Why it's Time to Get to Know Your School Librarian, An Interview With Elizabeth Hutchinson

 Why it's Time to Get to Know Your School Librarian, An Interview With Elizabeth Hutchinson

Episode 13 of The Teaching Space Podcast is an interview with Elizabeth Hutchinson from the Schools' Library Service in Guernsey.

Podcast Episode 13 Transcript

Welcome to The Teaching Space podcast, coming to you from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. 

Hello, and welcome to Episode 13 of The Teaching Space Podcast. It's Martine here, thank you so much for joining me.

In today's episode, I'm interviewing Elizabeth Hutchinson from the Schools' Library Service in Guernsey. 

Martine: Welcome, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Hello there, nice to be here.

Martine: Lovely to have you here. Rather than me do the introductions, I'm going to kick off with a question to you. Who are you and what do you do?

Elizabeth: Okay. I'm Head of the Schools' Library Service in Guernsey. I'm a librarian, and I support the school libraries across the Bailiwick of Guernsey. We look after and support all primary schools, all secondary schools, and we even fly across to Alderney to support them too.

Martine: Fantastic. It's a busy job then, by the sounds of things.

Elizabeth: It is. I've got a nice little team, which is good. We sort of share the schools between us. We each allocate, I allocate schools to individual librarians so that schools expect to see the same person most of the time. Of course we're sharing across our resources too, so it's a bit of an unusual role for us to play because it's a support service that we offer, but we work very closely with schools and teachers, which is our aim really.

Martine: What do people think the role of the school librarian is, and what is it really? Two questions in one there.

Elizabeth: Okay, well our service is slightly different, we are providing the professional school librarian role. Throughout the years that I've worked at Schools' Library Service, there is a very clear misconception on what a school librarian does.

There are two people that you would see within a school library, one is a library assistant whose job is to issue the books and look after the day to day running of the school library. The other one is the professional school librarian, and their role is very different from what most people think a librarian does.

Our role as a school librarian is just to work alongside the teachers and the curriculum.

Our role is to support information literacy, which is the ability for anyone to find access, evaluate, give credit, and use good quality information. We provide resources and support in accessing those resources.

There are the book loans from the Schools' Library Service that you can get from your own school library, but there's also the online resources. Our role is to support the students in using those effectively. What we find is that students are very good at doing that Google search, that question into Google and hoping that the answer's going to pop out.

As you progress through your academic schooling you need to be using better quality academic resources or be very highly skilled in evaluating the resources that you're finding. We work with them to make sure that they understand a keyword search, that they understand that in any academic source you cannot type a question, that you have to think about what you're looking for, and actually how you tweak those keywords to actually find what you need.

The more students look online for information, the less skilled they get at actually finding what they really need.

That's where we're sort of, our main aim at the moment is, is to support that. Is that the new Guernsey curriculum has changed incredibly recently to look at the skillset. This is what school librarians have always done, the skill of research. We are now in a brilliant position to be able to go, well the skills that we have are the skills that we can teach your students, and what you've highlighted that you need at the moment. It's interesting times for a school librarian I think.

Martine: It strikes me that the role of the school librarian has changed dramatically over the past sort of 20 years or so, but ultimately as you said, it comes down to research and helping students learn how to research properly. I guess it's not the sort of fundamentals of the role that's changed, it's where you're looking for the information has changed a little bit perhaps.

Elizabeth: Oh absolutely. If you think about when we were back at school. Our research was probably the school library, but it was books. You could always copy and paste, but you'd actually have to hand write it. The chances of you being caught for doing that was quite unlikely unless the teacher was probably going down to the library to check the books that you were copying from.

We live in a world now where information is really freely available and really easy to access. It's even easier to plagiarise but even easier to get caught.

It's those skills, that skillset that has suddenly become very usable and shareable and people want them. It's a much wider world out there, and actually far more opportunities. Our skillset has had to adapt and change, but it has in a very exciting way, opened doors that I couldn't have imagined at the beginning of my career.

Martine: It's a good time to be a school librarian, is what you're saying?

