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Q&A with SLYA winners

Questioning the Winners

With the baton about to pass to the next School Librarian of the Year, the SLA asked the previous winners what the award has meant for them, their schools and the profession.

Anne Robinson (SLY 2005) is currently Librarian at The Dixie Grammar School, Market Bosworth, Leicestershire.

Anne-Marie Tarter (SLY 2006) continued to work at Ripon Grammar School until she retired in July 2010. She is now a freelance trainer and consultant for schools and school librarians interested in information literacy.

Ingrid Hopson (SLY 2007) is Information Services Manager at George Abbot School, Guildford

Nikki Heath (SLY 2008) is Librarian at Werneth School, Stockport

Lucy Bakewell (SLY 2009) is Librarian at Hill West Primary School, Sutton Coldfield

Kevin Sheehan (joint SLY 2010) is Learning Centre Manager at Offerton School, Stockport

Duncan Wright (joint SLY 2010) is Librarian at Stewart’s Melville College, Edinburgh

What did becoming School Librarian of the Year mean for you and your professional practice?

The award was a huge honour as it was recognition of my work from peers, who understand what a school librarian actually does. It really means something to get an award like this. I felt very humbled by it as I have been in the profession for a very long time and know so many fantastic people who I felt should have been nominated for the award too. The other Honour List librarians were also very strong – a fantastic bunch.

As I was the first School Librarian of the Year, there was nothing to follow – no guidelines for what I should do. So, I kind of made it up as I went along. I already ran a website for school librarians (since removed), called Strongest Links, and I used this to publicise the award. I met the other Anne Robinson (The Weakest Link) and pictures were picked up by the local press and local TV. Pieces were published in the TES and other professional publications. The school where I worked when I won the award was particularly impressed when I got a call from the School Library Journal in New York.

All this enabled me to enhance the links that I had been trying to make not only in the UK but internationally.  Other librarians and educators started to remember my name and I was able to tap into that fantastic pool of good ideas and best practice and develop my own work for the benefit of my school.

I was asked to do make a lot of speeches and deliver training sessions, and gained confidence. Ofsted asked me to contribute to its Good School Libraries publication and I spoke at two Ofsted conferences. I wrote pieces for a range of publications, which I continue to do when I am asked.


First, to be nominated by my entire school staff was the ultimate confirmation that I was delivering a service that was valued as being at the core of teaching and learning. For me, that is the goal of every school librarian. The staff’s acknowledgment of my contribution to the school meant more to me than any external recognition as these were the people who worked with me day in and day out, and knew better than anyone what I was trying to achieve.

Second, the official external recognition of my work meant that I was asked to share what had been successful for me with the wider professional world. I began to deliver training and write articles both in the UK and abroad. I really enjoyed working with school librarians and teaching staff in schools to help both to get the most out of their libraries and to encourage independent learning and information literacy.

As the training opportunities grew, I decided to take early retirement to develop that side of my professional life. It is deeply rewarding to see people on my courses go on to develop my ideas. I feel so fortunate to be able to give back to the profession that I have loved so dearly for so many years. I particularly value the training I do for SLA as that provides me with a way of repaying them for awarding me the great honour of the SLYA.


The award helped to validate the work I do and opened doors for me. I was invited to join the National Committee of CILIP School Libraries Group and to give talks and run training courses.


Being asked to share Werneth’s initiatives with other SLA branches was very humbling. It made me realise how lucky I am at Werneth: I have always had strong support from the head and senior leaders, and I am always encouraged to be inventive and creative.

I have met many school librarians who are fighting for everything: for stock, lesson time, the opportunity to collaborate and, in some cases, for their jobs. Yet they remain positive and determined to do everything within their power to provide a friendly, professional, warm and nurturing library environment while encouraging reading for pleasure and working to equip students with vital research skills.

I was also been invited to speak at conferences, such as the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference. While I still find speaking in front of others daunting, I am gaining confidence and much more willing to do things out of my comfort zone.

The highlights of my year were being invited to be a Children's Laureate judge, going to the SLA conference (the first conference I had ever been to) and being voted on to the SLA committee. I also made many friends, both personal and professional.


I was so inspired by meeting the other nominees at the awards ceremony. I went back to school with many ideas to improve my own practice and initiatives to incorporate, mainly related to Year 6 transition. Seeing what was expected of pupils at secondary school spurred me on to improve my library skills teaching and build a closer relationship with our nearest secondary school librarian. Winning the award made me want to live up to the title and the trust SLA has placed in me.


The award has given me recognition for the hard work I have put into my current post. It has given me an inner confidence in my ability as a school librarian.


The day I was awarded the SLYA is one I will never forget. To be recognised by my fellow professionals as being good at something I enjoy is a great honour and I am extremely proud. The response I received from friends, family and colleagues was equally amazing with congratulations coming from all areas of the school. The SLYA process has given many colleagues a much greater understanding of what my job involves.

