Celebrating the school library officer

By Madeleine Galbraith


Madeleine Galbraith speaks to various library officers in Western Australia about their roles, their libraries, and how they contribute to their school communities.

If you were listening carefully when Leigh Hobbs began his term as the Australian Children’s Laureate, you might have heard a collective cheer coming from a westerly direction. It arose when he announced that the aim of his tenure was ‘to champion creative opportunities for children, and to highlight the essential role libraries play in nurturing our creative lives’ (Hobbs 2016).

In fact, the cheer came from Western Australia’s school library officers. These inspiring people can tell amazing stories of running school libraries through their dedication, enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and connectedness. Love of their libraries and students is evident in everything they do.

There are 636 school library officers listed in the Department of Education WA phonebook – many of whom are doing a wonderful job of running their library by themselves. They are the beating heart of their schools. In the spirit of the classic fable ‘The town mouse and the country mouse’, here are some of their stories.

Town mouse (new subdivision in Perth): Louise

Louise has been a library officer for 14 years, and she works in a new school in the northern suburbs of Perth that has 230 students and opened in February 2017. After working tirelessly for many months before the official opening, she was overjoyed to see the children arrive and fall in love with their library. It quickly became the hub of the school. Louise is employed full time so that students can come in at any time, be greeted with warmth, and know that they belong in their library.

What sort of special programs happen in your library?

Makerspace at lunchtimes.

What do you love about your library and your role?

Creating a space where students feel safe and learn to love reading for pleasure.

Most popular book of the moment?

Ratburger by David Walliams.

Most memorable library moment?

So many to choose from! I loved it when I ran into an ex-student who immediately told me what they are reading at that moment.

Louise worked in the library in the months leading up to the school's official opening.

Country mouse (WA wheatbelt): Wendy

Wendy was a volunteer at her wheatbelt school library (90 students) before winning the position of library officer 11 years ago. She works two days a week and, on those days, the students come in to return and exchange their books. Teachers are welcome to bring their students in at any time for other activities.

Every year she hosts an event called ‘The Library Officers’ Big Day Out’. For many regional library officers, the hours of driving are worth it, as it is their only opportunity to network with other regional library officer friends face-to-face. Stories and ideas are shared and the library officers inevitably depart a little heavier (Wendy is a great cook) and with renewed inspiration to provide their students with the best possible school library. Wendy reminds them all that they do make a difference.

What sort of special programs happen in your library?

I do the Flat Stanley project every other year. I try to get involved in whatever is happening: National Simultaneous Storytime, Read Aloud Day, Roald Dahl Day, plus of course Book Fairs twice a year.

What do you love about your library and your role?

I love that I’m making memories for the kids; this has always been my aim. I wasn’t sure I was succeeding until last year, when the Year 12 students, who were in kindy when I first started volunteering at the school, graduated and surprised me with stories galore about all their memories of time spent with me over the years.

Most popular book of the moment?

Anything by Ahn Do or Paul Jennings.

Most memorable library moment?

I am hearing impaired and our students adapt to that very early on, but I saw a teacher reduced to tears some years ago after hearing a Year 2 girl tell a new student that ‘Ms Wendy’s ears don’t work good so you have to look at her and speak clearly but don’t shout’. More recently, after the death of Zac, my Lions Hearing Dog, the Year 4–6’s shared library session was almost completely taken over by the kids telling stories about Zac, who often accompanied me to school. The conversations led to a discussion about death, what happens when we die, and their fears about it. It was a tough discussion, but one I feel privileged to have been a part of.

Town mouse (leafy green suburb in Perth): Lynne

Lynne has worked for 11 years as a library officer at her primary school, where there are 389 students. The library is staffed for four days per week and is open at lunchtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students are welcome to come and borrow before and after school. The library hosts annual Book Week activities and is the hub for after-school STEM activities, which are run by an outside provider.

Like all library officers, she knows that one of her most important roles is to connect with the students to help them get hooked on reading. In fact, displays are her super power and she often bundles them up and sends them on to her library officer peers to use in their libraries.

What do you love about your library and your role?