Elizabeth: Absolutely, really exciting. Do you know, just the opportunity to share ideas on social media, talk to experts in our profession in a way that was just not possible before, has up-skilled all of us in a way that just wasn't possible.

Having a personal learning network on social media has not only helped me to understand my role a bit more, but also helped me learn about things that I can then share with the students that I teach and the teachers that I work with. The worlds of research has really opened up in the last sort of few years and it is exciting times, yeah. I love it.

Martine: It's really interesting to hear you talking about social media in that way as well, because I'm in huge agreement with you there, in that I get a massive amount of my CPD directly from Twitter because of all the links people share, and the Twitter chats that go on, and things like that. Technology is really exciting right now and it's great to hear about how the role of the school librarian has adapted to accommodate.

Elizabeth: I think as well is that as part of learning and teaching research, I think it's important that we do include these technologies or these tools, because like you said, I too get a lot of my professional development from Twitter, but it's that digital literacy that is also around in school today that we're teaching.

Actually if we can help students navigate resources like Twitter within the classroom, it then becomes less of a problem outside.

Martine: Definitely.

Elizabeth: So instead of us shying away from it, we need to be confident in using it ourselves as teachers to be able to then help the students navigate it.

I think I was talking to somebody recently about the negativity, and the bullying, and the trolling that goes on, but actually if we had more people on social media that were brave enough to say, "Hey, that's not a nice thing to say." We drowned out the negatives with the positive then it would be a much better place to be. You can only learn those skills through usage.

Actually, if we can learn to use it in a safer environment within the classroom then it would stand the students in better stead for the future I think.

Martine: I'm in complete agreement with what you just said, and it almost leads onto a discussion about a topic I want to cover in a future podcast episode, which is this misconception that young people today are digital natives.

Everyone seems to think, particularly amongst certain teachers I come across, that the kids today, they all know how to do anything online and they're very comfortable with technology. Yes, in terms of navigating an iPhone or some sort of smartphone, they can do that very easily, but they aren't particularly savvy when it comes to social media, and using technology and social media and things like that professionally. It's all about social. Is that something you've come across in your role at all?

Elizabeth: Oh yeah, without a doubt. You know? Even to the extent of just good research, there's a lack of understanding amongst teachers that it is important that they check where their sources are coming from.

The only way that that can happen is if we encourage teachers to insist on referencing.

I know it sounds boring, do you know? I've had one teacher tell me that it stops the flow of the essay or the research -

Martine: Really?

Elizabeth: It spoils it, you know? For the understanding that actually where your information is coming from is important to the teacher makes the child then understand the importance for themselves.

Once you learn how to reference, it doesn't take that long. If you collect your references as you go through, it is part and parcel of academic writing. Whether you like it or not, that's what we're doing at school, we are writing academically.

Even the youngest of students, none of them are generally writing for pleasure. You can create the opportunity to write for pleasure alongside doing the research correctly and it should all just flow into it. You find that international baccalaureate students generally tend to be really good at their referencing because it's an essential part of the course.

Teachers who teach GCSE and A Level, it's not. A lot of these students are spoon fed, and I get it, I do understand. Teachers are in a very difficult position that they are judged by their outcomes and teaching to the test and all of this, I get it. I do. But we're not doing our children any favours if we are not helping them to take responsibility for where their information's coming from.

We talk about recently the fake news and you live in an internet bubble. I find that really interesting, it's something that I'm particularly interested in myself is that we go back to the social media question, is that we tend to follow the people who have the same ideas as us, share the same views, and reinforce what we believe to be true.

That's a really dangerous position to put yourself into, that it's safe because you're not going to read anything that you disagree with, but actually, if we don't teach and encourage our students to actually look beyond that immediate understanding to get a more rounded view, then we are going to ...

We're in a very scary position where we can be manipulated into believing that this is the only way for the world to work, or this religion is right, or that political party is correct.

Actually, you can only get a full view of the world if you actually understand how you can actually access other sources of information that are going to give you a slightly different view. I find it, that to prevent students or not encourage students to actually go beyond that question into Google, we're opening a huge chasm that we might not ever be able to shut.

