Literacy in the Library

One of the highlights of my week is when the Year 7 literacy class comes the library. Last year’s group learned about the non-fiction section, and about how the Dewey Decimal System can help them find books on the subjects they’re interested in. They used the music library and saw the range of music genres that we have on CD. They created library posters, designed their own book blurbs and wrote reviews of books and music. I led a project in which they created their own Zines. And best of all, they’ve been using the library more, both inside and out of class time. I’ve noticed they come up and talk to me more, they ask for books and I always try to buy their requests if we don’t have it already, and they have become far more confident library users, just in time for them to start needing the library more as they transition from the equivalent of primary school to secondary school.

So, I thought it would be fun to look back on the lessons where the library played a bigger role.

Where Dewey Start?

I cannot take credit for this literacy/library team-up. At the end of last year, the literacy teacher, Mr Wong, approached me for ideas about a one-off library lesson to introduce the Year 7s to the Dewey Decimal System. It was a fortunate coincidence that, when first starting in the role, I had looked into library lesson ideas and come across several library lesson packs on the website Twinkl – including one that specifically targeted Year 7s.

Guided by the ideas in the activity pack, and a bit of trial and error on how best to fit the lesson to our school library specifically, we’ve found that it works really well, and have now run this particular lesson six times. The students learn about the non-fiction library, and where they can find different books. I demonstrate the layout, making sure to point out anomalies (like the fact that they would find Fairytales in Social Science, Pets in Technology, or Computers in General Miscellaneous). This guides my development of the collection towards subjects that excite them (Dinosaurs!) and also lets them hear about the non-music subjects that we have books on, which is useful when over a quarter of the collection is classed under the 780s.

They then complete a worksheet that lets them explore the non-fiction collection further: they select books from each of the main 10 categories (i.e. the hundreds) and answer questions about them. They then work out where they would look to find the answers to a list of general knowledge questions. This helps them practice using the Dewey Decimal chart, and develops their study skills. For example, one of the students suggested that he could look in the biographies section to find out who discovered penicillin. While he’s not necessarily incorrect, this led to a discussion about how he might need to know the inventor’s name in order to find a biography, and it would rely on our having an Alexander Fleming biography in the collection. He agreed that the answer might be more likely to be mentioned in one of the books about Medicine, but insisted that if he needed to find out the answer he would ask Google (and, in this instance, quite right too!)

Reviewing the (book and music) Situation

Later in the year, the class went on to write music and book reviews. For the music reviews, I was able to direct them towards our magazine corner, where they could see examples of professionally published reviews in the music magazines the library carries. This highlighted to them that the magazines were there for them to use and also that they were learning skills that were useful in the real world. As Mr Wong pointed out, it is possible that this might actually be a viable career option for these musical students.

They also wrote book reviews, specifically of books that the library already carried. When they were completed and marked, I used Canva to uniformly style each of their reviews and set up the Reading Corner to be a more permanent “Year 7 Recommends” display. The reviews were also uploaded onto the library catalogue, which some of the students were very excited about.

The display was a success across the years. The Year 8 choristers (who have their Prep sessions in the library), had a lot of fun reading the reviews and talking about the books that had been recommended. There was also a noticeable surge in Rick Riordan issues among the Juniors after the Percy Jackson books had been put on display. I received multiple requests for the Magnus Chase and Heroes of Olympus series which now fill an entire shelf of our fiction collection!

Zine there, Done that

Towards the end of the school year, I suggested to Mr Wong that a good final project might be to make “Zines” – short magazines centered on a topic of interest, traditionally fan-made with a limited print run (if any). My idea was that each student could make their own Zine about a piece of media or hobby that they enjoyed. Then I would make copies of each of the Zines to add to the school library, and Chetham’s could have its own Zine collection.

I brought in a couple of example Zines that I had at home (including the Laser Girl one I made as a present for my sister when she got her PhD), and Mr Wong drew up a plan for how we would structure the lessons. The students spent several weeks planning and making their Zines. We taught the students the folding technique to make little 8-page booklets, and they planned out each page, and then worked on the Zines for a few weeks in the sessions before completing them for homework.

