In this uplifting guest blog, Helen Taggart, of Cowley Hill Primary School, recounts the transformational journey that this school recently completed, in order offer up a reading space that should be impossible to resist! We are delighted to be able to share this during National Libraries Week.
We have all been there- our book stock is limp and lacking excitement; shelves are stocked with donations of Horrid Henrys, Roald Dahls and Fairy collections donated for Christmas and Summer Fairs; children are passing the same books around on an uninspiring conveyer belt and praying for a new book to make it onto the shelves.
Sound familiar? It definitely did to us at the beginning of last September and it was the reason we decided to inspire a reading revolution in our school. Fast forward 9 months and we were having a wonderful ceremony with food and drinks, invited guests and a well-known author to open our book- filled, brand-spanking-new library (with 5,600 new books added to the shelves).
The task of creating a library had seemed like a mammoth one. Where would we start? Where would we get the books from? How many would we need to buy? How would we know which texts to buy? Where should we buy the shelves from to store the books? How would we begin to organise a system for borrowing and returning?
The questions were endless and intimidating. Fortunately for us, money wasn’t in the long list of questions. We were privileged enough to have had an efficient PTA who had raised a substantial amount of money through fundraising and, as well as this, our SLT and Board of Governors were seriously committed to revolutionising reading in our school and were more than happy to allocate money from our school budget towards the project.
And so we were off…
Well- almost. Money might not be a problem but the many other questions were still ever present. I spent countless hours researching online, viewing school websites and blogs to see how it was being done in other schools around the country and while there were some answers, I still didn’t have the whole picture.
Luckily, help literally arrived on the doorstep in the form of our Teaching and Learning Adviser Martin Galway. I told him of our goal and that I was keen to get the ball rolling but I didn’t quite know where to start. Immediately, Martin said he knew of a woman who would be our ‘genie in a bottle’- Marilyn Brocklehurst. Marilyn is the owner and creator of The Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and I can honestly say that I have never met, and probably will never meet, a person more passionate about school libraries and children’s literature. From the moment I contacted her, her enthusiasm blew me away.
We arranged a meeting and Marilyn journeyed down from Norfolk on a cold, Autumn morning to Borehamwood and into our empty ‘library’ space. We took a walk through the school, as she was keen to inspect our existing book stock. It was clear after a few minutes that her knowledge of children’s literature was far-reaching and all encompassing!
Before leaving, Marilyn shared another wonderful nugget of gold- she worked with a furniture company who could design and create our shelving and was happy to pass on their details to us for a consultation. The ball was now rolling and I contacted Jack Finn, owner of Finnmade Furniture Solutions, based in Hitchin. I called the company and spoke to Jack, who said he would be happy to come for a consultation. After acquiring our alternative quotes, Jack seemed like the best choice for us so we moved forward with the planning. Just over a week later and Jack had sent across the design for our new library, along with a quote for the work to be completed. There was our library, perfectly designed on a piece of A4 and I couldn’t have been more excited. Everything started to fall into place nicely. It would take 6 weeks for the shelving to be built and it would arrive just after the Easter Holidays.
In the meantime, I had been in contact with Marilyn and arranged for her and her team to come and set up the library from scratch. This involved the spine labelling of every book, allocating a bar code to every book and adding each individual new book to our Library Management System. We decided this would save countless hours of additional work- not to mention that Marilyn and her team were able to do it much more efficiently than we would have.
After Easter, the shelving arrived and it was unpacked and constructed within one day by Jack and his team. It looked absolutely fantastic and I couldn’t wait until the books arrived. Marilyn and her team came down a few weeks later on a Sunday and worked tirelessly until Wednesday, organising the books, scanning them onto the computer system and transferring them onto the shelves at a rapid rate.
On Wednesday afternoon, I pushed open the door to the finished library. It was a huge ‘wow’ moment. The smell of the books, the shelves bursting with hundreds of new authors and the heavenly calm. The children were beyond excited about it and since September, we have already noticed a marked improvement in the number of children reading at home alongside a vast improvement on our children’s enthusiasm towards reading.
Nine months and a great deal of hard work later, we had done it.
Our reading revolution has already begun…
Pictures from the grand opening ceremony in July with author/illustrator Martin Impey – who delighted everyone with his kindness, insights, and a demonstration of his illustrating prowess. Martin offered further delight in the form of the kind gift of his wonderful collaboration with Christopher Riley, Where once we stood: Stories of the Apollo Astronauts Who Walked on the Moon. Martin Impey was accompanied by Martin Galway, the aforementioned Herts for Learning English TLA.
Two Martins; one ribbon; one brilliant new library.
Helen Taggart, English Subject Leader; Martin Impey, award-winning artist/illustrator; Louise Thomas, Deputy Head; Martin Galway, HfL Primary English Teaching & Learning Adviser.
Martin Impey creating an especially meaningful illustration for this inspirational library, and the completed work (below).
The Herts for Learning Primary English team would like to thank Cowley Hill Primary School for the collaborative spirit shown across the development of this project, with special thanks to Helen Taggart for writing this guest blog, and Louise Thomas for the kind invitation to join in their celebrations. We would also like to give thanks for the priceless expertise of those that helped in establishing this fantastic reading space, and offer wider thanks to librarians everywhere in this National Week of Libraries!