Actually now is the time to take responsibility and start saying, "This is a serious situation and we as teachers and educators need to actually do something about it when we can," and we can do something about it, you know?

Teach them to reference, understand plagiarism, understand the fact that you need to give credit for somebody else's work. All of this is about looking at how we behave online and how we gather our information for our own learning. It has to come and start in a school setting.

Martine: The idea of living in an internet bubble, as you described it, is just absolutely terrifying. I mean if you don't ever have to challenge what you see, what you read, what you hear, how are you ever going to learn? It's very, very worrying.

Elizabeth: Yeah, it is interesting because I think people forget. I think if you don't live in an information world where you're teaching people to find information, I think it's very easy to forget that ... I think we've had recently, sort of Facebook have tried to change it, but where they were feeding you the things that you want to find rather than what you chose to find. I think you need to be a little bit savvy about ... Or understanding that that is actually what goes on.

Martine: Definitely. What you said about referencing and how if you do it as you go along, it's not difficult, that is so true.

I'm a Google Certified Trainer, and so I use Google Docs for most academic writing activities with my learners, and it is so easy to reference in Google Docs. It really is straightforward. I shared a video on social a couple of days ago that showed how to do it in about 90 seconds. It was a demonstration that took that long, you know? It is easy, simple and straightforward. As long as you know how to do it, then I don't really understand why people wouldn't be doing it, particularly in Google Docs.

Elizabeth: Well exactly. If you are a person who uses Word, there's a referencing tab in Word, which is equally as quick, do you know? When you think back to the dissertations we used to write and you'd spend three or four days putting in your references, literally if you're collecting them as you go along, it's a less than 10-second job to create your bibliography.

Why would you not use that, you know?

Martine: Exactly.

Elizabeth: It is so simple these days.

Martine: Talking about things being speedy, how can your school librarian save you time? This is a question on behalf of the teachers, how can your school librarian save you time?

Elizabeth: That's an interesting question because I had a discussion with somebody the other day and the things that I thought teachers would understand was time-saving. Turns out to be not so.

Martine: Right.

Elizabeth H.: Let me explain. Schools' Library Service provides what we call project loans. Teachers can email us and say, "I'm doing Victorians next term with my year six students. I have three or four higher learners and I have about two that will need lower level books." We put together a nice little box, we deliver it to the school, which then lands in their library and they go and collect it and they start using it. That is time-saving.

Martine: Yes, I would think so, yeah.

Elizabeth: If you are a teacher who sends an email ... So this is what was pointed out to me, if you are a teacher that sends an email once a term and this box magically appears, you forget that actually, it takes time to curate those resources and put what you need into a box and issue it and get it out to you. There is a little bit of lack of understanding of what you are getting on the basic level from a school library, you know?

Martine: Okay, yeah.

Elizabeth: Obviously we're talking about the fact that we're Schools' Library Service and we have a centralized collection. If your school library itself has the resources that you need you could just ask your school librarian to do the same thing. I understand that there are people probably listening to your podcast that don't have a Schools' Library Service or do have a librarian in their library but had not ever thought to have that conversation.

So please do. If you want resources for your classroom, then start with your school librarian or contact your Schools' Library Service and books will magically appear and save you time, because then you don't have to go and look for them.

Martine: Which is fabulous.

Elizabeth: It is. Other time-saving initiatives that we've looked at and started doing recently is helping teachers and classes connect with other students in classes across the world. The Guernsey curriculum is all about outside, and we're learning outside the classroom, and learning from experts beyond the walls of your classroom.

A lot of teachers don't have time to find those connections and those collaborations, and it is one of the things that Schools' Library Service has worked hard at, at building up our contacts and opening the doors of the classroom.

For instance, in the last few years, we have connected our students with students in India who were doing an Indian topic. They were able to talk to and ask questions of Indian students who are the same age as them.

They were able to share the information about what Guernsey is like to those same students. It sort of puts a different perspective on what creating a good question looks like.

For me as a librarian, my role is not only to connect these students, but it's also to make sure that the skillset is right, so going back to that information literacy role for this particular Indian collaboration we made sure that the children understood what made a good question.

Them being able to ask those questions directly to somebody else changes your understanding of what makes a good question.

