For our latest School Librarian of Aotearoa feature, we hear from Kowhai Intermediate’s Jude Armstrong, who shares the ins and outs of creating a welcoming environment for all types of readers, engaging staff in library activities and plenty more besides.
I’ve been the Library Manager at Kowhai Intermediate School – a decile seven school next to Eden Park in Auckland – for the past eight years. The role is part time and I work on my own. Reading has always been a passion for me and prior to starting at Kowhai Intermediate I had read a bit of children’s and YA fiction with my children when they were younger – but nowadays I read mainly children’s and YA fiction with the odd adult novel thrown in for my book group of 19 years.
Each class in the school comes to the library for a one hour block per week and in today’s busy world it’s such a treat for students to be able to come to the library to read quietly. There are two librarians in each class who do all of the issuing, returning and reshelving for their class.
I love the intermediate age group but there can be a vast range of reading abilities. It’s very easy for me to put books in the hands of the avid readers but I feel there is a real need for more books for 11 and 12 year olds with a lower reading age: books that don’t have junior looking covers and that have content appropriate for their age (i.e. not too young). I purchased a few books recently that have proven to be popular – the Hopewell High books and the Mission Alert books, both published by Bloomsbury. I would also love to see more Pasifika and Māori based material for our Māori immersion classes and our Samoan bilingual class.
I would also love to see more Pasifika and Māori based material for our Māori immersion classes and our Samoan bilingual class.
For me, the main purpose of my job is to help students develop a love of books and reading and it’s a great feeling when a somewhat reluctant reader comes back and says they really enjoyed a book I might have recommended to them. I photocopy the covers of all the books I read during the year and stick them on the wall above my office window. Most of these photocopied covers have a sticker which identifies it as a book which is in our school library. Students look at the covers and often ask about a particular book I’ve read so it’s a great way of starting to help them find their next book.
Next year I’m keen to try to read my height in books – thankfully I’m not that tall!! I also encourage students to suggest books for me to buy and they like it when I show them that I followed up and purchased the book. I do regular displays and I’m always happy to do a book sell for a class.
The Literacy Curriculum Director and I run a school wide class literacy quiz each year which is always lots of fun and the teacher of the winning class usually has a brag about it in the staffroom! Each year we also enter two teams into the Kids Lit Quiz and a few years ago one of our teams won one of the Auckland heats and we got to go to Wellington for the New Zealand final, which was super exciting for everyone, kids and staff alike. We run an annual trip for the class librarians and some of the writing extension students to the Auckland Writers Festival, which is a wonderful day out for them. There is nothing quite like listening to an author speak about their books and I love how the students are so excited about books and reading afterwards.
There is nothing quite like listening to an author speak about their books…
Through Read NZ we also have an author visit the school – this year it was Brian Falkner and the whole school was able to listen to him over four different sessions. Recently I took eight students to the Read NZ ‘Speed Date an Author’ event at the National Library, which was a fabulous morning. About seven years ago I started a summer reading programme for the Year 7 students. This is very popular with the avid readers but it has proven more difficult to attract the reluctant readers which is something I’m especially keen to achieve.
I introduced a senior fiction section to the library… targeted at students who are reading beyond their years
Soon after starting in 2011, I introduced a senior fiction section to the library. This section is targeted at students who are reading beyond their years and who can cope with slightly more mature content. I like to try to read these books before putting them out for the students.
One of my most successful library promotions was when I ran ‘Blind Date with a Book’. It was time consuming to set up as I wrapped up lots and lots of books in brown paper; on the outside I wrote the barcode and a few words about the book. Students were able to come in, choose a book and have it issued without knowing what they were getting. When the bell went that lunchtime the response was incredible: there were so many students waiting to get in take part! It’s important to try all sorts of different ways of promoting books and reading; some of the activities I’ve run have included: celebrating Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday with dress ups and a movie, running an opening lines competition, putting an alert on the system for golden tickets so when a student issued one of those books they were given a small chocolate bar.
When the bell went that lunchtime the response was incredible: there were so many students waiting to get in take part!
I do get ideas for displays and activities from the librarians’ listserv and websites but I also belong to a wonderful group of local primary and intermediate school librarians. We get together once a term to network and I get lots of inspiration and encouragement from that group.
I’m lucky at Kowhai Intermediate as quite a few of the staff are interested in reading books from our library and I love hearing them discussing books with students or giving recommendations. For the last couple of years I’ve invited staff to read a book during the April holidays, take a photo of themselves reading it somewhere interesting and then write a short review.
For the last couple of years I’ve invited staff to read a book during the April holidays, take a photo of themselves reading it somewhere interesting and then write a short review.
This year my ‘Book Bunnies’, Gemma and Charlotte, helped me choose books for the staff, wrap them and then deliver the wrapped books and Easter eggs during class time. This created extra excitement as the students wanted to know what it was all about and then watched as their teacher unwrapped their book. After the holidays I put up a display of the photos and reviews. Some of the staff get quite creative with their photos which the students love.
Earlier this year, the caretaker gave me an outdoor table and some chairs and erected a shade sail in the space outside the library, giving students another seating option. As well as having tables and chairs, this year I was able to purchase some soft seating for part of the library space and it has been really popular.
Our shelving is old and books are displayed spine out, however the Board has recently approved new shelving for the library which will be installed in February 2020. This is super exciting and I’m looking forward to being able to display more books face out. Our library has a lovely light filled mezzanine floor and some of that space is used to store resources and the rest of the space contains large work tables for teachers to use – and students are able to use the space for practices, Class Climate Committee meetings and all sorts of other gatherings.
I love my job in the library at Kowhai Intermediate and I feel privileged that I get to help young people discover the joys of reading. Creating a welcoming environment is super important, as the library represents a safe space for a lot of young people. This year I’ve started opening the library three mornings a week during break one and it has always been open every lunchtime. A variety of activities happen at these times – some students will be reading, some might be drawing, there are puzzles and games being played, and there is always a number of students playing cards.
Creating an interesting, varied and up-to-date collection is crucial, since at the end of the day, it’s about students picking up books. I never get too stressed about overdue or lost books; I encourage students to have a good look for the book but I feel it’s more important that they are comfortable taking books out rather than being scared of the consequences of a lost book.
…I feel it’s more important that they are comfortable taking books out rather than being scared of the consequences of a lost book.
Some of my favourite reads this year would be Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee, Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo, Toffee by Sarah Crossan, In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black and Dry by Neal Shusterman. One thing I’ve noticed is that this year’s Year 7 students seem to be big readers and they seem to like reading real stories – things like Sick Bay by Nova Weetman and No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund.
I definitely feel supported and valued by the Literacy Curriculum Director and school management and I feel lucky to have a job I love coming to each morning.
Jude Armstrong is a keen reader, stitcher, cook and sports watcher who loves spending time with her family and friends. Her family includes a new puppy Stanley, who occasionally comes to school with her. Stanley gets smothered in love from the students but he laps it up.