School libraries enter the digital age

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Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun has a striking design. Formed from the amalgamation of three post-primary schools during the first phase of the stalled Ballymun regeneration project, Trinity’s hallways all wrap around an innovative school library.

At any time of the day, the library – staffed with a full-time professional librarian – is a hive of activity.

All students have at least one lesson scheduled in the library each week. Chess boards have become chess clubs. Poetry, creative writing, accelerated reading and events take place here: the most recent event was the launch of the new book by outgoing RTÉ Washington correspondent Brian O’Donovan, Four Years in the Cauldron.

The librarian is in constant contact with the students to ensure that they access the books they want – whether fiction, non-fiction or graphic novels – and also works with teachers to promote the links. interdisciplinary.

“A school library is transformational,” says Frances Neary, director of Trinity Comprehensive. “It gave our students the opportunity to express themselves, to find words for their emotions without being judged, and simply to read for pleasure rather than necessity.

“It is a place of refuge, of escape, of creativity, of imagination and of learning. But the librarian is central: otherwise it’s just a room full of books with no one to show off the potential of those books, no one to encourage and engage the students.

In 2005, a three-year pilot project to provide libraries to 10 disadvantaged schools published its report. This led to a commitment to expand school libraries to 50 supportive school programs with the highest level of disadvantage by 2010, with further expansion to be considered thereafter.

But the expansion came to a halt during the recession and, more than a decade later, was never realized.

Significant impact

“There are now 30 libraries in the program, leaving over 200 Deis / Junior Cycle Support Program (JCSP) schools without school library support,” says Kathleen Moran, Senior Librarian of the JCSP Demonstration Library Project. .

“It was disappointing that there was nothing for school libraries in the recent budget. We’ve been knocking on the door for so long, but it has never been back on the table.

The 2022 budget saw the Ministry of Education commit € 20 million in the form of a one-time capital allocation to schools for the purchase of books, audiobooks and other equipment. But Moran and school principals say these resources need a library and a librarian if they are to have a meaningful impact.

Brian O’Donovan, RTÉ Washington correspondent, launching his book, Four Years in the Cauldron, with Frank Christian Ajoc and Thembi Nkosi at the Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun. Photography: Damien Désireux

At St Paul’s CBS, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7, school principal Patrick McCormack says their library has improved student engagement and retention.

“I believe every high school should have a library,” he says. “A fully-resourced library isn’t just books on a shelf, it’s a librarian who works with teachers and students in the school.

“We have interactive equipment, games, educational software and recreation spaces. We lend chess, board games and, most importantly, digital players to students. Schools shouldn’t have to beg for this: it should be a nailed down and protected resource. “

The closure of the library during Covid, and the access restrictions and limitations that followed, brought this home for McCormack.

“A box of books is not the same as a librarian who is a friendly face to students and someone they can get support from. Our librarian, Annie Brady, was chosen as Librarian of the Year for All of Ireland & UK in 2015. She hosts a morning coffee for parents, connects with the local primary school so that when the children arrive in our secondary school, they I already know the library.

Storytelling lessons

“She is involved with teachers, SNAs and students; she makes sure the students’ voices are heard; it supports professional development; she leads oral storytelling lessons with professional seanchaís; she brings in musicians and other lecturers.

Moran oversees and supports all of these 30 libraries, but his resources are limited. The JCSP Library Project works with organizations such as Poetry Ireland, Children’s Books Ireland, public libraries and third level libraries.

One particularly interesting initiative involved collaboration with the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI), the UCD School of English, and astrophysics researchers from the UCD School of Physics involving creative writing workshops.

Students took online Zoom tutorials to write a house-themed poem, which was etched on the side of EirSat, Ireland’s first satellite (developed by UCD’s C-Space, the first center Irish dedicated to collaborative space research and industry).

Having had four administrative support staff at the start of the project, Moran is essentially alone now. At the same time, the demand for their services has increased dramatically during Covid.

“Our libraries were emptied of devices during the Covid: we lent them so that young people could stay engaged,” explains Moran.

Kathleen Moran: “It was disappointing that there was nothing for school libraries in the recent budget.  We've been knocking on the door for so long.  Photography: Damien Désireux

Kathleen Moran: “It was disappointing that there was nothing for school libraries in the recent budget. We’ve been knocking on the door for so long. Photography: Damien Désireux

“We are doing whatever needs to be done. We help close the success gap. The formal education system is not for everyone, and school libraries can learn in a different way, a way that suits every learner.

“I received hundreds of requests from non-Deis schools to access our digital library service during Covid, as well as requests for access from over 100 Youthreach centers,” says Moran.

“I have quotes from vendors to expand access to our digital library to all 750 high schools and we could get it up and running very quickly if funding and administrative support were provided.

“The installation cost would be minimal, and the primary cost would be the purchase of additional eBooks, eBooks, and digital magazines – which would then be available to students and staff at every school across the country.”

No school library? Visit your local

It’s a simple idea but radical in many ways: a dedicated building where people can get books, audiobooks, educational resources, and use computers – all for free.

In 2019, Ireland abolished library fines, another quietly sweeping move that made this national resource more accessible to everyone.

“It was a barrier to accessing information,” says Stuart Hamilton, library development manager at the Local Government Management Association. “Someone can be fined when they start using the library and that prevents them from going back. So now we trust them, and because people have such a positive relationship with their library, there is a sense of mutual trust and social responsibility.

There are over seven million library visits per year and the number of active members is increasing.

Hours without staff

The “open library” initiative has seen more libraries remain open for a certain number of unstaffed hours so that they can be used by more people, and RB Digital – available to any library user – is a resource. Massive digital from free magazines including National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Economist, The New Yorker and more.

Digital services have developed to allow users to borrow audiobooks. The library’s Right to Read program features four different events for children throughout the year, all aimed at increasing literacy and developing a love of reading.

“The buildings had to close during Covid, but we made it easier for people to join online,” says Hamilton. “We ran book clubs, coding events and storytelling hours for kids through Zoom and discovered new audiences. We have provided home delivery services to some users and worked with Age Action to bring seniors online. We have worked hard to maintain our connection with our users and are excited to open up again. “

See LibrariesIreland.ie for more information


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