What we found interesting was that some of the questions weren't so good and they got a very poor response or a poor answer. Actually, as the session went on you could see the children were changing the questions as they carried on. Their questioning got better, so it's about learning real ... What is it called? Real-world learning, and it does make a difference.

Martine: What a fantastic learning experience for them. I bet there'll remember that for the rest of their lives, that session where they talked to kids in India. I mean that's great.

Elizabeth: Yeah, and it's learning on all sorts of different levels. We had a class locally talking to experts on African penguins, and they were taken around a nature reserve via Skype. It was, again, so different from that experience of reading the information from a book or online, you know?

We save teachers' time by creating and generating these connections and collaborations, and enabling them to have innovative lessons in a way that they wouldn't have done before, you know?

I think for me our role has changed, you wouldn't automatically think that a school librarian is about collaboration, but anybody that you collaborate with is a learning opportunity, and librarians are about learning and finding information.

If finding information is found via a person, then that's just as good as finding it in a book or online, do you know? It's all-encompassing.

Martine: That's fantastic. I'm really starting to get a feel for how that role has developed. I'm certainly sensing from you the passion you have for sharing your experience of it. I'm also getting a real technology vibe from you too.

I work very closely with our librarian at the College of Further Education and she's very, very tech savvy, and that's what we work closely on, technology for learning. I've always been amazed at how if you go for the kind of old, as we've identified, misconception of the school librarian ... I mean our librarian, Rachel, is the exact opposite of that. She's really techy, and she's always looking for the latest innovation to enhance learning. I've always been really impressed with that.

I mean clearly with what you've been describing, you're a massive advocate for technology for learning as well, but how else do you work with teachers to enhance their understanding of technology for learning and sort of bring new tools to them and things like that? How do you work with teachers in that way?

Elizabeth: Our big aim over the last couple of years is to make sure that we understand the tools because unless you understand the tools you can't then help and support teachers to use them. Through our connections online, so usually via Twitter, we have been listening and hearing about what other librarians have been using with their teachers.

The latest tools that we have really used widely across the schools is Padlet and Flipgrid.

Martine: I love both of those.

Elizabeth: Just really useful tools. It's not about how the tool can engage the learner, it's about how it can enhance the teaching. The two together work well in partnership. It's not about providing a piece of innovation or tool that ticks the box that you've actually used technology, it's about how it's going to enhance your learning.

Martine: Absolutely, I couldn't agree more.

Elizabeth: For one example, we run book groups in our schools, so the librarian goes along, sometimes it's part of a lesson, other times it's a book group that is run at a lunchtime. Usually what we try and do is get them to read the same book so that then there's a book discussion.

I've got two examples of Padlet enhancing what we were doing, one in primary and one in secondary. In the primary setting we had an author visiting, so Caroline Lawrence, she writes The Roman Mysteries. She had come as one of our Book Week authors last year.

Our book group then decided that they were going to read one of her books and I then approached her, because she had been here, to say, "Do you know our students are reading your book, would you mind talking to them about it?"

After a bit of a discussion and agreement that she would, we decided that we were going to use Padlet as our platform.

Now Padlet is, for those of you that don't know, is like a post-it board online. Basically, you click a plus button and you can add a comment. It also allows other people to comment on your post-it. What we'd agreed with this book ground was that we were going to write questions for Caroline and look back the next week and see what she responded.

I happened to manage to get in touch with Caroline just on the day that we were going to be doing the Padlet and told her what time we were going to be on and sent her the link. She appeared during that Padlet session.

Martine: That's so cool.

Elizabeth: The students were typing the questions and she was responding real time. Martine: I love it. Well, you cannot imagine the excitement of these students.

You know, we sometimes worry, don't we, that if you allow something to happen live, we're at risk of students being silly or something going badly wrong, but I do believe genuinely that if you give students the opportunity and you've talked to them about the fact that you're going online and everybody could see, they genuinely behave in a way that is suitable. It's a brilliant learning, there were some amazing questions from that Padlet that we couldn't have got had she not answered real time, because one question led to another, to another.

