How I got into my pupils’ good books, reveals librarian up for top award

Annie Brady, shortlisted for School Librarian of the Year, on how her library became the hub of the school, a hive of activity, a room that buzzes all day long with work and fun

 

Annie Brady, of St Paul’s CBS Secondary School in North Brunswick St in inner-city Dublin, has been shortlisted along with Chris Routh (Leighton Park School, Reading) and Jane Spall (Aith Junior High School, Shetland) for the 2015 School Librarian of the Year Award, an honour which recognises the excellent work that is carried out in school libraries in Britain and Ireland and highlight s best practice.

Ginette Doyle, who chairs the award selection committee, said: “2015 has seen another group of excellent librarians for us to judge. All of them demonstrate best practice in their different ways. With so many school librarians under threat, it is good to see that in some areas their value is appreciated. The Honour List librarians are three remarkable women who provide the students in their school with skills that will last a lifetime.”

Below, Annie Brady explains her unusual route to becoming a librarian and how she approaches her job.

Librarianship wasn’t my original chosen career path but it happened to find me on my life travels and so here I am. I originally completed a degree in maths and economics followed by a masters in economic science in UCD, thinking I’d be a super-wealthy stockbroker. However, on the road to stockbroking stardom I fell upon a career in librarianship. This quickly unveiled a love of libraries in me and I returned to UCD to complete a masters in library and information studies. I worked as a librarian in an all-girls secondary school and also as an information officer for Arup Engineering researching projects and articles.

I came to work in St Paul’s CBS in November 2008 as part of the Junior Certificate Schools Programme Demonstration Library project. I was given the task of helping the school to develop a new library. This was something I had never done before, and seemed a bit daunting at first. However, now in 2015 it is a thriving hive of activity and somewhere I love to come to work each day. For me, it proves that libraries are not an obsolete thing of the past. Rather, they are an essential part of school and everyday life. Such is my love for school libraries that in 2013 I completed another masters, this time in education, and qualified as a teacher through DCU to ensure I could deliver the best possible library service and educational supports for our students.

St Paul’s CBS is an all-boys secondary school located in Dublin’s north inner city. It has a DEIS designation and in November 2008 it received funding from the Department of Education to fit a new school library. Since we opened our library it has become what every school library should be – the hub of the school. “All corridors lead to the library,” was what I was told by some first-year students in September. The library is part of their everyday school life. There are 250 boys in our school and on any given day I will see all of them at least once and the majority of them in the mornings before school, during their lunch break or after school.

I often feel like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. When people doubted him he was told “Build it and they will come”. I can say with hand on heart that this has happened in our school and even the most fervent sceptic could not but class it as an unqualified success. Our school is located in a built-up urban landscape with few public recreation areas for young children or teenagers. This makes our library all the more important as a facility. It is a hive of activity, a room that is never empty, buzzing all day long with work and fun.

To have achieved this fills myself and my brilliant colleagues in St Paul’s CBS with great joy. To see boys who before would have been very reluctant readers, boys who may have literacy challenges, sit and quietly read a book or flick through a magazine before school begins; or charge through the door to get their homework done before they go home; or even do some research during their lunch break; or play games and socialise with classmates and peers is wonderful to behold. This is what school libraries are all about – growth, improvement and development in an enjoyable, fun way.

There is a question regularly asked of me and probably every school librarian from Dublin to Darwin and that question is “Miss, what do you do all day?” I often wonder how students envisage me... am I the stereotypical bun-touting, spectacle-sporting, tweed-wearing librarian? I can only hope this is not the case! (Though no offence intended to those bun-touting, spectacle-sporting, tweed-wearing librarians out there!) But the thing is when they ask me that question it’s extremely difficult for me to actually define what I do. Every single day of my life is different; every minute of every class is different. I have a timetable, of course, but anyone who has worked in a school library will know nothing ever really goes to plan. Some of the things I do I have listed below but how do I explain this to a teenage boy?

