School library spotlight: Northcote High School

By Richard Smallcombe

SCIS speaks to Richard Smallcombe about his library at Northcote High School, which is currently being rebuilt.

What is your job title and what does your role entail?
I’m the library coordinator at Northcote High School. It is structured in two parts. There’s helping students find books, checking books out, general day-to-day, and then there’s also looking after the library budget, collection development, liaising with staff about what we have in the collection and what other services we can provide to them and any programme support that we have here in the library. We have a team of three here, me and two library technicians. Because it’s a small team, everybody does a bit of everything.

The library at Northcote High School.

The library at Northcote High School.

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

I think the most rewarding for me is building connections with the students. We run a library assist programme where students can learn to work within the library space. We teach them how to use our library management system and they work behind the desk. They loan books out to students, they learn how to use the catalogue so they can find books, they learn how to use the photocopiers and print, which they then show other students.

Normally, at the start of the year, we do a call out for the library assist programme. We get a lot of Year 7s come in and they join the programme because they’re new to the school.  They don’t know a lot of people so it’s a way for them to connect with the library staff and connect with other students within that space as well. By the end of the year a lot of them become more confident at school and make friends, which is rewarding to watch. They get a certificate at the end of the year with all the all the tasks and skills that they’ve learnt, which they can put on their resume.

What do you see as the most important part of the library’s role in the school community?
There are two areas that answer this. The first is providing up-to-date and accurate resources for students and staff just for their study needs. We provide books and databases, but we also create library guides, which point the students towards resources in our catalogue that support their learning, so they’re not just searching the internet for resources.

We also make sure that we can provide a safe and inviting space for students. We’re open and welcoming to all students so they can feel that they can come in and just use the place as a hangout. We provide board games and activities like that during lunchtime and recess. At lunchtime, our library is usually full of students playing games.

Are there any current issues or challenges facing your library? How are you working to overcome these?
Our biggest challenge at the moment is our non-fiction collection – it’s quite old.  Earlier in the year I put a presentation to the executive team at the school about getting some extra funding to improve our collection. Luckily, that was provided. So now we’ve extra funding to make sure that we can update our non-fiction collection. The average age of a book was 20 years old, which means we’re not providing up-to-date information for students. So we’re in the process of updating our collection and we have to do quite a heavy weeding of the collection.It takes a lot of time, but because we’re in a temporary location for two years I thought it was a perfect opportunity to do all this work. Then, when we move into the new location, we’ve got a new up-to-date collection that will fit within the new space as well.

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

Students do a wider reading lesson every two weeks here in the library. So that’s basically a period where they come in and the expectation is they sit down and find a book and read. We’ve also just finished genrefying our fiction collection from A–Z, which has helped to make the collection a  bit more accessible.

I understand why some library staff are a bit reluctant to genrefy. Librarians are trained to make sure things are catalogued in a certain way. But that’s not actually how a lot of students are going to be thinking about accessing the books. So we have to find ways to make searching the library more relevant to them. Sometimes you have to move away from the traditional library expectations to do that.

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

This comes back to also making sure that we have an up-to-date collection. I’m working closely with the different faculties to make sure that they’ve provided us with lists of titles that they think will be relevant for certain subjects. In the new library we’re going to have resources that are relevant for subjects, as well as resources around those subjects to support wider reading. We think broadening resources to support deeper learning brings more value to students.

When we have our new building, it’s going to include two floors of science labs, which will bring a more modern feel to the library space and make it easier to create more engagement.

How do you encourage students to make use of the library when you’re in a temporary space?
We’re lucky here – the hall we’re currently in is quite a decent space. We've actually set it up so it feels like a normal library space.  There's a little less seating space, but it’s fully carpeted and our collection fits in quite well. It feels a bit like a permanent space so we’re pretty lucky that way. 

I think the biggest thing about making sure that students want to use the library is making sure we’re providing a welcoming space for students. It does get a little bit noisy within the temporary library space, so there’s always that challenge of balancing wanting kids to be in here using the space, using the board games versus the students that want to come in and do a bit of study or sit down to read. That’s the biggest challenge we have now because we are in a smaller space, getting out of each other’s way because it’s a bit more crowded.

What is your favourite thing about SCIS?

I think the best thing about SCIS is that it’s so easy to get the records. We’ve integrated our library management system with SCIS, so it makes it so simple to catalogue everything. In my previous roles, I hadn’t done much cataloguing at all, but using SCIS made it very easy.

What would you like to see SCIS do more of?

A couple of the SCIS team came to the school a few weeks ago and showed us a little more about what SCIS can do for us, which was really helpful! I’ve also done a few different webinars and training sessions, which are also great.

Richard Smallcombe

Library Coordinator

Northcote High School

Richard Smallcombe has worked in a school library for the last two years, before joining Northcote High School he worked for Darebin Libraries for twenty years in a range of customer service roles, the last 15 as a Customer Service Team Leader.