Make a difference (MaD) – spotlight on teacher librarians

School libraries are not what they used to be. With changes to the design and function of school libraries, how information is managed and accessed to support curriculum priorities, and programs focusing on STEM/STEAM, teacher librarians respond to the teaching and learning needs of staff and students. In this section, teacher librarians share insights into their teaching practice, learning spaces and library initiatives and how this can make a difference to student learning and engagement.

Belinda Cameron, teacher librarian at Maclean High School on the North Coast, shares her top tips on how to convert your school library into an engaging and fun space for students.

What is this ‘shush!’ business? More importantly, why is a student saying it to his friends with his lips pursed around his pointed finger, and not me, when I’m the teacher librarian?


Redefining 21st century library spaces within our school communities begins with the physical space and how students feel when they walk into it. In promoting a school library as a community centre, library spaces should reinforce that learning can be crazy, amazing and, most importantly, collaborative fun. When students walk into our library, affectionately known as ‘The Hub’, I want them to be intrigued, amazed, excited and feel part of their broader school community. Information is everywhere, so let's get excited about it!

With this collaborative intention, how does a teacher librarian transform their library from a ‘shush’ space into one of collaboration?

Tips for an engaging space

Based on my two-year library revitalisation project I will share with you my top tips for converting your high school library from a ‘shush’ space to an engagement space.

Tip 1

Ask. Question. Interview teens. What ideas do they have? What needs? Invite staff to comment also.

Tip 2

If you are new to your library, observe. How is the library already being used, by whom and for what purpose?

Tip 3

Don't be afraid to move furniture to create the zones you need. Yes, there's thousands of books to shift. Students will help you. Create the spaces thinking about their primary role. To collaborate? To study?

Tip 4

Lunchtime Clubs are opportunities for engagement: Origami, knitting, gaming, movie making, colouring in, craft. Keep kids busy, and clearly sign expectations for behaviour. If one lunch is all about ‘shhhh!’ they will modify their behaviour accordingly, which is a valuable lesson for life.  You can offer to run tournaments and competitions that support unique student activities. Cook some popcorn for your movie maker crew to share their clips at the end of the term. Always use volunteers to assist you, another opportunity to engage and build vital 21st century learning skills.

Maker Mondays

Maker Mondays: transforming curtain rings into framed vintage artworks

Tip 5

Know your students. Every student in the school comes to your 'classroom'. Get to know as many as you can.  Why do they use the facility? What can you offer to improve their experience?

Tip 6

When it comes to furniture, you can ignore expensive furniture catalogues. Look at what's popular in places that kids access, or that you access in your private life. Elements of your favourite store or place can be introduced. The cheap $5 floral couch becomes 'Nanna’s couch for ninja knitters’. Inject humour with elements of popular culture and design staples such as chalk paint, retro fun and intrigue. Students will enjoy the changes, mystery and silliness.

Nanna couch

Nanna’s couch for ninja knitters

Tip 7

Plan fun and unexpected events such as a pop culture festival, a chicken fashion parade, turn your library into a quarantine centre for Halloween and invite staff to dress up as well. Remember to organise Book Week dress up parties. (Who says dressing up for Book Week must end in primary school). Make sure the Easter bunny leaves eggs in the collection every now and then.

Chook Walk Models

Grandparents Day chook walk models

Halloween Centre

Halloween quarantine centre with staff participating in the fun

Tip 8

Have a theme for the year to which you connect library events, activities and resources. During our ‘yarnology year’ we created knitting, craft, mindfulness, decorations and inter-generational learning with our local retirement village residents, who visited the library to knit with our Ninja knitters. Wool really can bring a lot of students, staff and school community together. Origami is also an easy theme to introduce that teaches skills, encourages mindfulness and collaboration. Our school and community created 2,015 cranes, which now decorate our library space. It’s a sight to behold for all visitors to the library, setting a tone of creativity and collaboration.

