Yvette Gunther – Head Librarian & Archivist, Nottingham High School

YG Portrait 23 Librarians

How did you first get into the information and library profession? I stood in during a friend’s career break in a small village library in the west of Ireland when my children were young. The Library was only open for perhaps 7 hours per week and doubled as a bank one morning a week but had a regular user group aged from 0 to 85 years of age.  Stock was surprisingly diverse and contemporary.  It provided a lifeline for many, including me!  It was a cost free afternoon destination on seemingly endless damp days.  Always something new to read and great for the village kids with homework tasks pre-internet.  I will be eternally grateful for that sheer good luck.

What qualifications did you take? I have a BA(Hons) and an MA in Photography. I took the Diploma ILS at Aberystwyth by distance learning but ran out of money before the Masters element. Then I chartered.

What is your current job title? Head Librarian/Archivist of an Independent School in the Midlands.

What does your job involve? Jack of all trades. My over-riding responsibility is for Reader Development and Information and Library Skills within the Senior School.  To that end I choose, purchase, manage and promote books and e-resources.  I am customer facing every minute of every day, even during my lunchtime.  I teach information skills from Y3 to Y13 and I will stand in front of any class, assembly, staff briefing or a group of parents, in order to raise the profile of the library.

I have a part-time assistant in the morning which allows me to engage in work that requires focus or work that takes place elsewhere, but for most of the day there is a steady stream of issuing and returning, photocopying, supervising children, recommending, networking with teachers and supporting classes. I also organise reading events like Mulled Wine in the Library at Christmas (staff)  and author visits to the school. I am a Head of Department so I manage a budget and collate statistics on resource use.

I write a blog to link to our subscription e-resources from outside school and promote reading. I try to post at least once a month and endeavor to aim my posts at pupils and staff although it is visited from all over. E-resources are dynamic and vulnerable to technology changes so regularly checking they are still available, and teaching pupils and staff how to access them has become a large part of my role in the last five years.

Unusually, my Librarian role is combined with the responsibility for the school Archives, the majority of which are stored in the library office. As an untrained Archivist my work in the archive, (apart from responding to regular requests for information) is undertaken during the school holiday periods.  This takes the form of everything from receiving, cataloging and storage to dissemination and promotion.   I can’t estimate how many items we have on site but the documents I mainly work from are handwritten Registers from 1807 and School Magazines from 1869.

I spent several years cataloging 800 photographs dating from 1869 which for an ex-photographer was a labour of love besides providing a great marketing tool for the School.  The photographs were immeasurably useful for exhibitions and displays during the school’s 500th Anniversary and since.  I am currently working with an Archive Management system to eventually create third party online access to the whole collection and I have also created an online WW1 Roll of Honour using open source software which enables me to share information with interested researchers.

Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? My colleague opens the Library at 8am and pupils start to arrive immediately. I start at about 8.15, get a coffee and cull my emails in-between talking to pupils as they return books, borrow laptops or answer Reading Challenge Questions. The diary holds the time-tabled classes which determine the structure of the day. I then set about responding to the emails.  Today these included the final booking of an Author visit for World Book Day in March 2016.  We were lucky to find someone that we particularly want this late and it has taken a few days to coordinate management agreement, timetable and availability.

I am in email correspondence with a researcher from a WW2 RAF memorial website who requires names and dates from our registers of those killed in return for service information.  A gentleman wants to deliver his father’s 1920s school blazer so I email our Alumni relations officer to warn her of the arrival time and arrange parking.  I forward on an RSS feed on Anti-Bullying Week to a senior manager and send a final list of overdue textbook to the Head of Maths.

Textbook management is not one of our responsibilities but we agreed to trial one group of A’level  textbooks to estimate losses and see whether costs would be recovered.  The exercise has certainly been costly in Librarian hours.

One of my volunteer Archivists from the Old Boy’s community arrives at 10 to carry on digitizing a register in the Library office and I get a second coffee.

A Y7 English class arrives and I use a Reading Game to introduce them to the Reading Challenge. At 11.20 it is break-time and we tidy up, issue, return and talk books.   We also issue Laptops for use within the library and they require significant support.  Our IT trouble-shooting skills are in constant demand.  NumLk is a favourite.  At 12 I use my 30 minutes lunch in the dining hall to speak with other support staff and teachers, some of whom I rarely see otherwise.  This is essential networking because it is hard to get 10 minutes one to one time with teachers who are tightly time-tabled all day.

At the moment promoting our e-books is a priority before the holidays.  My library-assistant has her lunch and then we are both back at our desk for the pupils’ lunchtime.  The Library is divided into Upper School and Lower School, both of which require supervision to remain quiet conducive working spaces.  In the afternoons I‘m on my own, so I order and dispose, review stock and new publishing, create displays and plan (in-between classes).

What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? School Libraries require empathetic customer service, good verbal communication, energy and a sense of humour.   It is extremely easy to make a child feel uncomfortable.   I had to lose a tendency to sarcasm early on.   You also need to find the right resource quickly before your client loses interest.  You need good IT skills and the commitment to learn more as you go along.  Adaptability, multi-tasking, tolerance and patience.  You need some teaching ability and good classroom control skills, although I learnt these by watching good teachers.

A school librarian needs to be a sociable person with good social skills and to be a self- starter as, often a sole-worker, you must adapt  your work-tasks to your varied hourly work-load.  Some people think that if there isn’t a child in the library, you must be free also.  Lastly but importantly you must read widely, especially Children’s and YA literature, because recommendations go a long way and fashions change, plus it helps you understand some of the issues of your user group better.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? Broaden your education, always expect to be taking on and adapting new information. (I think my Arts degrees laid the groundwork for this career).

Develop good ICT skills and the ability to use but not get lost in Social Media.    Be approachable and pro-active and read what you are trying to promote. Embrace CPD to stay fresh and engaged.




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