What is the legacy of your award year, including any benefits for your school?


The school where I worked when I won the award in 2005 gained a lot through positive publicity, the links and networking that enabled me to feed back best practice into my work, positive mentions in inspections and a few free books (there were no sponsorship deals in 2005). We were the focus of two Teachers’ TV programmes, which made my student helper team very excited.


Like most school librarians, I initially had to struggle to be recognised initially as a professional colleague. Although I had won that battle with most of the teaching staff, the national recognition of the SLYA brought a wider realisation of the importance of a school librarian to the whole school community. The award suddenly brought both national and international recognition to the school for our work in developing the information literacy of our students.

I think the SLYA had created in the minds of the school management an enhanced view of the professional expertise of school librarians and the contribution that the library can make to teaching and learning.

Initially this meant that the senior management at last could see that I needed additional clerical support in the library. But it also meant that my own role kept expanding. For example I was asked to help deliver both the AS in Critical Thinking and the AQA BACC extended learning projects.

When a new sixth form block was planned with a partner school, I was seen as a key player in the planning. My job expanded again to include both the running of the new joint sixth form learning centre, and the line management of the library staff running the partner school’s library. By the time I retired, I was in charge of three school libraries.

I am pleased that when my replacement was appointed there was no questioning of the need for applicants to be qualified, dynamic and experienced school librarians, which was not the case when I was hired 20 years ago. Also the school recognised the need for a full time, qualified library assistant. The greatest legacy is that the school library continues to thrive and develop long after my retirement.


For me the legacy is the enthusiasm I still have to continue to strive to achieve my dream of whole information literacy programmes and helping every student to become an avid reader.


Publishers donated books for my prize, which allowed us to have a Werneth Book of the Year (Young Samurai by Chris Bradford), which 50 staff and student reading champions read before distributing to forms. We had press coverage, and Teachers TV made a programme about us. The head mentions the award when prospective parents and students are shown around the school.

I have made contacts across the country and collaborated with them on student projects, for example The Write Path and a poetry writing voicethread initiative. These collaborations have helped me to develop professionally, and Werneth students have been able to work with students from other countries. My networking at conferences, the training I have received there and visits from other librarians has led to a sharing of resources and ideas.

I am now much more aware of initiatives in education including further and higher education, and have changed the way I think and develop resources and lessons. This wider knowledge has made me more determined to ensure that our students leave with the skills they will need at college and university.


As the first primary School Librarian of the Year, I have been able to raise the profile of primary librarians and the vital job they are doing in developing lifelong readers from an early age.

During my year I was given the opportunity to write a resource book for beginner school librarians (Off The Shelf, Carel Press). I hope that through this I have been able to share good practice with others and inspire them into creating the fantastic libraries their pupils deserve.

Hill West is a small primary school and being thrust into the limelight helped us make contact with some amazing people, who have enabled us to further enhance the profile of reading. We have benefited from participation in the Red House Children’s Book Awards, author visits and contacts with suppliers such as Peters and the Kitshop.


My school is extremely proud of me achieving this award. So much so that there is a massive banner as you enter the school publicising the award to visitors.


Kevin Sheehan and I, sharing the award, were able to dispel the myth that there are no young (ok, youngish!) male school librarians, the school librarian stereotype being one of older females.

One of the biggest benefits to my school has been the fact that I am now seen as expert in the field of school librarianship. I have been approached by other school librarians for advice and asked to speak at training courses. I was also asked to sit on the panel that shortlisted the books for this year’s Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books.

Why are school libraries and school librarians important?


School libraries should be at the heart of learning and teaching in a school, supporting and extending the curriculum with multi-media resources, with an environment conducive to creative and imaginative activities, reading development work, and the teaching of information literacy skills using exciting emerging technologies. Without a skilled, professional, enthusiastic and expert librarian, however, a library is just a room full of books. The librarian should be at the centre of educational activities and involved across the school.

As new technologies emerge, such as Web 2.0, social media, e-resources and so on, the need for skilled guidance is extremely important. At all levels of education, teachers and educators are saying that students do not know how to successfully navigate their way through the information jungle, find suitable, appropriate information and then transform this into knowledge. The librarian, who has a cross-curricular view of the school and a wide knowledge of how staff and students can benefit from technology, is usually the only information specialist in school. We need to continue to shout out loud about our offer to staff, students, parents, governors and decision-makers.

In the past schools could just about get by with having a room full of books kept in basic order by a teacher working with part-time clerical staff. It wasn’t ideal but with a relatively small collection chosen for the school audience first by the publishers and then by the teaching staff themselves, it could be said that the information provided was for the most part was fit for purpose. Most teachers would know enough about the books in their subject area to encourage their students to make good use of them.

Compare that with the world of today with the school’s instant access to huge amounts of constantly changing and unfiltered information. The need for a qualified information professional to be in charge has never been more critical. Their expertise is essential if the school is to provide resources that are tailored to the specific needs of the school and that are available 24/7. No teacher has the necessary time or expertise, and no search engine can understand the individualised needs of each learner.

