School Library Spotlight: Evelyn Scott School

By Natalie Otten

Natalie Otten speaks to SCIS about the new position she's taken up in her school library, as well as her library's role in the school community.

What is your job title and what does your role entail?

This year my job title is Future Focused Learning Executive Coach. I’ve not stepped out of the library, but sideways into a coaching role in the school, but still managing the library with a library tech (teacher in library) coming on board three days a week to assist me because we’re going to share the teaching load while she completes her masters. I’ll be mentoring her into the teacher librarianship role, sharing the teaching in the library space and sharing the management of the library, as well as doing my coaching role with our future focus on the (Future Focused Learning pedagogy) learning pedagogy here at the school.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working in a school library and why?

I think, for me, it’s the opportunity to work with all learners across the school from preschool to Year 10 here at Evelyn Scott School – we’ve just opened our senior site now.

One minute you might have preschool learners who are just learning to love books. And then the next minute you’re talking to a senior student about the latest graphic novel or wanting more of a particular type of book in the library.

I think just being able to work shoulder to shoulder with teachers as well and build their capacity with literacy and information, which we call information fluency. Here we follow Lee Crockett’s work, which covers solution fluency, information fluency, and media fluency. This approach is about defining what your leading question is, then discovering information relating to it independently, and developing research and source authentication skills through that process.

In this process, there are five stages: ask, acquire, analyse, apply and assess. A student asks themselves what are my questions? Where am I going to acquire the information? How do I then analyse that? Then, how will I assess if I answered my initial question?

It’s about the learners owning the fluency, not about the teacher directing. Particularly in my role, information and media fluencies are where the teacher librarian really has an impact on supporting learners to find the right information and utilise it well.

What do you see as the most important part of the library’s role in the school community?

I think the libraries are the hub or the heartbeat of the school. They’re a space for wellbeing, community and belonging. Particularly at our school, the library space is a place where a lot of disengaged learners or the learners that need the quiet space gravitate.

Are there any current issues or challenges facing your library and how are you working to overcome those?

Two things: the first one is the best kind of challenge to have and that is that as a new school, not having as many books on the library shelves as the learners want. We’re deliberately taking our time in developing our collection because student agency or learner voice is important to us. We spend a lot of time with our learners. They have a lot of choice and voicing what goes into the library. I often get the books on the shelf, and they’re gone immediately. We just can’t keep up with the interest that students have in books, which is also a great challenge. Sometimes, a learner might want a book and it’s not quite catalogued. In that case, I’ll just let them borrow it anyway because it’s more important to me that the learner actually has access to the book, instead of waiting for two weeks because I don’t have time to catalogue it. So that’s the first one.

The second challenge is getting families back into the school community after COVID. For so long, our families have not been allowed into the school grounds, and now that things are opening up, building up again those kind of activities that we did prior to COVID is challenging. COVID really squashed a lot of those connections that schools had with community and family. We’ve found a simple way to address this is by picking one thing and focusing on connecting families and the community with it. For example, we chose 2022 Book Week. It was the first big event we had with all our kids and their families. It was so exciting to see all the kids parading in their costumes, and great to feel that we were getting back to normal.

How do you promote reading and literacy in your school and are there any challenges in doing so?

Evelyn Scott School library

We have a really strong literacy focus here. Our kids read independently for 20 to 30 minutes every day, and that’s not even including their reading for pleasure. I mean, they obviously choose books that they’re interested in, but the 20 to 30 minutes is targeted silent reading time where the teachers are conferencing with the learners and challenging them. For example, if a kid in Year 6 is still reading The Hotdog, by Anh Do, we try to get them in to a more complex text. Cultivating the culture of reading with practices like that, and making sure classes have scheduled library visits, is really important to us.

Also, this could be controversial but I don’t actually have a rule about how many books learners can borrow. For example, some schools might say that those in kindergarten can only have one book, but I don’t do that. Why would we limiting the number of books that our learners who are learning to read, who need to be exposed to multiple books can borrow? They’re the ones that should be borrowing as many as they can. Borrowing lots of books helps them get exposure to different literature, which helps develop their reading skills.

I also don’t enforce library bags. We encourage them as part of our positive behaviours for learning, but if they forget their library bag, they’re still allowed to borrow a book because our focus is on getting books in the hands of the kids.

How do you promote an interest in STEM/STEAM areas in your school? Are there any challenges in doing so?

We have LEGO in our library and the kids absolutely love it, so they use that to build and create. We also have our podcasting equipment in a little room at the back of the library for some of our learners who’ve shown an interest in sharing their learning in that way.

Where we’re situated in the school is joined to the STEM space, so we are actually a part of that whole building, which is shared between the senior and junior schools. This means that those spaces are accessible for learners right across the school and its year levels. The connection that creates between the library and STEM spaces means there’s a sort of natural connection between the two in the way they’re used.

What is your favourite thing about SCIS?

I really love Connections school library magazine. I love reading the stories you print in it – they’re always good. Sometimes, I find myself flicking through when it first comes in, then going through and having a deeper read later when I have the chance or something will spark and I’ll think, oh, I read that a couple of articles ago, and I’ll go back and pick it out again. It might be useful for my library team.

What would you like to see SCIS do more of?

I had trouble with this one. I get everything that I personally need at this point. I don’t know whether that’s selfish of me to say, because I’m at that point in my career where, you know, somebody else who’s new to the game might say they’d like to see more of this or that. I find that SCIS complements my skills well. It complements the work we do in the library as well. It’s really good resource!

Natalie Otten

Future Focused Learning Coach

Evelyn Scott School

Natalie Otten is the Future Focused Learning Executive Coach at Evelyn Scott School in the ACT. Her role includes leadership of the library space and working closely with the library team. As a teacher librarian Natalie is passionate about embedding strong literacy practices across the school.