me feel as if I was still learning and being useful during a difficult time.
The Accessit Library Support team was helpful for you as you switched to Accessit Library, particularly during COVID, how has your experience been with them since?
Brilliant! The Accessit Library staff are excellent and so supportive. They have a can-do attitude and help as much as possible. They liaise well with our IT team, which is invaluable to me.
For example, recently, I spoke with someone in the Accessit Library team about adding a staff list of books.
We created a general staff profile setting, so that all staff would get an email when a new staff book was catalogued. This is particularly useful as it brings the library straight into their inbox.
I also hack into teacher’s accounts if I know they are interested in i.e., STEM books and create an appropriate profile setting for them. No escape!
Further, when I first started with Accessit Library, when you wanted to print off which loans a class had, it would just be for the Form class. But in the higher years, it is the English sets that come to the library sessions. So, Accessit Library’s team and our IT team worked together and incorporated the English sets into the Accessit Library Management system. This has been great because I now don’t need to trawl through the Form class loans and see who’s in the set, rather, I have the loans for only those children sitting in front of me in that session. It’s brilliant and it saves time, paper and children from getting bored! It has been so helpful for the library sessions.
Tell us more about these library sessions and your students’ relationship with the library.
The library has now evolved from when I first came here, from having hardly any classes coming to the library, to now every class having a library session at least once a fortnight. They wanted to bring our old database ‘into the now’. It was like a steam engine which was kind of dragging itself along.
We have three main aims:
- Access to books
- Recommendations from peers
- Reading extracts from books they normally wouldn’t pick up.
I also put out bespoke books for their year and their curriculum topics, as well as informing them of any library initiatives going on, e.g., competitions, news quizzes, Book Day, and visiting authors. I link in with other initiatives such as World Earth Day, Empathy Day and so on. They also have access to the library for browsing, returns and issues before registration and at morning and lunch break.
Throughout COVID, I was visiting the classrooms rather than them coming to the library. This allowed me (by virtue of the classroom whiteboards) to show them some of the features Accessit Library had to offer, i.e., the Quick lists, Reservations, Reviews and Profile Settings.
They became quite familiar with how to use the Accessit Library Web App which changed user engagement, as they now use it to look things up, write reviews and make reserves from home. The usage increased by 200% when I was visiting the classrooms and explaining how they could use Accessit Library in November 2020 .
As engagement between your students and Accessit Library increases, how has Accessit Library helped with information literacy at Somerhill?
If you include reading and enjoyment of literature in the definition of information literacy, then I would argue that Accessit Library has helped, particularly with its Quick Lists and the Accessit Library Web App Home Page.
Accessit Library Web App Home Page
I use the carousel function on the Accessit Library Web App quite a lot and it’s great. We use carousels to highlight new books, books that have been reviewed and books that are featured in initiatives such as the Awesome Book Awards and Bookbuzz : a government scheme that focuses on Year 7 books that the literary gurus think are up and coming. We shadow this initiative and give them to our pupils for free to encourage reading at this pivotal transition point.
The quick lists are brilliant and help students access resources much more quickly. The function is fantastic and, for me, is the most valuable feature of the Accessit Library.
We have Quick Lists on lots of things, from Year 3 to Year 8 books, STEM, Cultural Diversity, Inclusivity and Disability as well as Quick Lists for various projects such as: Enslavement, Global Issues, and the Pre-Senior Project Qualifications (PSPQ).
The Quick Lists usage shows an increase in usage of 24% from November 2019 to November 2021. It helps them with their information literacy and hopefully promotes an independent attitude to learning .
You have clearly made such great use of Accessit Library’s Quick Lists for your staff and students; how else do you engage your students with the library and reading?
My main focus is on reading for pleasure. Reading for pleasure is totally different from classroom reading. You’re not interrogating them with comprehension skills, you’re wanting them to enjoy reading per se.
Making books accessible for all levels and purposes
I make the books easily visible in the library, so they can see them and pick them up to look in them – which is so important when choosing. For each library session, I put books out that I think the children will be interested in on the large coffee table (in the middle of the soft chairs) that are appropriate to that group – a bit like differentiation.
The displays on the window shelves and cupboards reflect topical events. For example, books on suffragettes will be on display for International Women’s Day, Greta Thunberg’s books for projects on Climate Change and so on… However, their choice should always be respected. How do they know what they like if they don’t try lots of different books? That’s the beauty of a library – trial and error.
As said, it’s a case of introducing them to and giving them accessibility to books, letting them talk and enthuse about books to their classmates (or reading a bit from it) and then me reading an extract from a book that they wouldn’t usually pick up. It all helps.
Supporting dyslexic and reluctant readers
The goal for us is to promote reading to everyone, not just to people who love reading. I want to promote reading to pupils with dyslexia and the reluctant readers.
We have a great Barrington Stoke collection (dyslexia friendly publisher), which concentrates on books for children who have dyslexia or are reluctant readers, with their books having a cream background, unjustified margins and space between the lines. We have a wide range of books from Year 3 to Year 8. I even had the students write letters to Barrington Stoke to have certain authors published in their publishing format. They’re literary activists!
Audio books help as well. They can listen to what their peers are reading; they’ll still get the vocabulary and sense of achievement and be able to chat about the books with their friends.
We have a dedicated bookcase with those books in it and our Learning Support department come down with pupils to access them. I’ll always put out one or two books from that bookcase on the coffee table when they come for their sessions. They are by the best authors, and we want everyone to achieve regardless of their ability.
499 Words Writing Competition
We encourage writing as well.
Once upon a time there was the 500 WORD story competition which had, I think, every child in Britain writing stories! But with COVID and Chris Evans leaving Radio 2, the competition dissolved. So, we started the ‘Somerhill 499 Words’ story writing competition!
We run this at the same time every year so it times in with our Book Day. We market this on our Accessit Library Web App and give out certificates and pencils with ‘499 Words 20__’ inscribed on them to everyone who submits a story at assembly. On our Book Day the visiting authors announce the winners, so it’s given the competition a very high profile.
News and Current Events
We promote a greater understanding of the news and the importance of it. The kids like playing chess so I put the magazines, like FirstNews and The Week, next to the chess boards. They are accessible on their intranet too.
We have a weekly news quiz, which we have two little toy dogs for as prizes (Newshounds!). When a Form wins the weekly news quiz, they get to host the dogs in their classroom. This has really increased the interest in current events in the school. The dogs are given out at assembly, so again this is high profile. As you can see, it’s a whole school approach!