As ICT Strategy Lead (Children's Capital) at Leicester City Council, I'm responsible for investment, management and development work relating to technology on the city-wide secondary school building programme. The LRC Connect school library project ran as part of our staff development programme, and supports the promotion and development of digital literacy across the city. What follows is the summary of the project.
Many thanks to Lucy Atkins (Leicester City Council), Richard Hall (DMU), Deb Siviter (Library Services for Education), David White (University of Oxford), Laura Taylor (Taylormade Libraries), Lesley Martin (School Library Association), Rachael Guy (Berkhamsted School) for their invaluable support, and a huge thanks to all of the school librarians and library staff who took part.
LRC Connect – Project Summary and Recommendations
The BSF Programme in Leicester includes 23 secondary schools, 2 of which run at multiple sites. All 16 mainstream schools in the Programme will offer on site Library or Learning Resource Centre (LRC) provision. Of these 5 are already complete, 2 are due to open in October 2013, with the remaining projects to be completed by 2015. Levels of provision in the 7 small and SEN schools vary, in relation to library space and staff.
The LRC Connect Project ran from May 2012 to November 2012, supporting the investment being made through the BSF Programme in these spaces, particularly in terms of ICT infrastructure, systems and devices. The project aimed to support schools in ensuring that the potential of their library service and space is realised.
In early 2012, Leicester City Council’s BSF Learner Voice team consulted with 400 young people across Leicester to find out what their school and learning environment priorities were. Learner Voice in Leicester City: Learning Technology Priorities (March 2012) published young people's priorities for learning environments and for technology. ‘Better designed library spaces’ is listed as the second highest priority for improving their learning environments:
Young People identify the school library as an important, unique and valued area within the school. They ask that the BSF Programme look at what the library was for and how it was used.
They want the role of the library to be extended and promoted as a place to relax as well as learn. School libraries are particularly valued as quiet, calm spaces, encouraging and supporting informal learning and learner-directed research.
Library space was identified as supporting both independent individual and group learning, both within and as an extension to the taught curriculum.
Most young people expect the library spaces to offer both digital and physical resources i.e. computers should be available with wifi access. They would like to have support to use the technology and web-based resources for research and learning.
The LRC Connect Project directly responded to this priority. Additionally, it was designed to take forward three of the ICT school priorities in the following ways:
Space and Place
- Supporting schools in the process of building new school Learning Resource Centre (LRC) or library spaces, or rethinking the use of current spaces.
- Providing librarians and school leaders with access to library design expertise and information about effective library space design.
Continuing Professional Development and Innovation
- Providing school librarians across the city with information, support and training about ways of using technology creatively and effectively to support learners, promote services and share resources.
- Supporting librarians to become connected learners and undertake short projects that supported their own professional development and benefited their school community.
Networked Learning and Communities
- Providing networking opportunities for school librarians and library staff, and supporting them in connecting to professional associations and expertise.
- Reviewing the ways in which existing library services connect to and support other departments and projects across the school.
- Introducing librarians to a range of web based technologies that support collaborative and networked practice.
The six month project started in May 2012. All Leicester BSF schools were invited to participate. School Librarians, Learning Resource Centre Managers, and other staff members from 13 city secondary mainstream and 3 of the small and SEN schools attended project events. Many of the participating schools were able to send 2 or 3 representatives to events.
The project consisted of three face to face events, one online meeting and independent project work undertaken by participants. Participants were not required to complete any additional work, but we provided individual support as required for staff that chose to undertake a project.
The project began with a one day workshop, run in partnership with De Montfort University, for school librarians, Learning Resource Managers and related support staff members. 12 schools took part. The event focused on:
- The role of the school library or LRC in a digital age
- Current thinking around school library or LRC design and use of space Digital search, evaluation and study skills for staff and learners
- The creation of initial project plans staff wanted to complete either independently or in small groups over the next 6 months
Attendees varied in terms of their skills and familiarity with the use of technology to support learners and promote their libraries. All of the attendees were keen to explore the use of technologies to support their roles and to learn about new resources and practices.
