Not One But TWO School Librarianssssss of the Year 2013

This is a looooong report ... so here's a menu!

My trophy picture with the School Librarianz of the Year, John Iona and Hilary Cantwell. I like this picture even though my head looks massive and Hilary appears to be eyeing someone suspiciously off camera. John was a very experienced smiler, so all his photos looked great. Taken by the nice official photographer whose name I didn't get.

Okay so by now you've probably heard that this year, we've got not a School Librarian but SCHOOL LIBRARIANSSSSSSS of the Year. I went last year (because I'm kind of into libraries) and they must have noticed me slinking around because this year they asked to be guest speaker and present the awards.

I was extra pleased to be invited because I wanted to tell the story of a tiny school library-building charity I've become involved with called the Sambat Trust, I wanted to show how in a world where libraries are sometimes regarded by schools as a luxury, in other places they are a matter of survival. Here is a short video juxtaposing images from the Sambat Trust's work in the Philippines and some words from my speech. It stars inspirational school librarian Zarah Gagatiga who travels everywhere there is a need for a school library.

Here I am giving my speech. That's a Sambat Trust library on the slide. Thanks to Michael Thorn of Achuka for the photo.

Michael Thorn, over at Achuka, was much quicker at the journalism than I was - here is his report on the fabulous day (with great photos that actually have me in it - I took a lot of photos, but I couldn't do any coverage when it was me on the stage)


Ginette Doyle
I can't tell you how moving the day was - so pleased for the two librarians - "NOT joint winners,"exclaims SLA Chair Ginette Doyle, but each to their own deserving the accolade of SLA School Librarian of the Year.

Hilary Cantwell wins for her evidently noisy and inspiring work at St Paul's Community College in Waterford, the Republic of Ireland.

And smiley John Iona won for initiatives such as Reading Games and for building and supporting the curriculum in Oasis Academy in Enfield, Middlesex where up to seventy per cent of the students have English as a second language.

The day was not just about people but about place - for what is a librarian without a library? The Library Design Award was won by Carterton Community College in Oxfordshire, a small secondary with 560 students.

It was a heavy duty shortlist. Presentations proceeded at a brisk gallop - it's been such a good year that the slate ended up with one more SLY finalist than last year plus a special design commendation for Nansloe Academy's magical Story Garden.

Here are the finalists:

School Librarian of the Year

Library Design Award

Sally Cameron
Marymount International School, Rome
Caterton Community College
Hilary Cantwell
St Paul's Community College, Ireland
Comberton Village College
Lyn Hopson
Don Valley Academy, Doncaster
Wyndham Park Infants' School
John IonaOasis Academy, Enfield


I know, I know - they call them 'learning resource managers'. But I'm sorry ... they are still librarians to me. So anyway, here are some photos of some power librarians:

Tricia Adams, SLA director, seemed unflustered and smiley despite the fact that she'd organized the whole thing. Alec Williams graced us with his dulcet compering again - here, he falls on his knees before Tricia in act of unadulterated worship.

Barbara Band, who organized the famous Mass Lobby for Libraries and a previous School Librarian of the Year Honours Listee, and Sue Shaper who chairs the SLG National Committee and runs the Kid's Lit Quiz North London Finals (coming soon - woo hoo!)

Tricia, Joy Court (fresh from announcing the UKLA longlists), Ferelith Hordon, former chair of the CILIP Carnegie, and Ann Lazim of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education
I have loads of photos in a Facebook Album which I will embed at the end of this post - if it doesn't work, you can find it here though you have to log into FB I think). But before I praise the winners, I just have to share this photo:

Author Stewart Ross spoke on behalf of sponsor Raintree Publishers ... and took the opportunity to flash the audience with the cover of his new book. Now that's self-promotion!


Carterton Community College had a sad but all too familiar story to tell.

It's previous headteacher took the decision to scrap its library. When a new headteacher, Niall McWilliams, arrived in 2008 he was "devasted" to discover that the books had been taken out and the room turned into an engineering classroom for 15 students.

He recalls: "Dismay turned into despair when we discovered that so many of the books - the non-fiction ones in particular - were thrown into skips. To me, this short-sighted act simply proclaimed that we placed little value in education. That we had no expectations or ambitions for our students ... the heart of our school had been ripped out."

When they set off to build a new library they asked the students for suggestions. "Not dull and boring" was one. And: "No primary colours". They resurrected boxes of books that had been in storage. No catalogues had survived "so every box was a surprise".

From the Carterton Community College photo gallery
It was not a big room so everything at the centre of the room could be moved, the key word being FLEXIBILITY. From the Carterton Community College photo gallery

There had to be access to the garden outside for reading in the summer months. From the Carterton Community College photo gallery

Congratulations to Carterton Community College!


When her colleagues at St Paul's Community College informed her that they were nominating her for the School Librarian of the Year Award, Hilary Cantwell responded stroppily. "You're wasting your time," she told them. The other nominees would be hardcore inspirational types, whereas she was "just trying to get the students through the door!"

Which was the point really. Because, as St Paul's fast cutting video presentation demonstrated, Hilary had succeeded in creating a library that became the beating heart of the school. There were children reading but there were also children drumming, playing board games, playing darts (!!!!)

(The photos at right and below are screen grabs from St Paul's presentation at the SLA event)

"I had to change the concept of the library as a restricted quiet space just for reading and study," says Hilary, who gained her expertise in schools and public libraries in New york before joining an Irish government programme to create school libraries.

So ... I take it she didn't say SHUSH?

Dental hygiene event.
Congratulations, Hilary! (I'd love to go to your library!)


John's library is "Open for all" - which means he is a very, very busy man, delivering Oasis Academy's Extended Project Qualification programme as well as supporting curriculum planning. He created The Reading Games, an enticement to read for pleasure, with rewards along the way - and runs a book club where you are guaranteed ... cake! He ferries children to shortlisting events, runs author and poet visits, and is the official information literacy hand-holder for staff.

Congratulations, John, I'm exhausted just reading about what you do.


The Nansloe Story Garden in Cornwall didn't meet the official criteria for the Library Design Awards but the judges were so blown away by the imagination and resourcefulness of the primary school, driven by an enthusiastic librarian Heather Foster and visionary principal Charles Field that they gave them a special commendation and next year will open up the award to accommodate such creative endeavours.

Before: a covered area that had turned into a dumping ground,

The school consulted students. Here is one design p roposal.

Another design proposal.

The Time Tunnel Entrance

A Hobbit House big enough to fit a class
Congratulations to Nansloe Academy! I'm dreaming of visiting your Hobbit House someday!

If your school library could do with a boost in the form of a much needed face lift, new book stock or some professional expertise, the Siobhan Dowd Trust is giving way £6,000 and two £3,000 awards for libraries in need. You need to demonstrate evidence of need, coupled with enthusiasm and a good plan for your library and how it would make a difference to pupils. Winners will be announced a the June 2014 SLA Weekend Course in Manchester. Click here to find out more on their website

More photos below embedded from Facebook - if you can't see the embed, click here.