She was brilliant, she responded to as many of those questions as she could. Initially, we had lots of, "You're here. Ooh, exciting." You know?

That is part and parcel of expressing how you're feeling about it, not something that's bad because you've been set a task to ask a question. It's about monitoring it and allowing it to happen naturally.

Martine: It's just so memorable, like the example earlier with the Indian students, those students will remember that forever.

Elizabeth: Of course they will. Of course, they will.

Martine: So good.

Elizabeth: They have come back and they've wanted to read more Caroline Lawrence books. The impact of that session was not just the fact that they ended up creating brilliant questions, but they were also engaged enough to sort want to continue and read more, and that's what it's all about, reading for pleasure.

Okay, so the second example is a book called Wonder that has had international acclaim over the last few months and has actually been made into a book.

For those of you that don't know, it's a story about a little boy who has severe facial disfigurements and it's written from several perspectives throughout the book, so it's written from his own perspective, his sister's, his friend's. It's about bullying, friendship, it's about understanding, empathy.

It's gone down really well across the schools.

We had planned to read the book with our book group in one of our secondary schools. I have a librarian friend who lives in Arkansaw. He is a librarian in a secondary school, so I said that we were going to read this book, did he fancy running a book club on Padlet.

We agreed that this would be good, we set up the Padlet, the students themselves discussed the book across Padlet. When I look at the understanding that these children had and their shared ideas, and the variation of voices, it just gives me a tingle when I look at it, you know?

We've got children from Nebraska, we've got children from Arkansaw, we've got children from Guernsey all talking about understanding and the importance of empathy. It doesn't matter whether you're from America or from England, those messages are all the same and show the students how people aren't any different.

There may be different cultures and different ways of living, but actually, our friendships and our understanding of each other is all very similar. If that's what sharing an online book group is all about, then let's do more of it.

Martine: Absolutely. I mean that's just such a great example of how technology for learning is so much more than simply getting learners engaged. I think a lot of people think, like you said, "Oh, we've got to tick a box, we've got to use technology. We've been told we have to." That's kind of one level that I think some people go to.

Then the next level is, "Oh well, you know they're always on their phone, so let's use them in sessions and that will engage them." But it is so much more than that.

Elizabeth: It is, yeah.

Martine: That's exactly what you've just described. I love Flipgrid by the way.

Elizabeth: Yeah, me too.

Martine: I used it with my adult learners quite recently, because I teach our initial teacher training program at the College of Further Education, and we have one little bit of research that we have to do that isn't terribly exciting, they have to research a couple of different pieces of legislation that affect the role of the teacher. It's really not that exciting.

Normally I get them to do it, a written approach to it and so on. This time I allocated the laws and codes of practice and regulations out to various members of the group and I sent them away to do their research. Of course, they noted their sources, so very important.

Elizabeth: Good, good.

Martine: Essential, as one of them was doing the copyright law so ... So yeah, they went away and they researched and they recorded a 90-second summary video on our Flipgrid sharing what they'd found out. It was so good, it went so well.

Normally when they come to do that part of the assignment when they do it on their own, it's very challenging for them because it's just not the exciting subject that they want to be writing about, they want to be writing about the fun stuff of teaching.

They did such a great job of it and it was because of the Flipgrid approach to research that we did. They were all quite nervous about using it, interestingly.

Elizabeth: Yeah, people don't like having themselves videoed do they?

Martine: No.

Elizabeth: Actually, that is a skill in itself.

Martine: Oh yes.

Elizabeth: Condensing what you want to say in 90 seconds.

Martine: Exactly.

Elizabeth: It's a bit like learning on Twitter, that you have to say it in 140 characters, although I think it's a bit more now isn't it?

Martine: It's 280 now I think.

Elizabeth: 280, yeah. Actually, those are interesting skills in themselves. If you are anything like me, I'm a bit of a waffler when I write, and actually being made to restrict myself means that you learn to make sure you take the important bits rather than the bits that aren't important. That's where it does help.

We also used Flipgrid to, again, talk about ... Again, it was, Wonder was a great book for us.

The students in America asked the students in Guernsey what five words could they use to describe the book.