Origami cranes

Students created over 2000 origami cranes

Tip 9

You are never too old for Lego. A Lego creation station is a must.  Students can then film Lego people with kinetic sand, thus making digital artefacts that can be shared on the school website.

LEGO factory

Lego factory

Tip 10​

If you have an idea, run with it. If it doesn't work, change it. Students love to see new and evolving changes as they visit the library over the year. Something as simple as changing seating arrangements gets them excited.

Positive changes

‘Are you coming to the hub?’ has replaced ‘Who goes to the library?’ At lunchtimes, our numbers have grown from 45 kids (counted by my library minion volunteers) to our current maximum at 152. The bags outside the door grew quickly and sometimes block the way in. It's fascinating to watch kids relate to a finely crafted and constantly evolving organic space.

A colleague commented last week that every time she enters ‘The Hub’ ‘It seems to always have a hum, an amazing energy about it. Nobody says ‘shhhh this is the library’. It's a place the kids are desperate to be.’

​Just how we like it.

How to cite this article – Cameron, B. (2018). Make a difference (MaD) – spotlight on teacher librarians. From shush to engagement - revitalising your school library. Scan, 37(7).

Cathie Cattermole, teacher librarian and I-Centre coordinator at James Erskine Public School, reveals her library’s spectacular pirate ship display and other preparations for Book Week.

Over the past two years, James Erskine Public School has been constructing the most beautiful sensory garden. With the instalment of a pirate ship signalling the garden’s completion this year, the 2018 Book Week theme – ‘Find your treasure’ – proved serendipitous. What a wonderful way to honour the launch of our garden – with a celebration of literacy plus a whole lot of pirate fun!

Pirate ship, treasure chest and children's books in Book Week library display

Pirate ship display in the library for Book Week 2018: ‘Find your treasure’

The library is the centre of our school. Using recycled materials and inexpensive props, we’ve decorated this special space, creating a grand pirate ship display to celebrate the theme and this year’s short-listed titles.

3 photos showing a ship's mast and treasure chest under construction

Constructing the pirate ship display: the masts are made from mailing tubes, a photocopied wood grain floorboard, and black duct tape. The treasure chest is made from cardboard boxes.

Book Week festivities stretch all week at James Erskine Public School, with a special, action-packed program. We have wonderful authors – Lesley Gibbes, Tim Harris and Matt Cosgrove – each joining us for a day to spend time with individual classes. We also have a whole school pirate dress-up event, and writing and STEM activities inspired by treasured picture books, with our whole school community invited to join the fun.

But beware – playing host to pirates courts danger and invites the unexpected! Late one night, strange things are expected to unfold at JEPS… And the following morning, students will arrive at school to discover a large mound of dirt scattered with pirate coins, jewels and goblets! The police will have taped off the area and – using this scene as their writing stimulus – students will explain what happened.

With Book Week rapidly approaching, the excitement is building! Costumes are being organised, STEM materials are being collected and, most importantly, books are being celebrated. Bring on the festivities!

How to cite this article – Cattermole, C. (2018). Make a difference (MaD) – spotlight on teacher librarians. ‘Finding our treasure’ at James Erskine Public School. Scan 37(7).

Beryl Aylett, teacher librarian at Metella Road Public School, describes how she inspires students’ love of literature and shares the joys of her move into teacher librarianship.

Going through the wardrobe, as the children in the Narnia chronicles did, was a great inspiration to me from an early age. New worlds to discover; special treasures to surprise and delight in. The journey through books helps us discover elements of ourselves, our character and our values. Just as my students grow through their literary explorations, my transformation from classroom teacher to teacher librarian (and, in the chapter ahead, author and illustrator), finds its roots in the library.

About five years ago – and after two decades as a primary teacher – a twist of fate brought me to the teacher librarian role. I inherited a library that had not enjoyed a full-time teacher librarian for some time. Cleaning and reorganising became the priority. New duties emerged as I grew into the role and completed a Master of Education in Teacher Librarianship through Charles Sturt University.