If the staff and the students are to exploit effectively and efficiently this new range of information, then they are going to need to become more information literate. There is a growing concern in higher education and in industry that students do not leave school with the necessary skills to learn independently or to work creatively or collaboratively. The school librarian is in a perfect position to lead in the development of both information literacy and independent learning in schools, and the school library is the obvious place in which to put these new skills to best use.

School libraries have the chance to become the essential Learning Commons of the future. But that will depend upon a greater recognition of the value of the skills and expertise of the school librarian… something that the SLYA does so well.


School libraries are places where students are supported and guided to allow learning to take place. They are not passive collections but spaces both physical and virtual where students ask questions, think about their findings and then create something of their own.

School librarians facilitate this through all the things we do from stock management through to information skills teaching.

Students supposedly have all the information they need via the internet, but they still need to know how to access it and use it. Effective school libraries are an important component in achieving this.


School librarians are the information literacy specialists who can train and work with staff and students to instill good research skills through the curriculum, which contribute to attainment at school and in future studies and careers.

By encouraging reading for pleasure in a variety of ways and collaborating with teaching staff, public libraries, outside agencies, other librarians, families and the wider community we are helping to drive up standards across the whole school, and creating an awareness of the importance of regular reading.

Librarians are flexible, capable and work hard to change stereotypical views of libraries and librarians; we can and do make a difference.
Libraries offer a whole world of opportunity and inspiration. I always call my library a Tardis because you can access any place and any time by exploring the resources available to you. As well as supporting studies, interests, lifelong skills and encouraging reading for pleasure through the various media available on paper and online, libraries provide that nurturing, calm, friendly and welcoming environment that gives students freedom to explore, create and imagine.

The activities school libraries offer encourage social skills, teach perseverance and allow students to take responsibility for themselves and others. This can be through becoming a library helper, taking responsibility for book recommendations and displays or helping to choose stock or the next film for film club.

With public libraries under pressure, school libraries are particularly important at the moment. They may be the only place that students can go for help with projects, homework and allow free access to the internet for research, job and work experience hunting. Where the nearest public library is a bus ride or two away, school libraries specialise in providing resources and reading material for the school’s age group. School libraries should therefore not just be statutory, but should also be receiving increased financial ring-fenced help to ensure they can fulfill the needs of the age group that the school caters for.


They are one of the most vital resources that any school can have. Primary school libraries are where language and information skills are first taught and where a child first develops their imagination. They should be at the heart of learning. We live in such a visual world, that sometimes time for imagination is lost. Losing yourself in a book means children are able to use their imaginations to create a whole world inside their head. I can’t think of anything better.

There is such a huge drive towards improving reading skills at school, particularly with the introduction of reading assessment in Year 1, that having the resource that the primary school library can offer is essential. Without a sound foundation in reading a child will struggle to reach their full potential. It impacts on all learning. To be able to help a child discover reading and begin a lifelong journey is amazing. There is no better feeling in the world and I feel privileged to be in that position.


In my school the library is responsible for bringing the school community together. The range of social and educational activities delivered by the school librarian prepares and assists students in learning and in everyday school life.

In some schools the library is seen as an area to make financial savings. We librarians need to continue to measure the impact we make on student learning and wellbeing.


School libraries give all members of the school community access to information in an organised and structured way. We live in an age where we have more information available to us than ever before, yet it is also less structured than ever before. Libraries and librarians can act as guides through this wealth of information.

The importance of reading for pleasure should not be forgotten either. Librarians are experts in the world of young adult literature and therefore are able to stock their libraries appropriately for their students. The importance of libraries and librarians should never be underestimated. You can tell a lot about a school by how much they value their library and librarian.

What gift would you like to give the new School Librarian of the Year?


The gift of confidence. Yes, you do deserve the award. Yes, you are a fantastic librarian. Yes, we all wing it from time to time. None of us can do everything. All of us have our weaknesses. Very few, if any, work in the perfect school so do what you can. Enjoy your year and make the most of it.


None of the winners so far would need anything from me at all as they are all amazing individuals with so much to give me in terms of their experience and creativity. And I am certain that the future winners will be the same. So the only gift I would wish for them to have is the same platform to share their ideas, expertise, and love of the profession that the award enabled me to have.


Enough staff in their library to allow them to continue and develop the exemplary work they are already doing.


The ability to see into the future, in order to rave about the innovative librarians and fabulous libraries that will be central to future communities, and tell politicians what a huge mistake the current library closures are.


A time machine so that they can go back and relive the award year. It goes by so fast that you don’t get an opportunity to appreciate the unbelievable and unique experiences and opportunities you have been given.


An Armani suit and a pair of Jimmy Choos. If they are going to be an ambassador for school libraries, they need to look the part.


A personal assistant to help with all the emails and phone calls.