Experts from across the UK provided staff with the latest research, thinking and practice. Laura Taylor (Taylormade Libraries) looked at school library design and use of space. David White (University of Oxford) talked about the search, evaluation and study skill strategies learners currently use, and how librarians could help make these more effective. Rachael Guy (Berkhamsted School) shared her experiences of managing a school library, prioritising technology for learning, and supporting learners in using technology effectively.
Representatives from the School Library Association, the national professional body supporting school librarians and libraries, and from Leicestershire Library Services for Education – our local support service, providing schools with books, resources, advice and training, also contributed to the day.
Online meeting, 29 June 2012
This meeting provided participants with an introduction to and the opportunity to use an online conference environment (in this instance, Blackboard Collaborate). 6 schools took part. Attendees used the platform to present and discuss their initial project ideas and progress. Some of the attendees had never used online conferencing, voice or video services before.
The meeting gave participants an opportunity to visit one of the more recently built school LRCs, and discuss issues relating to library management, layout and technologies. 9 schools took part. Lucy Atkins, Leicester City Council’s Digital Literacy Research Associate, provided the group with an introduction to augmented reality (AR) and QR codes, bringing the group up to speed with some of the ways in which school librarians are using these technologies.
Book IT event, Phoenix Square, 21 November 2012
Staff from Secondary, Junior and SEN schools across the city were invited to attend the project cycle close event, which was run in partnership with Whatever it Takes, the Leicester City reading initiative. The day conference focused on technology for reading and literacy. The day provided LRC Connect group members and staff across the city with an opportunity to hear from and question expert speakers, attend workshops, and network. Representatives from 16 BSF secondary, small and SEN schools attended the Book IT event.
Babington Community College, The City of Leicester College, and Hamilton Community College LRC Connect members were given the opportunity to demonstrate and develop their public speaking skills and promote their schools by presenting their projects to all conference attendees on the main stage.
Workshops for delegates included using and creating e-books, citizen journalism for schools, weblogs and blogging to support literacy, the use of computer games to support reading, and using Twitter to develop Personal Learning Networks.
Participants were encouraged to plan short projects that would support the role of their school library and help them develop a range of new skills. These included:
Babington Community College (Rob Povey): Using QR Codes and iPads in the library during induction to help familiarise year 7 pupils with the library.
The City of Leicester College (Madeleine Beach): Creation of a school library blog to showcase students’ book reviews and encourage reading for pleasure.
Fullhurst Community College (Nicola Buttery): Working with e-Reader devices to improve learners reading ability and attitudes towards reading.
Hamilton Community College (Sharon Dilkes): Setting up and managing a Facebook group to support GCSE study and revision skills for Year 11 students.
Sir Jonathan North (Meena Bhatt Vyas): Resources for digital referencing, to support learners in understanding how to consistently and appropriately reference web pages, blog posts and other online information.
You can find more information on the school projects over at the Digitlit Leicester project blog.
Next steps and 3 key recommendations
Leicester schools are committed to matching the infrastructure, systems and technologies we are investing in with innovative and effective library use. Our schools are at different stages in terms of making best use of technologies to support learners, and in ensuring that advice, guidance and support extends to digital practices. Our learners use social networks to discuss their homework, they look for information and resources online, and they complete activities and study in digital environments. It’s important then that schools are able to support learners in using technologies to improve attainment and achievement.
The school library should be a key resource to support study skills, information management, and to promote reading for enjoyment.
Here are our top 3 recommendations to help school leaders ensure their school library service is taking the best possible advantage of technology to deliver services and support whole school improvement.
1. Expertise and support for learners and departments in relation to digital search, evaluation and referencing
Comments made during the project make the fundamental change technology and the internet has made to study and revision skills clear:
Any activity that just involves looking something up isn’t much of a learning activity in the age of Google.
Schools need to focus on enhancing students existing skills and practices – their approaches work, but we can help them understand why and make them even more effective.
