Today was the first day of the three day of Hamilton Schools, set up my lovely host Linda, a retired librarian and active SLANZA member, hosted me in her Cambridge home. I woke up with bells on my feet as the sun decided to make a showing this morning after the non stop torrential downpours here. This is a view from my bedroom window. I love the green grass, the flowers, the apple tree, the pool...I love it all! I just love this gorgeous house and backyard.
At around 10:30 am during teatime, Glenys Bichan, the librarian at Cambridge HS came to pick me up and bring me to her nearby school. Since Linda my host Linda has a broken hand at the moment and could not drive me, it has been sweet of others to take me around!
I was very eager to spend time with Glenys as I had seen her present at a SLANZA meeting a few months ago and I know how passionate she is about serving her students, Visiting Glenys at her school library has been on my school visit bucket list since my arrival due to her outstanding reputation.
When we arrived, it was support staff tea time. Support staff include office workers which here are called administrators by the way. In other words, you would not walk into a NZ school and ask to see the administrator if you are trying to meet with the principal. Thanks to Jessie Scovill, I learned that one during our DC Fulbright orientation! Here in NZ, the librarian is considered to be in the “support staff” category as opposed to being considered with the teaching group. Along with the office administrators, I met the building IT person and the campus caretaker (who I guess is sort of like a groundskeeper/handyman/all around go to person). There was also a staff pastoral care person at tea. The school contracts with her to come once a week to tend to any staff members that that have outside life issues that they need support on. Even staff members who need support as they are trying to help others in need can use this service! I am told that if you have a problem that is interfering with your ability to do your job (because it is distracting or time consuming etc) it’s good to see the pastoral care person. I did not ask about the qualifications for the people in the position but I am thinking they have probably have actual counseling backgrounds.
I was shocked to hear about pastoral care for staff because sadly, I have had many conversations about how many schools in the US do not care for their staff members who have illnesses, injuries, losses, and other stressful events. I feel that in many schools, the focus remains on ticking boxes and “getting things done” and if there is a staff member who is not present or is struggling in some way, they are simply seen as an annoyance, inconvenience, and barrier to “getting the boxes ticked.” I have told many people in the past that I think the school should be a place that shows care to its staff. I am really happy and very shocked to hear that this model exists here in NZ (at least in this one school).
I would not know where to start with talking about my day; it was a very inspiring day and I got to learn the lengths this librarian goes to in order to serve her students with heart. She has created a warm, inclusive environment where all students feel welcome and at home. Perhaps I can elaborate when I have time to process things a little more.
I had a great chat with “the librarians” and by that, I mean “student librarians” who are called librarians. They are a very wonderful group of students that come from a variety of backgrounds and have a broad range of interests. I could write a book about this group of kids, and actually I think maybe Glenys should do just that! There are 40 “librarians” this year and they constitute an informal family. There is a “Head Librarian” which is a leadership position. She creates programs for the “librarians” such as social events, work incentive programs etc. This type of participatory engagement is fun and refreshing.
Jeanette is the library assistant and does all of the cataloguing. The books come in unprocessed and the first step is to cover the books in plastic, which Jeannette also takes care of. After they are covered, they go onto a shelf where Glenys attaches the bar code labels that she creates after entering the books into the library cataloguing system. Once the books are shelf ready, there is one last step---Glenys creates a blog post about most of new books as a way of communicating with the school and encouraging the students to come check the books out.
The school has a wide variety of books magazines, databases and also DVDs. The DVDs are often used by students for the english level assessments (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3)--each level requires a slightly different type of written analysis. A combination of books and films can be used as the basis of the content for the students’ written responses.The librarian saw the demand for the DVDs and took the opportunity to make purchases of select titles but she also had the chance to buy up a lot of DVDs from a store that was going out of business and they even gave her the awesome shelf!
I informally interviewed students, who said they really like the physical layout of the library while others said that they liked how comfortable the vibe is and they love the social atmosphere. I saw about 25-30 kids deep into online games during tea time (where students get a 30 minute break). In general, a number of BYOD schools in NZ have students coming into the libraries to use the wifi to play games. The librarians are also seeing the usage statistics going down in some cases. There are a few contributing factors for this: 1. The students playing games are changing the vibe in the library and the students looking for a book loving sanctuary are turned off and are coming in and checking out less, 2. The students playing games used to check out books but now they mainly play games, 3. More students may be starting to read books online and/or electronically. Either way, I have been to several school libraries where the students are buried in their devices and they will tell me “the best part of the library is the wifi.” As much as I think students should have freedom, I have a sense that some students are losing their sense of balance.
This is a complicated issue because the librarians cannot “police” the students on portable devices so there is no sense in setting up a “school work only” policy if is not enforceable. And then there is the issue of the student having the right to “relax” with their device during tea time and lunch. This seems like the same issue we discussed years ago regarding “playing games” on computers during lunch in HS libraries at the GLMA meetings and on the listserv. I remember hearing great cases for allowing the kids to decompress and play, and others for keeping the computers for research and academics only. But in that scenario, there were a limited number of computers in library whereas now, everyone walks in with a device and there is frenetic energy going on in the midst of other students reading or studying. It’s all rather informal since it’s break time...students pretty much plop down anywhere and at this time, most libraries do not have a device zone.
Glenys and her team created a PEACE theme this year and I just love this display. It says "Can you fix the world Piece by Peace- Heal the World! Simply fabulous! The velcro puzzle pieces get taken apart and put back together by students so it's very interactive and encourage the students to think about the world.
Sue is a teacher and school librarian living in Atlanta, GA, USA. She was in NZ as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher from Feb-June 2016.