An Insider's Story

International School Libraries: An Insider’s Story

July 27, 2017


Let’s daydream for moment, shall we?

A successful international school library is the center of the school, both physically and metaphorically. It is the hub of student learning, active and buzzing with the newest technologies, inquiry-driven investigations, maker space or STEM stations, and thousands of books available on any and all topics that could occur to members of the school community. The Teacher Librarian is an active part of the teaching community, integrating information literacy skills into the curriculum and supporting the teachers and staff in using best practices. He or she is passionate about all things literary and encourages a love of reading in students, matching reluctant readers with the perfect book to awaken their inner bookworm.

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Hey – a girl can dream, can’t she?

Because sometimes the library isn’t at the center of the school, and instead it’s in the basement. (Albeit the basement of an old mansion house.) And sometimes it’s a ‘Learning Commons’ or a “Media Center’ or it’s called-something-else-other-than-a-library. As is the case with most international schools, all international school libraries are not created equal.

I’ve been working as an International School Teacher Librarian for nine years now, and the more colleagues I meet and Facebook groups I join and listservs I read, that idea is drilled home. All libraries are not created equal. Some librarians have multiple assistants, healthy budgets, abundant resources and administrative support. A lot of librarians don’t have any or all of those things. Some libraries are full of amazing resources for their school community, and some are full of dusty old books that are older than I am.

Every library seems to have its issues. Here are a few examples from my own international career:

  • I was offered a job in one library that was hoping I could help it to automate from the old card catalogue to a computer system… in the 21st century!
  • In Barcelona there was one library – and only one librarian – for an entire EC-thru-grade-12 school. (They’ve since hired more people and built a gorgeous new library!)
  • In London there were three libraries and three librarians, but no assistants (which meant it was hard to ever leave the library, and therefore to do much collaboration), small budgets and no windows in my library.
  • In Dar es Salaam I have assistants (which brings along a whole other set of issues), a decent budget, and an elementary counterpart – but it is very difficult to get books into the country through customs and a corrupt governing system.

BUT.

But – each of these libraries has given me opportunities that I didn’t have as a librarian in the USA. I have always had the autonomy and support to make the library a central part of the school and of student learning. I’ve been able to collaborate with amazing teachers, had opportunities to win over reluctant teachers, and been involved with planning exciting interdisciplinary units. The Teacher Librarian role has been a leadership role, seated at the table with other leaders making decisions about what’s best for our students. And I’ve been supported to take leadership roles in the librarian community – to attend great PD, present at international conferences, join professional organizations, and to serve on the ECIS Librarian Special Interest Committee.

When schools in the US are getting rid of librarians, closing libraries, moving away from the written word – these have been blessings that make the rest of the issues worth it.

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If you’re thinking about working in an International School library, do your homework. We are research specialists, after all! Find out about staffing, budgets, PD opportunities, leadership roles, curriculum, attitudes toward the library and the challenges the current librarian faces. You know which of things these are most important to you, what you can handle and what’s a deal breaker. Automating an entire collection was not how I wanted to spend my time as a Teacher Librarian, but perhaps the thought excites you. Find the right fit for what you are looking for in your international experience, where you are in your career, and what fits your strengths.

The International School Community website has great resources to help you do this! See below for specifics on how to use the comment search to find information about libraries.

My last bit of advice – find a network! Librarians are often the lone librarian in a school or part of a small team. It’s important to find the connections and support of other librarians. Because most international schools are in big cities, there are often other international school librarians nearby to connect with. There are also regional associations – your school should be able to point you towards the ones they participate in.

There are always other librarians who have dealt with the same issues, solved the same problems, created the same resources, etc. And I’ve found the librarian community to be great at sharing, commiserating with and supporting one another. Some personal favorites are the Int’l School Library Connection Facebook group and the ECIS iSkoodle listserv. AND – most excitingly – the ECIS Triennial Librarian Conference is in February 2018 in Chennai, India. International school librarians from all over the world will come together to learn from each other, get inspired by each other, and learn how we can continue to be Leaders in our school communities. Please join us!

This article was submitted to us by an International School Community member.

Using our unique Comment Search feature on our website (premium membership access needed), we found 61 comments that have the keyword “library” in them, and 20 comments that had the word “libraries” in them.

Here are some comments that shown a positive light on the library and their international schools:

“The library department recently got a lot of money to do some renovations which were done this past summer. It is almost complete and looks very nice.” International School of Tanganyika

“The SIS library supports the school curriculum, promotes the appreciation of literature, and guides all its patrons in information problem-solving with over 28,000 print and electronic resources.” – Surabaya Intercultural School

“The library also is great because we have 25,000 books for such a small sized school, in English and Italian.” – The Bilingual School of Monza

“The library has a new video viewing room that is useful for a small class of IB Film Making, or webinars, or our face to faith programme.” – Sekolah Victory Plus

and here are a few comments that stated their school library was in need of updating or some tender-loving care:

“The school’s library was very small and I was given no materials to use to teach language arts and social studies. Picture books were essential for my young learners and if you can, bring them from the states.” – Antigua International School Guatemala

“There are text books for main subjects but the media library resources are next to nil and specialists have zero to bare basics.” – Jeddah Knowledge International School

“No library for middle of high school!” – Canadian International School (Tokyo)

“There are more computers in the library but some are so old they still run Windows XP!” – EtonHouse International Schools, Wuxi

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