School librarians need to be experts in digital search, evaluation and referencing. They need to understand how young people find and use online environments and resources, so that they can support learners to enhance these with a range of evaluation strategies. The school librarian should be able to understand, support and connect the work in this area across all subject areas, so that teaching staff are being consistent with guidance and support.
It is critical schools ensure that the study skill support and advice given to learners also includes digital search, evaluation and referencing. The school librarian is ideally placed to support this, however, where a qualified librarian or equivalent post holder is not in place, a senior member of staff should take responsibility for ensuring consistent and accurate information and support is available to all learners relating to search, evaluation and the appropriate use of digital resources, across all curriculum areas.
Participation in the wider City Council’s Digital Literacy Framework project – Digilit Leicester – will help school staff to reflect on where they are in terms of their knowledge and practice relating to the use of technology to support learners and learning. The framework area Finding, Evaluating and Organising directly addresses search, evaluation and a range of skills relating to the use of digital information and resources.
There are free, high quality online resources to support staff and librarians – for example, the Open University’s Being Digital site houses a collection of short study skill activities, including search, evaluation, communication and sharing online. The Google Search Education site carries resources relating to search and evaluation skills to take staff development forward and activities to support learners.
2. Making the most of library space – whatever your budget
Libraries need to be multi-function spaces – and design and planning needs to reflect this. School libraries need ample storage, shelving and display space; room for fixed computer stations and for mobile device storage; seating and desks for a whole class, and informal seating options for individual study; digital display and presentation technologies (for example, an interactive projector).
The SLA run an annual competition for School Library Design. Even if you are not considering entering, the guidance notes are well worth reviewing. Previous competition winners have included a wide range of older as well as new libraries – it rewards innovation, creativity and resourcefulness in the use of making the most of library space.
3. Ensure on-going Professional Development for School Librarians/Learning Resource Centre Staff
Participants enjoyed their engagement with the project, the support we were able to provide, and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about ways in which technology is being used to support school libraries. The ability to network with and interact with other library staff was identified as very beneficial.
It's important that librarians are able to keep up to speed with developments across their field. They need to be familiar with standard library technologies, for example library specific software, as well as the range of technologies, platforms and approaches that can support learners and enhance learners experience of reading, literacy, study and revision skills. Many school librarians take responsibility for supporting accelerated reading schemes. All librarians will have to support students with learning difficulties or disabilities.
Librarians need to be confident and familiar users of technologies and approaches to help learners overcome the range of different challenges they face. We recommend that the ways in which librarians are making use of technology is included in discussions and planning related to the school’s appraisal and evaluation of how the library is supporting the school community. Looking at developing specific new ways of using technologies in the library, with all learners or with targeted groups, and evaluating these, could form part of the school’s yearly strategic plans.
Professional development is not something that should be viewed as just training course attendance. Staff should be encouraged to develop their own independent learning skills, and develop their own professional networks to support on-going development.
One of the Digitlit Leicester Project strands, Technology supported Professional Development, focuses on this, and is designed to support educators and school communities to participate within, develop, create and manage web and mobile-based communities of practice, or Personal Learning Environments. Engagement in networked learning practices supports the development of digital literacy, and ensures that people can create and engage in networks that are specific to their (and their learners!) needs.
An important part of on-going professional development opportunities for the school librarian and resources for the school is membership of a professional association. Is your school benefiting from national and local support, expertise and resources?
Leicestershire Library Services for Education (LSE) – is local support service, providing schools with books, resources, advice and training. Again – feedback from librarians who participated in the project was that membership was very valuable to both them and their schools. LSE user groups meet termly and provide free CPD for all school library staff. City specific network meetings are also being organised by LSE in conjunction with Leicester Libraries.
The School Library Association (SLA) is the national advisory and information service for school libraries and librarians. They provide a wide range of support to members, including at regional level. Feedback from project participants who are members was extremely positive in terms of the quality and usefulness of support offered.