It was exciting to see the finished products, and we ended up with 23 Zines covering an eclectic range of topics:

  • movies (Star Wars; Marvel; genres)
  • books (Harry Potter; How to Train Your Dragon; the Evil Dentist; murder mysteries)
  • pets and animals (from dogs, cats and other pets to porcupines, ants and newts!)
  • hobbies (sewing; girl’s cricket; maths; music; Minecraft; different types of pens)
  • Taiwan
  • the Zodiac
  • Viruses

After the students were finished and the Zines had been graded, Mr Wong passed them to me and I began what turned out to be a far-too-long process of converting them to be useable in the library. I started by scanning each page, which made them quite faded. Not realising how many I would need to do (and how long each would take) I used software to boost their colour, and remove the awful grey tone of the paper background. My reasoning was that, since the library was benefitting from the students’ work, they shouldn’t be put on display in a condition that was worse than the students had given them to me in. Some of them had put in so much effort that I felt it would have been a shame to undermine that due to the technological limitations of our scanner.

As I went along, I developed methods of speeding up the process, but in retrospect, I spent far longer on them than I should have done (including working on them at home, while watching TV). If I hadn’t realised the enormity of the task when I did, I could have been there forever. 23 Zines of 8 pages each would have had me digitally enhancing 184 pages in total, which (if I’d spent as long as I was spending on some of the penciled pages) could have taken me up to 92 hours! In the end I kept all the work I’d already done, but I resorted to enhancing only the front and back pages (i.e. the outside covers), of the remaining Zines. We’re planning to do the Zines again this year, and this will be my new method, which will save me a lot of time. The actual process of printing, processing and covering them, then adding them to the library catalogue only took a couple of days (around my other library work).

The end results were very cool, and the Zines are a great addition to the library. I love finding ways to involve the kids, and I’m looking forward for them to see the display when they return after the October break.

Now, please enjoy some extracts from the student’s Zine project:

A Man[chester]’s a Man[chester] for a’ that

Earlier this week it was Burns Night – the first one Calum and I didn’t celebrate in Scotland. Manchester is only a 4-hour drive from my parents’ house in Glasgow but, I think like a lot of distances during the current pandemic, it sometimes feels a lot further. Don’t get me wrong, I am super grateful and happy to have my current head librarian role at Chetham’s School of Music – the kids are great, the staff is lovely, the work is fun and I’m in the very enviable position of having a permanent position in my dream job before I hit thirty.

But I miss Edinburgh. I miss my family and friends. I miss the comfort provided by first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s open explanations and conscientious decision-making. I miss uncrowded streets and parks, and generally better Covid compliance. I miss prevalent recycling bins and a proper pelican crossing system and standard bus fares that you can just contactless tap without needing to tell the driver where you’re going. I miss the security of knowing that most people around me will be anti-Brexit and have left-wing politics. I miss proper cycle lanes and conscientious drivers and being half an hour walk from the beach.

Nonetheless, Manchester has its good points. People are generally more friendly and helpful. We deliberately chose to live in Prestwich, which has a whole network of parks. And I did find what might be a cycle path the other day. The trams are fantastic and punctual. It has all sorts of Communist history (Calum and I went to see a statue of Engels’ Beard over the Christmas break, and the public library next door to my school has ties to Karl Marx). I’ve met lots of people in Manchester who are pretty left wing and anti-Brexit (and Manchester does have a Labour mayor) so I’m probably being a bit over-cautious about Mancunian politics. And, most importantly, it’s where Chetham’s School of Music is situated, and I’m super loving working there!

Although there were no Ceilidhs or parties with friends or public events, Calum and I decided to celebrate Burns Night anyway. I was working that day, so I wore my tartan pinafore, and I’d made a library display celebrating Burns Night. I lined the bookshelves with tartan fabric, and I used some of the remaining fabric along with some pipe cleaners and coloured tissue paper to make a highland dancer and thistles. I was surprised that the school library didn’t have any Burns poetry, so my mum donated one of her copies to the school, and in the same package she sent me her haggis piggybank that I put on the display as well. The lockdown has meant there aren’t many kids in the school right now, but I have still received three compliments on the display so far – which made me very happy.

