School library spotlight: Melbourne High School

By Pam Saunders

SCIS talks to Pam Saunders, Head of Library at Melbourne High School, about what’s happening in MHS’s library, including library programs and promotion.

In this issue of Connections, we introduce a new regular feature, ‘School library spotlight’.
This article gives us an opportunity to interview school library staff, so we can share with our readers what is happening within school libraries in Australia and New Zealand.
Do you have any questions you’d like us to include in this section? Please email [email protected]

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

My name is Pam Saunders, and I am Head of Library at Melbourne High School, which is a Years 9–12 government, selective boys school with just under 1,400 students.

My role is a blend of management, including supervising the day-to-day running of the library and overseeing the strategic direction, and library promotion. The teacher librarians and I offer curriculum support and collaborate with teachers to support student learning.

I am also a Year 12 Form teacher, and jointly teach a VCE subject, Extended Investigation, with MacRobertson Girls’ High School.

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

Being with our students and getting to know our regulars.

At Melbourne High School, we love doing unexpected things in the library to see the students’ reactions. For example, after returning from the school holidays, we realised Pokémon Go would be very popular. Although our school has a ‘no games on screens’ policy, we held a two-week Pokémon Go amnesty.

We created a tally board for students to record which Pokémon they had caught. The novelty of the game worked well, and we had many fun, thoughtful conversations with our students about the game and its characters. We are trying to subtly change students' perception of the space from a traditional library to a supportive community environment. A further highlight is having a team who share ideas and work together to make the library a dynamic space.

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

The library must be a positive space for students and teachers: a blend of the kitchen table, the study, and the lounge room. Although our decor is somewhat dated, the students gravitate to the various seating options. The space includes lounge chairs, tall tables, stools, and desks, with areas to work independently or together. It also includes a large collection of books and print material, which is promoted and easily accessible.

While it is important that the library is attractive, safe, and ordered, it is equally important that the library team members are approachable, smiling, and are skilled in the digital world. Students are encouraged to have input in the library’s selection of resources, and the virtual library environment is given a high priority.

Are there any current issues facing your library? How are you working to overcome these?

There are always pressures on staffing and trying to do more with less. Building rapport and relevance can be difficult with some faculties. Finding enough space for all students and teachers who wish to visit is another issue, so we try to provide flexibility by offering as many options as possible.

We constantly review how and why we deliver services. We recently lengthened our loan period for books from two weeks to three weeks, and removed fines on books and magazines. The aim was to give students more time to read, and this meant fewer reminders from us. This excluded high-use textbooks, but we changed the terminology from ‘fine’ to ‘hire fee’. Weeding dated and irrelevant items gave our collection a major refreshment, which has resulted in increased loans. The print collection is becoming more recreational, whereas the electronic collections are more curriculum-focused.

After discussions about students having difficulties with organisational skills and completing assignments, we developed an afterschool program called Academic Mentoring. Students attend the program for six weeks, where they work in small groups with a teacher librarian to learn study strategies and how to set goals. This builds student relationships with teacher librarians, which provides opportunities for ongoing support. This program has proven to be so popular, there is a waiting list.

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

A person writing on a blackboard

Students work in groups in the Literature Circles program before presenting to the class.

It is helpful that our library team are readers, and can talk about books passionately and from their own experience.

We work closely with the English faculty and have tried several programs such as the Premiers' Reading Challenge and the GoodReads challenge, but our current ‘Literature Circles’ program (pictured left) is having the most success. We work with English classes to help the students select titles. Students then read and discuss these books in groups of four, before delivering a mini-presentation to the class. The challenge was to build the literature circle collection to suit our students and staff; there is a bias toward the classics, contemporary fiction, and fantasy.

We also promote new titles by posting flyers on the back of staff toilet doors, and there is always a spike in loans after we do this. Our weekly lunchtime book club is popular with the students, and we also bring in authors for events during the year.

How do you engage with students through digital spaces?

Our social media presence has grown and is fortunately encouraged by the school principal, who is often the first to read our posts. We use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a few different blogs. Our library blog includes posts written by the library staff, teaching staff, and students. Our vision is to promote happenings from the whole school, not just the library. Our followers are current and previous students, parents, and those with an interest in libraries. Each member of the team has a particular ‘media’ focus, so each post brings a different flavour and personality without replicating the same news.

How do you encourage students to make use of the library?

We have several clubs which operate from the library, including a writing group and a library assistant program. The latter has around 40 members who volunteer as junior librarians at least once a week. The volunteers help to spread the word about the library and what it offers. We also have activities such as chess boards, Lego, paper crafts, and a mini-makerspace with changing activities. Our charging station for tablets and phones is also popular.

What is your favourite thing about SCIS?

We have almost completely outsourced our cataloguing to SCIS as they do a wonderful job, at a high standard. We rely on them being up to date with cataloguing changes and keeping us informed. We enjoy Connections, and it always generates discussion in the staff kitchen.

What would you like to see SCIS do more of?

As SCIS has an Australia-wide focus, it could consider including a job advertisement site for subscribers. SCIS experience would be a bonus!

You can find the Melbourne High School library on Instagram/Twitter: @MelbHSlibrary, and you can visit their blog at

Pam Saunders

Pam Saunders

Head of Library

Melbourne High School