Libraries are at the heart of Scotland’s independent schools. Far from just being a place to borrow books, the modern school library offers a place for students to learn, relax and connect with their peers and teachers.
Duncan Wright, senior librarian at St George’s School for Girls, knows how vital libraries are to schools. St George’s is blessed with three libraries throughout the school. In this blog, Duncan offers an insight into his role, explains why school libraries are so important and tells us what St George’s are doing to promote the use of libraries throughout the school.
Describe a typical day in your role?
“There really isn’t a typical day in my role – every day is different. We are unique and lucky at St George’s School for Girls in that we have three dedicated library spaces in the lower, middle and upper schools, and I can work across all of them in a day.
“In the morning, for example, I start with registration for my tutor group of sixth form students, so I could be helping them with their UCAS applications. From there I could go on to hosting a Bookbug session in the junior school before working together with an Upper School teacher in an English lesson, where we focus on the Reading Passport scheme, which underlines the importance of reading for fun.
“We have a small library team, so I am lucky to be supported by two other team members across the school.”
What are some of the challenges of your role?
“The main challenge is time pressures and finding enough time in the day to get everything done. We also focus on keeping the importance of reading for pleasure a priority for the girls as they move through the school, especially with the increasing demands of exams and social lives as they get older.
What do you like most about being a librarian?
“That I see the girls as they progress right through the school, from age 3 right through to age 18, and also the variety of my work – that I can go straight from singing The Wheels on the Bus in the nursery to discussing the advantages and disadvantages of Wikipedia with sixth form.”
What are some of the most important ways that school libraries help pupils and teachers?
“Libraries are safe spaces within the school – we support the curriculum, give our students access to help with their schoolwork and provide them with a space that is theirs.
“Libraries also provide a neutral meeting space for both pupils and staff to learn in a relaxed environment. Library staff liaise with teachers in terms of supporting subjects and also offer staff digital training to help in the classroom. For example, we helped coordinate a collection of resources in the geography department that pupils can draw from, containing podcasts, videos and books that will help with their studies.”
What’s the most popular book in your library?
“Probably a book by Nicola Yoon called Everything Everything. It’s about a teenager who is being treated for a rare genetic disorder. The students in s2 and s3 love it – it has a big twist at the end.”
What can schools do to encourage more pupils to read books and reduce ‘screen time’ in an increasingly digitised world?
“The issue is not as simple screens vs books – we focus on how we can teach pupils to use their digital devices sensibly and educate them on benefits of reading for pleasure across screens and books.”
What does St George’s do throughout the year to celebrate your libraries within the school?
“We focus on Libraries Week, which takes place from 7- 12 October, and also on Book Week Scotland in mid-November. We celebrate these events through special assemblies, hosting author visits and generally making pupils and parents aware of what the library can offer.
“This year, we have a debut author visiting, called Anna James. Her book Pages & Co was a hit, and she’s just finished doing a book tour in the US. Really, we just try to make sure that the library is on our pupils’ radar and that we promote reading for pleasure as much as possible.”
What’s the one thing about school libraries that you wish more people knew?
“That they are actually vibrant, innovative, dynamic spaces, instead of the outdated stereotype of a boring, dull and dusty environment.
“I’ve definitely seen changes over the years in how people perceive libraries – they think of them in a very positive light now, and we’re always looking at ways we can do things differently and keep up with a changing world. For example, we’ve been thinking about how we can be more eco-friendly and are looking for a replacement for plastic book covers.”
What’s your favourite book and why?
“When people ask me this, I always say that if you ask me tomorrow it will be a different answer! One of my all-time favourites is And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson. It’s a fictional look at post-war Scotland, from around 1950 right up to the turn of the century. It’s a social history of Scotland told through multiple different main characters and I’d say it is essential reading for anyone who was born and raised in Scotland.”
Do you have a favourite public library?
“One of the reasons that I’m a librarian is because my gran worked in a library in Gretna - I spent a large part of my childhood there with her, so that one would probably be my favourite. If you asked my sons, their favourite would probably be Oxgangs Library in Edinburgh – we have a lot of great libraries in this city.”