We got lots of videos where the students are literally sitting in front of the camera giving five words. The work that's gone into that is far more than those 25 seconds that it takes them to say the words because they've actually had to think about which five words they wanted to choose, and why they were important, and how that was going to sound when they recorded it. They worked really hard at finding those five words.

If we had set them a topic where we had just asked them and they were just going to write them down, I don't think you would've got the same engagement, but because they were going to share those with the world, they were then very careful about which five they chose, you know? It does add that extra element, it does add the audience that the children don't have in a school setting very often.

Martine: I think for Guernsey students this becomes particularly important because we are living on a very small island and our community isn't as multicultural as perhaps we would like it to be, so students aren't exposed to perhaps as much diversity as students in other parts of the world would be exposed to.

By opening the world up to them via technology or social media or whatever, I think it can do nothing but add value.

Elizabeth: I've got another example that I'd love to share is that we do a lot of Google Hangouts. There's a thing called Mystery Hangouts where the librarians work together to find a school that would like to connect. You then organise it with the teachers. The teachers know where the other school is, but the students aren't told. The game is that they have to ... They can only ask questions that have a yes or a no answer, and they have to find the other school before they are found.

Martine: I love it.

Elizabeth: We ran this with Saint Anne's in Alderney, a year 10 group. It was all very exciting.

Just to put it in perspective, normally when I used to go to Saint Anne's as the school librarian, I was the school librarian, nobody took any notice of me whatsoever as I walked down the corridors. I went in, I did my job, I worked with the teachers. It was all very similar to what it normally was.

This day that I arrived in Alderney there was a buzz about the school, the whole school had heard that this game was going to take place. Everybody wanted to know what was going on. I was a little bit scared because it was actually our first attempt and wasn't sure that everything was going to work, but it thankfully worked beautifully.

The game itself gave them good communication skills, it gave them research skills because they had to look at maps and atlases, and think about the questions that they were asking. The big deal for me from that one session was at the end where they were asked to share some information about where they lived, and the American students were very used to doing this kind of thing. They've never done it internationally before, but they'd obviously done Mystery Hangouts with other states in the US.

These students had written lists of information about where they lived. We hadn't prepared our students that way. I did worry at that moment where there were lots of arms crossing and there's nothing to tell you about Alderney here. I thought, "Oh dear," you know? "This is where it all falls flat." Until one American student asked the Alderney students what they did after school.

Their response was very negative, but it was, "We just go to the beach." They were the perfect words because again it was Arkansaw, they are 13 hours away from any beach.

Martine: Oh wow.

Elizabeth: They were just so amazed that Alderney students had a beach on their doorstep. The opportunity to pick up the laptop and take the laptop to the window and show the Arkansaw students the beach just suddenly made the Alderney students understand that they had a place in the world. Understand that they had something worth sharing.

Martine: And how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place.

Elizabeth: Absolutely. Absolutely. It was a pivotal moment in my understanding of why we do what we do.

Martine: Wow.

Elizabeth: If I do nothing else in my career, it was a turning point, it was this is why this is so important.

We live on a small island, you're right, Alderney is even smaller, but there are children who live in villages, there are children who live in cities, and actually seeing how other children live and it's a way of learning, it has huge potential, doesn't it?

It is just an opportunity for us to open the world to them without them having to leave their classrooms, and to share their understanding of their place in the world is something that's really important.

The more I can do with that the better as far as I'm concerned.

Martine: Brilliant. The working title for this episode and I think I've just decided I'm going to stick with it, is Why It's Time to Get to Know Your School Librarian, and there it is. That's why it's time to get to know your school librarian because your school librarian can help you make amazing learning happen.

Thank you, Elizabeth for sharing all of the things you've shared in this episode. That's been fab. Where can people find you online?

Elizabeth:

Martine: Thank you so much, Elizabeth, that was excellent. You are welcome back on the show anytime.

Elizabeth: Thank you, I really enjoyed it.



 Why it's Time to Get to Know Your School Librarian, An Interview With Elizabeth Hutchinson

Why it's Time to Get to Know Your School Librarian, An Interview With Elizabeth Hutchinson