I became an information provider, cultural events organiser, administrator, and – most crucially – a learning facilitator, helping students master skills related to literacy, history, geography and research. Programs were developed and a plan established to totally overhaul the library spaces with colour and new decor. Painting is currently underway and the floors will hopefully be recarpeted soon. With many students using the library daily, the transformation to a dynamic information and literary hub is nearly complete!

Our library in early 2018, with some new decor and colour. Next steps – fresh paint and carpet!

Book Week is a highlight each year. Artwork is collected from every student, with each stage contributing to a themed display. We have a huge dress-up parade for Kindergarten to Year 6 based on the annual theme, and an author or performance group attends every second year.

For ‘Connect to reading’ (2014), students studied fairy tales from other countries, illustrating pictures and maps, and Andrew Daddo joined us. ‘Books light up our world’ (2015) found us making golden items from pirate days (linked with Horrible Histories) and fish (based on the story of The Rainbow Fish). 2016 Book Week celebrations included a visit by Aaron Blabey. For ‘Escape to everywhere’ (2017), we had passports to places we wanted to explore, and a large map of Australia. This year’s festivities, centred around the theme of ‘Find your treasure’, will include a visit from Anna Fienberg, and a display containing a huge treasure chest, spewing out our favourite books (including lots of Tashis and Mintons)!

Book Week display, with student drawings and other compositions pinned to a noticeboard

Part of our Book Week display in 2017: ‘Escape to everywhere’

Regardless of the theme, our regular engagement with a variety of quality texts provides rich opportunities for learning and enjoyment. From beautifully illustrated picture books, amusing chapter books and hilarious read-alouds (Year 2’s current favourite is Aliens Love Underpants!) to historical fiction and the classics, we continue slipping through the wardrobe.

How to cite this article – Aylett, B. (2018). Make a difference (MaD) – spotlight on teacher librarians. Treasured times! Scan 37(7).

Fay Prideaux, teacher librarian at Yarrawarrah Public School, describes her school’s successful mission to collect and fly 320 kilograms of donated books to outback families in NSW.

Always on the lookout for a recycling initiative, this year I up scaled up our annual book swap into an outback book drive, sending new and preloved books to children who receive their education via School of the Air in outback NSW. With sometimes limited or non-existent access to libraries, book clubs or book fairs, outback families were the perfect match for city excess.

A self-appointed Outback Committee of students enthusiastically set about creating advertising posters for each classroom and making announcements at weekly assemblies to drum up donations. Books were sourced from the school community, local libraries, friends, publishers and authors. By the end of term, we had a bounty of diverse texts suitable for all ages.

The committee members sorted the books into genres before packing them into boxes decorated with their artwork and messages from our school. Families from the Broken Hill campus of School of the Air were our recipients for this inaugural project and library lessons incorporated information about School of the Air, maps of Broken Hill, and photography of outback landscapes. Recipient families sent videos and photo essays of life on the land.

School of the Air families meet annually for mini-camps and the location for their May camp was Fowlers Gap Station, a research station for arid environments owned by the University of New South Wales. Over a hundred students, their parents, governesses and teachers attended the camp. Students and parents were overwhelmed at the range and diversity of donations. Future mini camps will provide perfect opportunities for the books to be shared many times over.

Supporters of the outback book drive included local pilots from my area, the Illawarra Flyers, who generously arranged freight for the books and flew me to Fowlers Gap Station to meet the convener of the school camp.

One school, 320 kilograms of recycled books, 50 outback families.

Instant pop up library.

2 photos - boys sitting with a trolley of books at the Borken Hill hangar and Fay Prideaux with smiling students in her library

Storage of books at Silver City hangar (Broken Hill) and Outback Committee members (Yarrawarrah Public School)

How to cite this article – Prideaux, F. (2018). Make a difference (MaD) – spotlight on teacher librarians. Outback book drive. Scan 37(7).

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