Enhancing the flexibility of library services

By Claire Elliott

Claire Elliott, Teaching and Learning Librarian at Trinity Grammar Preparatory School, shares some of the changes implemented in her library to broaden access and improve the quality of services they offer.

Libraries and librarians are built around relationships. It is essential that they provide exceptional customer service as a means of ensuring sustainable growth. With this in mind, a number of changes were implemented in the Trinity Grammar Preparatory School library to improve the services that we offer and meet the needs of the key stakeholders: parents, staff, and students. At the beginning of 2016, all students were asked to identify one thing that the library could improve. At the end of that year, a survey was sent to teachers to gain their feedback on the library and the services offered. Both sets of responses formed the baseline for future changes.

'I Love the Library' display on bookshelf in a library

So many books, so little time

Libraries are often referred to as the ‘Third Space’, providing access to technology and a haven that may not be available to students elsewhere (Commonwealth of Australia 2011). They provide a place for students to relax, imagine, and develop a sense of belonging (Softlink 2017). Research has shown that students borrow more books from libraries that stay open longer and have more books (Krashen 2004). It is essential to consider how extended opening hours could have a positive impact on your students’ learning and social engagement. At Trinity Prep, the library is open before and after school, and at lunch, so that students and parents can use the space to read, play games, do homework, build, and socialise.

Two heads are better than one

The publication of the article ‘To Clone or not to Clone?’ (Beninghof 2016) came at a fortuitous time for me as I was entering into a new teacher librarian position that would require co-teaching. Beninghof defines this as two teachers with different expertise coming together to provide more comprehensive and effective instruction. In the library setting, the teacher brings knowledge of the students and the content. The teacher librarian also brings some knowledge of the content, together with information literacy and research expertise.

Beninghof’s article provided six models for co-teaching and became a valuable resource for how we structured the students’ inquiry time so that it could be utilised effectively, making the most of available staff. In the first year, it was noted that the lack of flexibility in our timetable was an impediment to the co-teaching arrangement. Some planning meetings were being conducted during scheduled class times and it was not always possible to book in additional times when needed. Fortunately, semi-flexible scheduling was the available solution.

Flex like you mean it

For anyone who has experienced it, semi-flexible scheduling is a magical thing that helps you make the most of the time you have. Our grades still had regular inquiry times scheduled and classes still had regular borrowing times (the bi-annual survey indicated this was a high priority for teachers), but we created more unscheduled time, making it possible for us to capitalise on the teachable moments. With a more flexible schedule, we could make time for the extension literature group that wanted to inquire about penguins, schedule three one-hour blocks for a grade that was only assigned two blocks on the timetable, or schedule an extra session for a grade to use the library for a measurement activity.

Visualising the teaching space and the co-teachers as two separate entities was also important in allowing this flexibility. Teachers should be able to use the library space and the teacher librarian should be able to leave the library to work in classes.

Not just for students, but parents too

Traditionally, the school library has been seen as being both for the students and teachers. At Trinity Prep, this has been broadened to include parents as well and, now, a large number of parents use the library before and after school to select books to read with their child. When the parent accounts were introduced in 2016, only a handful of parents used them. However, after an advertising campaign was launched in 2017, word spread and parents were asking for accounts before there had even been time to get the note out. Currently, a large number of parents use the library before and after school to select books to read with their child.

In recognising that parents and teachers use the library, as well as students, the parent and staff section was also updated and expanded. After an excellent donation from a parent, we can now add a few new titles each term to keep the section current. This section was set up with the intent of showing that reading is for the whole community, allowing parents and teachers to model best practice. As Krashen (2004) reported, children read more when they see other people reading.

Selection of books for parents and staff to read

The library team developed a parent and staff reading section to encourage the wider community to read.

Loosening the reins

There were also a number of changes made to the resources the students could borrow, and rights were extended to allow them to be borrowed over holiday periods. Before the changes, borrowing rights were confusing for students and teachers, and there were restrictions in place regarding the number of fiction or non-fiction books that could be checked out at one time. Broadening borrowing rights gave the students ownership over their literature choices. It was still quantified and restricted to age-appropriate literature, but students were free to make decisions regarding the types of books they borrowed: fiction, non-fiction, magazines, graphic novels, or picture books. Balanced student reading is now encouraged, and the value of reading diversely is discussed.

Providing students with a greater level of choice allows them to feel empowered and important, and sets them up to become lifelong readers (Skeeters et al., 2016). It also fosters independence. Student choice also plays a huge role in reading motivation.

Most recently, borrowing rights have been further extended to create cohesion across the libraries at Trinity. Although still in the trial phase, this has been working well. Students often ask, ‘How many books can I borrow at any one time?’ As far as we are concerned, this is only really limited by how many they can carry, or think they can read. Usefully though, it does provide an opportunity to discuss with them how the number of books they should borrow is different for each person. It might depend, for example, on the length of the book, their reading ability, and the time they have available. This sort of discussion provides students with the opportunity to be reflective about their reading habits, and filter this into their borrowing, and for the librarian to make recommendations.

They don’t belong to you

Another key change that was implemented was to ensure that teachers had access to the resources room. By unlocking this room, it was demonstrated that teachers are trusted adults who are allowed to browse and check out resources without a library staff member looking over their shoulder.

Library specialists like to think that everyone has the Dewey Decimal Classification memorised. Sadly, this is a skill that regular people don’t possess. The DDC is a hierarchical system that can make perfect sense to some, but not always to our teachers or students. They probably don’t know that 398 is folklore and 567 is dinosaurs, and they definitely don’t live for the day that the DDC is a trivia category. Teachers were entering the resource room with the door now unlocked, not knowing where to find resources on the human body or where the dice might be located.

To make the room more teacher-friendly, a decision was made to organise kits, manipulatives, and games by the New South Wales syllabus content strands, for example, for mathematics: Number and Algebra, Measurement and Geometry, and Statistics and Probability. If a teacher librarian knows that the teacher will be focusing on measurement and, more specifically, time, they know to make clocks and other similar resources readily available and visible. Teachers thus experience a greater level of success locating the resources they need, and can browse them independently. In the words of one teacher, ‘It’s so easy! This is the most organised resource room I’ve seen’. For those purists about to have a coronary that the DDC has been abandoned, rest assured that it is alive and well with the teacher books, class literature, and guided readers.

A constantly evolving library

Listening to what the key stakeholders had to say meant that changes could be implemented in our library to improve the quality of the services offered and to offer services that were previously unavailable. The Trinity Prep library is constantly evolving along with the needs of the community, and it is important to be responsive and proactive in reviewing services to meet these needs.

Image credits

Photos supplied by Trinity Grammar School — Preparatory School


Claire Elliott

Claire Elliott

Teaching and Learning Librarian

Trinity Grammar School — Preparatory School