When I got home from work Calum was wearing a suit and his tartan bowtie. We had haggis, neeps & tatties ready meals for dinner, and listened to Celidh music on Spotify while we waited for the microwave. We also danced a little – although neither of us could remember many of the steps. For dessert we made cranachan by layering Muesli, double cream, raspberries, and honey – Calum’s was prettier than mine, but they both tasted good.

Calum’s was way fancier than mine…

After dinner we browsed the internet for video games set in Scotland. I was excited (if a little bemused) to discover that there were three different video games based on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds (one set in Glasgow). Like, not merely the H. G. Wells book, but the 1978, synth-heavy, prog-rock opera concept album of the book. There’s a ZX Spectrum survival game, a real-time strategy game for PCs, and a vehicular combat third-person shooter for Playstation! Isn’t that utterly delightful? Don’t you feel the world is a little bit awesomer just knowing that these three separate, entirely different games exist?!

For some ungodly reason, none of these games were available to buy on Steam, so we watched the Disney Pixar Movie Brave instead. We’d both seen it before a few times, but it holds up to repeat viewing – I particularly enjoyed the mischievous baby princes, the cute will-o’-wisps, the crazy bear carpenter lady, and Patrick Doyle’s atmospheric score (although I do have to wonder why none of the characters sing – isn’t this supposed to be a princess movie, Disney?).

Overall, I enjoyed our Mancunian, indoors Burn’s Night (and day). It was quiet and a bit haphazard, but it was fun and reminded me of home. I am looking forward to being able to attend Ceilidhs again, though.

…Wait. Does Manchester even have Ceilidhs?!

[*Quick Google Search*.]

Turns out: yep!

You can’t really see it very well, but we’re both wearing dark tartan.

May the Fourth be with You!

It’s the fourth of May – do you all know what that means? It’s Star Wars day! I first got into Star Wars when I started university ten years ago and, although I’ll never be as keen as most of my friends are, I enjoy it quite a lot. I’ve seen eight of the films, some of the Ewok TV show and about 15 minutes of the Star Wars Holiday special. I also own a teddy Ewok – because I found the idea of a teddy of a teddy alien delightful! And now that Calum and I have purchased a Disney+ subscription together, I think we are in store for several Mandalorian evenings! (Ooh, Star Wars themed Mandalorian evening… that is an idea I can get behind!)

Actual Facebook comment when I received the teddy ewok for Christmas: “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!!! I actually now own a teddy ewok!!! This-makes-me-happier-than-it-has-any-right-to!!!!!”

Anyway, I want to share with you a display I created while I was still working at Milngavie Library. Here’s a bit of background: Milngavie Library has a LOT of Star Wars books. Fiction, non-fiction, adult, junior – from the hard in-depth The Military Science of Star Wars to a Lego Star Wars boardbook for tiny children Stories from the Galaxy. We have trashy paperback novel spin-offs, fancy hardback novel spin-offs, graphic novels for all ages, huge art books filled with beautiful screenshots or intricate spaceship designs… I counted fifty-seven Star Wars books for adults and a quick search of the catalogue just now returned 107 titles about or relating to Star Wars. You get the idea. The point is, we had a lot of Star Wars books, and I wanted to make the readers aware of this. So I created a display. This was around Christmas time, so it lined up perfectly with the release of Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker.

And I went full out! (Well, as full out as you can get on a zero-money, limited-timescale budget.) I papered the display in black and covered it with a string of Christmas lights to look like stars. I printed and laminated a bunch of stills from the films (with maybe a slight partiality to baby Yoda memes). I also printed, cut out and laminated a few pictures of the space ships used in the show, including a Death Star, the Millennium Falcon and “some kind of Jedi Starfighter” (Calum P. Cameron, 2020) that at the time I had thought was an X-wing. I hung these from an awning that I’d created to shield the Christmas tree lights from the bright surroundings and make them show up more.

Left to right: Death Star, “Some kind of Jedi Starfighter”, Millennium Falcon, 2nd Death Star

One of my library colleague lent me his toy lightsaber (that actually lights up if you press it) for the display – which was a huge success, particularly among the children. I wrote a very corny piece of text to act as the library themed opening scroll text and one of my other colleagues showed me how to prop it up on a pair of Christmas wrapper tubes, that I’d marker-penned black, so that the text appeared to be getting further away:

A long time ago in a library far, far away…
Episode 4 May 2020
The new Star Wars movie is about to be released in cinemas and our REBEL LIBRARIANS have compiled a display of some of the Star Wars books carried by MILNGAVIE LIBRARY.
It is up to you, the MILNGAVIE ALLIANCE, to circulate the books and bring the enjoyment of Star Wars to people across the galaxy.
But bring the books back on time, or Vader will get you…..