The variety and the autonomy. When I get sick of one task I can jump to another. I can run the library however I see fit. I love getting kids hooked on reading from my displays. I enjoy buying the books. I also do IT support, purchasing, archives, and project manager for change.

Most popular book of the moment?

To the Lighthouse by Cristy Burne (we just had the author visit), the Tom Gates series by Liz Pichon, and Zack Zombie’s series Diary of a Minecraft Zombie. In fact, anything Minecraft.

What is your most memorable library moment?

Just yesterday I received a gorgeous letter from a Year 2 student saying that the library is her favourite place, and that she loves reading stories and making her own books. She is writing a book about penguins and hopes to write children’s books when she
is older.

Country mouse (remote WA): Barb

Barb has been a library officer for 15 years and has worked at her current school in the WA’s Pilbara region for 13 years. There are 230 students at her school. The library is staffed and open to students three days per week.

What do you love about your library and your role?

Its diversity. No two days are the same. I love the mystery, magic and joy that reading brings to everyone. I love the kids’ excitement over new books arriving – I get just as excited.

Most popular book of the moment?

Diary of a Minecraft Zombie series.

Most memorable library moment?

There are so many. Having the town mayor read the National Simultaneous Storytime (NSS) book to the whole school for the previous two years, and this year we had four community police officers visit and read the NSS book. The whole school engaged in the story, wearing crowns, hats and masks, and participated in the terrific Q&A afterward.

Country mouse (remote WA): Deb

Deb has been a library officer for 19 years. She is currently at a School of the Air in the Murchison region of WA. Before that she was a library officer in the remote town of Pannawonica for 12 years, so she understands the differences between mainstream schooling and a School of the Air education.

There are about 43 students at her current school, ranging from Kindy to Year 7. The library is open to students approximately 14 hours per week.

Deb dressed up as 'Mrs Lab Rat' for Book Fair in her School of the Air library.

What do you love about your library and your role?

I love everything about our school library and my role as a library officer. I really enjoy the colourful, welcoming atmosphere of the library and I’m very lucky to have had a role to play in the furnishings and layout as it was a newly built school when I started. I enjoy selecting the library resources each year and love getting to know each student and their reading preferences. Every time I pick up a book, I can match it to a particular student. I think it is wonderful that teaching staff feel comfortable in the library and we work as a team to fulfil the needs of the school and the students. It’s a great feeling to be able to help the staff and offer advice. My most favourite time is Book Fair, when I can go crazy with creating.

Most popular book of the moment?

There’s not one particular book I can choose that is the most popular at the moment, but graphic novels are being taken from the shelves like hotcakes.

Most memorable library moment?

My most memorable moment was the very first Book Fair I did for the School of the Air. It was themed ‘Lights, Camera, Action’. I borrowed two mannequins from our local Good Sammy’s store, dressed them as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in full red-carpet attire and attached life-sized printouts of their faces. On the red carpet, I made and attached large stars with each child’s name on them, so to enter the library everyone had to walk the red carpet. The students loved having their photo taken with Brad and Angelina, and the bright green boa that Angelina wore was a success with all the girls. Logie statues featuring staff names were displayed in recognition of everyone’s hard work. For such a small school, we raised a record amount in sales and it was the first time the families had experienced the transformation of the library.

* * *

School libraries will always be the heart of the school, but it is the people who work in these libraries that provide its beat. Library officers are representative of another group of library staff who believe passionately in the vital role of libraries within schools, as places of sanctuary as well as learning. They work tirelessly to keep these libraries engaging, relevant and open to our children, and are doing so with great courage and commitment. All library officers would prefer to share their library with a teacher librarian, but do remarkably well on their own, thanks to the support they give each other and the support they receive from others.

School libraries, like all libraries, are about community and belonging. These are the foundation stones of a healthy mind from which lifelong learners can grow. It is logical, therefore, that every child deserves a school library every day.

Reference

Australian Children’s Laureate 2016, ‘Leigh Hobbs is the new Australian Children’s Laureate’, http://www.childrenslaureate.org.au/2016/02/leigh-hobbs-is-the-new-australian-childrens-laureate

Madeleine Galbraith

Library officer

BA (Hons) University of Melbourne, Grad Dip ILS Curtin University