Library, literacy, numeracy and other classes

Help with projects

Provide work experience to students

Open before and after school and at lunch

Book lending

Quiet reading

Resource classes

Homework club

ICT skill support

Catalogue and classify stock

Order stock/update resources

Information literacy skills

Literacy and numeracy strategy teams

JCSP planning team

Primary class visits (daily)

Outreach projects to local secondary schools eg One Book One Community

Restorative justice

EAL classes

Book club

Numeracy games

Liaise with other staff members

Community projects/external partnerships

Book advice

Budgeting

Learning support

This list should also include:

Tying of ties

Provider of tissues

Bottle opener

Finder of gloves

Jelly sweets supplier

Fixer of frowns

Every minute is different. Our library policies and plans set out to fulfil all of these but more importantly they aim to support every single aspect of school life, both social and academic. So, before I go into the planning aspects of library life, I thought it would be nice to give a few student and teacher views of the library.

“Annie has ensured that the library lies at the heart of our school life playing a key role in planning and implementing our literacy and numeracy strategies. She works tirelessly to ensure that our students see reading as not just a school based activity but as something really enjoyable that can enrich their lives beyond the classroom walls. I can say without reservation that she has profoundly enhanced what our school offers to the students.”

Patrick McCormack, Principal

“Annie has introduced a level of student participation in study and classroom engagement that is unprecedented in my 32 years in this school. She has made the library an integral part of the students’ lives in a fun and highly efficient manner. It would be impossible to think of St Paul’s today without Annie and the library at the heart of all that is novel and educationally rewarding.

Dave Smyth, Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinator

“I love the library because Miss Brady is an amazing librarian and it’s a great place to come and relax or to do homework. I love the library because it’s a friendly place for teachers and students and Miss Brady made it that way. She is a great help with homework and she‘s someone you can talk to, she makes you feel at home in the library. Miss Brady did loads of cool stuff with us like Make A Book and Book Club and brought us on loads of trips as a class (eg A Christmas Carol in the theatre) things we would never normally get to do. She also gives us jellies because she loves them. There are many reasons why I love the library, Miss Brady is not only a great librarian but an amazing friend. Also if we need a book she will always get it for us.”

Jason, 6th Year.

“You can do your homework and get any book or play on the computer and Miss Brady always helps us and does the best for our education.”

Prince, 1st Year

On entering the library corridor, students and visitors to the school are greeted by The Read Wall, which is a huge symbol and celebration of reading among the student population. The cover of every book read during the year is printed and pinned to this red wall. This wall highlights that on any given day every junior student has a library book in their bag affording them the opportunity to read during any free minute they might have. Teaching staff in our school are amazing at supporting everything that the library does and encouraging students to read at every opportunity. In the last academic year students from our school and our neighbouring primary school accessed 17,416 books, which is a huge number for any school.

There are always events running in the library such as Writer In Residence, Wrapparound, Word Millionaire, Book Reviews, Pen-pals, School Newsletter (Brunner Bugle), debating, chess, Flashmasters, Robotics, Maths board games and, Make A Book to mention but a few. We also have lots of outside projects like the JAFAs (film awards), performances of raps written by the students in library workshops for World Poetry. In fact, so amazing are the pieces of performance poetry and raps written in the library with GMC Beats that for the second year running students have been invited to perform live for Poetry Ireland as part of their Culture Night celebrations.

We arrange lots of visits and outings for students. For example, we recently enjoyed a trip to the National Library and Butler’s Chocolates and for Science week we’ll visit Dunsink Observatory. The library supports World Book Night, World Book Day, Science Week, Maths Week and Seachtain na nGaeilge. We run DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) and homework club. We annually run a One Book, One Community or One Book, One Brunner project to encourage everyone in the community to get reading.

Outside of library life (yes, I do have a life outside of it!) I have a great interest in all things sports related, especially in cycling and running. Having never been a runner, I have set myself the challenge of completing a number duathlons this year and completing a number of 100km cycles. I weave my way through the Dublin traffic on the way to work every morning, on what my students call “the smallest racing bike in the world ever”. Given my love of cycling it goes hand in hand with enjoying the fresh air of the outdoors. I enjoy reading (mainly biographies or non-fiction) and watching films, and keeping up to date with current affairs. In my spare time I work for Ireland’s Centre for Talented Youth as an instructor in all things maths- and strategy-related, imparting my nerdish game theory knowledge on the highly gifted young people of Ireland. This September I will embark on a postgraduate course in TCD in 21st-century teaching and learning in order to develop greater ICT skills and enhance my knowledge in new models of teaching and learning with particular emphasis on science, technology, engineering, maths and computer science.

The announcement of the 2015 School Librarian of the Year will be made at our School Libraries Celebration Day on Monday, October 5th, at the Royal Society of Arts, The Strand, London

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