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Denise Reed

Denise Reed with pupils from Hurst Prep School, Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex
Denise Reed with pupils from Hurst Prep
School, Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex

Denise Reed
Librarian, Hurst Prep School, Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex

When Denise started running the library at Hurst Prep in 2002, she had to learn to sell herself and the library: first to colleagues (the school had not had a librarian before) and then to children.

Denise had qualified in South Africa (after a degree in English, studying Zulu and History as subsidaries) and worked for the museums and archives service in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, until political upheaval forced her to move to the UK in 1983 with her husband and the first of her three children. "My background in libraries had been very specialist; we were used by academics and researchers who knew we were there. I never had to think in terms of drawing children in. But when you do draw them in, it's lovely."

Denise retrained as a nursery nurse ("The specialist library jobs involved commuting and that wasn't possible with a young family") and was deputy head of a nursery school at the time she applied for a job as a nursery nurse at Hurst's pre-prep school. "They saw on my CV that I was a qualified librarian and the prep was keen to employ me to help improve their library provision."

So for one day a week (she is a teaching assistant in reception Monday to Thursday) Denise has her dream job: "I have always loved books and reading and| I love working with children. Every day is different and I love the hustle and bustle and their enthusiasm. Being able to match the right book to the right person gives me such a buzz." Compared with being in the classroom, she says, her relationship with pupils in the library is "more relaxed, you can really get to know [children] and share their little ups and downs as well as their favourite novel".

Denise is employed to spend 10 hours a week in the library, sharing an assistant with the senior school. She inevitably ends up spending much longer. Her dream is to run a joint library for the pre-prep and prep schools full time, and be able to see through the projects she starts, such as the annual author festival Hurst organises and to which it invites other local Prep Schools.

Hurst Prep is a selective, independent day school with flexi-boarding for 240 pupils (60 per cent boys). The school is expanding and over the summer Denise moved into a significantly bigger and lighter library. "As a result, we've now got room to present our collections more effectively, such as Ready Steady Go for younger readers."

Denise runs as many reading promotion activities as time permits, such as Roald Dahl Day and National Poetry Day. The Summer Reading Challenge has been particularly successful, involving between 80 and 90 per cent of pupils. A key goal, she says, is "persuading Years 7 and 8 to keep reading - librarians in state schools have the same challenge. At that age they have a lot of homework,and become involved in many other activities such as music, drama and sport."Denise's work on information literacy is valued throughout the prep school and also in the senior school where pupils transfer in Year 9. She has introduced the Big 6 strategy for information literacy - "we are one of the few junior schools to use it" - which the senior school now plans to adopt.

She calls on her school library service for advice and last year she started the Librarians in Independent Prep Schools in South East England support group, feeling that prep school librarians needed one ("a lot of us are unqualified, most are part-time and most have much less support than I do in terms of budget"). LIPSSEE now has 35 member schools - and some of those members drew the SLYA to Denise's head's attention, resulting in her nomination.

For more information about Hurst Prep School see www.hppc.co.uk/prep_school