I also cadged some black paint from the children’s afterschool club that meets in the same community centre. With permission, I painted one of the children’s librarian’s papier-mâché golden eggs black, and once it had dried, I used her gold sharpie to make Death Star markings. (I utterly destroyed the pen, but purchased a replacement from the local Tesco before anyone noticed!) This papier-mâché Death Star was too heavy for the wool that I used to hang the laminations with, but one of my colleagues found a black pipe-cleaner that I was able to use instead – and it worked perfectly! The display now had two Death Stars, but so did the Empire, so I felt it was appropriate.

It was a really fun display to make, and plenty of my colleagues and other people who worked in the community centre got involved. Although the display had to exclusively feature the adult Star Wars books, since it was set up in the adult library, it was right across from the door, so everyone could see it when they entered. Lots of children really enjoyed it, as did parents – and even some childless adults were into it. I don’t know what it did for the Star Wars book circulation numbers, but it contributed to the library being a fun place to be in for a few months. So I’d say it worked well!

One evening after the library had closed, the Community Centre caretaker turned off all the lights so I could photograph the display with all the cool lights.

It’s Piano Day… again!

Gosh, is it Piano Day again, already? Last year, I celebrated with this post about joining the Henry Ford Band. So much has happened since then!

I played keyboard with the Henry Ford Band, and they’ve released their album on Spotify, Amazon and iTunes! My acquaintance with the bassist then led to my being asked to play the piano for Carla and Seana’s art exhibition at Glasgow Skypark, which I really enjoyed and wrote about.

I’ve written four dance reviews with Bachtrack, and honed my skills at writing reviews that are less enthusiastically complimentary that many of my others. I do find writing negative reviews harder because I don’t like being mean, but I think it’s important to be able to critique constructively, so it’s a good skill to have practised. I don’t think I’m alone; I’m sure it’s a common challenge for many critics who value being fair and genuine.

I finally got around to actually sitting (and passing) the ABRSM Grade 8 piano exam, which makes applying for certain jobs considerably easier. Plus, it’s nice to have the official certificate – it’s very pretty!

I also went on a one-day course at the National Library, where I learned a bit about how the Library is organised and the features it offers. I saw all sorts of old manuscripts, including some medieval choir books, in which the monks had drawn funny faces to amuse the altar boys during long services. I also read some very cute correspondences between author Muriel Spark and her artist friend, Penelope Jardine. These two were such avid fans of a British TV soap drama that, whenever one of them had to miss an episode, the other would write a detailed description of the programme, including describing the advert breaks!

I’ve been back at university doing a Masters in Information and Library Studies (yesterday was the last day of teaching), and it’s been absolutely fantastic. I’ve made many new friends, learned all sorts of skills, and become a better person. Yesterday, as a fun, last-day exercise, we were asked to take what we’d learned from the course and, in groups, create a design for a library, assuming we had unlimited resources. My group decided to create the University of Mars Academic Library. It included anti-gravity elevators, a virtual reality holodeck, vacuum partitions to block sound waves and allow for quieter study areas, book-retrieval drones, lots of plant life for oxygenation and a scream-into-the-void balcony for finals week! It was a super fun activity, and I’m a little sad that the course is practically over (except a few final submissions and the summer dissertation).

University of Mars Library
“In the University of Mars Library, no-one can hear you scream”

As part of my Masters, I also completed a placement in the Music Library at the Edinburgh Central Library, where I was reclassifying their collection to follow Library of Congress subject fields. It was really fun, and I got the opportunity to attend a staff meeting and design a display for International Women’s Day. The reclassification project is very time consuming, and it wasn’t possible for me to do the full collection within my eleven-week placement. But, excitingly, they have agreed to keep me on to continue the project, so I get to continue gaining Music Library experience, which is totally awesome!

It seems a little surreal how many amazing experiences a single year can offer. I am excited to discover what the next year holds!