School Librarians of Aotearoa: Kirsty Adam

New Zealand’s school librarians are passionate, engaged professionals who know how to get students of all ages and reading levels into reading. Kirsty Adam is the Library Manager at James Hargest College, and also shares the role of President of SLANZA (alongside Julia Smith).

I started at James Hargest College as the Library Manager in 2013. I had been working part-time at the Invercargill Public Library for several years while my children were young and I loved the way I saw libraries developing into genuine community spaces full of exciting projects and collaboration. I initially applied for the job at the Public Library after spending a delightfully quiet Sunday afternoon browsing the shelves. I worked in the children’s department and now I am in a school library, so I haven’t had a peaceful moment since!

Some of the participants in ‘The Great Escape‘ Summer Reading programme, supported by the three Southland public libraries.

I am a trained teacher so the school environment was a natural fit for me. I love the variety that comes with working in a school library. You have to become the expert in so many areas so I’ve done a great deal of ‘faking till I make it’!

To say I was a bit green when I started at James Hargest is an understatement, so joining SLANZA was the best decision I made. Having access to quality, relevant and timely PD as well as meeting with other librarians to ask questions and discuss issues has been invaluable. As a small region, there has been plenty of opportunity for me to take on roles within the organisation and the personal and professional development that these challenges have afforded me have been priceless. This year, Julia Smith and I have taken on sharing the Presidency role for SLANZA, and I am honored to be tasked with continuing the important work of our organisation.

The Importance of Reading for Pleasure

I know that reading widely is the most important element to both academic success and personal happiness in people of all ages. Reading for pleasure and interest has the added benefit of empowering those who read and helping them to develop empathy, which is so important, especially during these uncertain times. The ability to live vicariously through the actions of characters and see the consequences of their actions is incredibly valuable, especially for teenagers.

The ability to live vicariously through the actions of characters and see the consequences of their actions is incredibly valuable, especially for teenagers.

We all understand that balance in life is important so I encourage everyone to make reading one of the elements of their day. Fifteen to 20 minutes most days of the week is achievable even in the busiest of schedules and a lovely habit to get into, especially at the end of the day. The right book will keep even the most reluctant reader up all night and that book will be different for everyone.

Library as “go to” place, meeting space

As you can imagine, there is no such thing as a typical day in the library. As the library is the go to place for information, IT support, reading material and device distribution, I have become very good at multitasking. The library is also the meeting space for many groups and clubs — and the favourite hangout for a fair proportion on the 1500 students on the Senior Campus. Thankfully we have plenty of support: our student librarians run the library before and after school as well as during the breaks, and our student tech support team sort out IT issues, as well as providing tutorials to both staff and students.

I take each Year 9 and 10 class through an information literacy unit in either English or Social Studies and other subjects and year levels book in for classes when required. As with any other curriculum area, the development of eLearning means I am continually evaluating and changing these programmes to reflect the needs of the students. At least this means I never get bored!

English classes come in every fortnight to browse the shelves and select their personal reading material. We are extremely fortunate to have a healthy budget for purchasing new books and resources. We are buying fewer resources to support the curriculum in recent years, which means we have been able to develop our ebook and audiobook collection. The Wheelers platform has been a great success with more than 200 issues a month since we added audiobooks to our collection. Between eBook, audiobook, print and graphic novels, there have never been more options for students to access great stories.

I ensure the library is meeting the needs of the staff and students by attending Department and Committee meetings. I am part of the eLearning Committee and the Teaching and Learning Committee at James Hargest, which allows me to promote the libraries services, as well as to respond to any changing requirements within the school.

How the library is organised

The library at James Hargest College is a large well-used space that fits up to four classes at a time. It has special vibe with a positive energy, it is a pleasure to work in this environment.

The layout has been designed so the person at the main desk has an unimpeded view of most of the library. Like a lot of libraries, our space has been a successful example of an ILE (integrated learning environment), well before the term was coined. We have a pod of computers surrounded by half of our non-fiction collection and the other half of the non-fiction creates a separate study area that is often used by smaller classes. A classroom that can be separated by shutting concertina doors, has another set of computers. Our fiction area leads up to a Reading Room with plenty of comfy seating, perfect for bunking down with a good book.

One of the fastest growing collections in our library is our Manga collection. Each year our Manga group is given a budget they they can use to develop this collection and the resulting discussions are loud and passionate. The only criteria are that the collection should cover a variety of Manga genres and be suitable in content and graphics for Year 9 students. The group takes this job very seriously and have created a popular collection.

Collaboration the key to successful Summer Reading Promotion

One of the most successful promotions has been our Southland SLANZA collaboration with the three local public libraries for our Summer Reading initiative. We collaborated on our branding – Reading: the Great Escape – and SLANZA had brightly coloured bags printed for the students to take their books home in for the holidays.

SLANZA hosts a launch party which gives public and school librarians a chance to discuss their plans and ideas to ensure we are passing on a consistent message to our students. At school, in the last few days of the term we invite all of the Year 9 and 10 English classes into the library along with as many of their other teachers as possible. We spread books over all the tables, play music and make choosing their summer reading material a big festive celebration. We recommend students pick books for their family members as well, to encourage a reading culture at home. Every year we have a handful of books that we never see again but we consider this a small price to pay for the maintenance of literacy levels and providing students with quality reading material when they have time to relax and enjoy it.

We recommend students pick books for their family members as well, to encourage a reading culture at home.

My ‘books of the moment’ and what we need more of…

I would like to see more younger teen fiction with Māori and Pasifika protagonists and some of the laconic kiwi humour that our movies and TV shows are known for.

Books can have an incredible influence in young people’s lives and the best part of my career is seeing examples of this. Last term, I gave one of our students the first book in the Bodyguard series by Chris Bradford, the next day he was back for the second book and to request that we get the rest of the series as soon as possible. He was so inspired by the series that he sat security guard exams in the holidays and has plans for a career with the Prime Minister’s security detail.

It’s not too often a novel lives up to the rave reviews and high expectations I have before reading it, but The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas blew me away. I could feel my understanding of these complex issues grow as I read the book. I highly recommend that English or Social Studies classes read it, despite some of the language used.


Find more of our School Librarians of Aotearoa series here.

Kirsty Adam
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I've lived in Invercargill for all but 10 years of my life when I left for University and work. My partner Daniel and I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. I enjoy reading, yoga, boxing and red wine. I'm a bit proud and mostly relieved have recently completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning).

Favourite book: The Stand

Favourite series: Harry Potter

Favourite character: Jack Reacher