Blog of Steel

New Challenges

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At the start of this year, I decided to add to my School Librarian CV by taking on a maternity cover role at a local secondary school in Sheffield. The school has 1050 students and is in one of the city’s most multicultural and poverty-stricken areas. 

There were several reasons I decided to do this. 

  1. The permanent (and pregnant!) librarian is a friend of many years and asked me directly if I’d consider taking over for a year.
  2. The extra income would be welcome.
  3. I thought the challenge of working in the sort of school I’d not really worked in before would only benefit my role as a speaker/trainer for school libraries. The school’s student body is mostly Muslim kids of Pakistani descent but also features a large proportion of Roma Slovaks, and this is a cultural group I’d never worked with before.

I agreed to do the job but - as I didn’t want to mothball my Bloke of Steel work for a whole year - on the proviso that it would only be for three days a week. That would give me roughly half of every week to keep my school visits going and for my administrative work with the Excelsior Awards. I also wanted to put another arrow in my librarian’s quiver and take another step towards my perhaps unrealistic goal of becoming the most experienced school librarian in the country (in terms of variety, if nothing else)! I am currently on 17 years of experience and this is my 4th school/college. It’s good to have career goals! I always thought I’d like to manage a Schools Library Service one day and add that to my list but, let’s be honest, the chances of that happening are unfortunately diminishing every single year.

So! It’s now been several weeks since I started and I can honestly say it’s definitely been a really big challenge. I’ve already centralised the Fiction section, sorted out the Non-Fiction area and moved some shelving units around. I’ve even got rid of a comfy seating area that was only used by students who wanted to eat crisps and shove the packets behind the cushions! However, working there only three days a work seriously limits the time I would like to spend on making the changes to the Library that are needed. Obviously that was my choice so I’ve only got myself to blame. I’m always my own worst critic. I have good days and bad days and there’s been some real disappointments. To be perfectly honest, there’s been some days where I’ve wondered if I’ve made the right decision in coming here – and there’s a tiny bit of me that bristles when some staff ask me if I’m staying on in November when the real librarian comes back (probably in a part-time capacity). I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it and focus on the present for now. I know that’s my problem not their's, and that they are asking from a position of friendliness and respect. However, despite all the challenges, I do believe there is something truly noteworthy going on at this school. The staff have a real unity of purpose and of student care. There’s a “bunker mentality” here, where all the staff support each other and back each other up, that has been missing in one or two of my other places of employment. In fact, getting out of the individualistic mind-set that comes from being both a freelancer and having worked as a “lone wolf” librarian in the past has been tricky for me to adapt to sometimes. But this is what I wanted – new experiences and new challenges – and I’m not going to conquer them all straightaway; some of them I might never conquer.

We can all recount our own library experiences. We can tell our tales and our funny stories. We can express our own particular frustrations (very well usually). We all love a good rant when we meet up at conferences and play the “Who’s at the Worst School?” game. However, most of us don’t have the breadth of career opportunities that our teaching colleagues have. Most of us don’t move around and acquire a variety of experiences. We grit our teeth, work hard and make the best of the hand/library we’re dealt. I want to take a slightly different career path. I want to work for myself, doing what I’m passionate about, and I want to acquire new experiences that will ultimately make me better at what I do. These experiences can only be a good thing and can only inform the material I present to school librarians in the future and the empathy I’m able to infuse my Excelsior Award work with. That’s the plan anyway. Wish me luck!

If any of you are on Twitter, you can read my #FirValeDiary by following me at @Bloke_of_Steel.