Elizabeth makes an excellent point, and one that I know will resonate with most, if not all, colleagues in school libraries. I am certainly aware, for example, of schools where the library staff are not welcome in the (‘teaching’) staff common room, which makes ‘chance’ conversations very difficult. School librarians are also often lone workers, or part of very small teams, and lunchtime and break-time are often the busiest times in the library, making it difficult to get out to see classroom colleagues during their natural breaks (and yes, I know that many teachers also work with students during ‘breaks’ – but not usually every break as lone library staff often do). While currently part of a larger team, I have also been part of a very small part-time team and do understand the pressures.
Having said all that, even as a library assistant rather than a head of service, I would echo Elizabeth’s comments about ‘just turning up’. Colleagues aren’t going to seek us out if they don’t know we are there and are unaware of what we can offer. It is so easy to stay in the library and become invisible! Some of my most fruitful conversations with colleagues have been a consequence of attending and contributing to our regular TeachMeets – which then allowed me to volunteer to lead one on FOSIL, which led to several very successful collaborations. If we had been patiently waiting for an invitation to attend, then the library would still have no representation at the TeachMeets. The assumption is that those who are interested will turn up, and those who have something interesting to say will offer to lead. The other place I find very productive in terms of being able to start and join conversations that raise awareness of what we do and give opportunities to offer support, is the lunch hall. Teachers tend to ‘talk shop’ over lunch and by choosing to sit with teaching staff rather than support staff I am able to be involved in these conversations. To be clear, these groups tend to self-segregate, partly as a consequence of when the two groups are free to eat, and partly because the teaching staff are generally expected to be in the larger, noisier lunch hall with the students, whereas support staff can choose to go into a smaller, quieter room if they wish. There is no rule saying who should sit where! All credit to my classroom colleagues that my right to be at the TeachMeets or at the teaching staff lunch table has never been questioned, and I always feel very welcome, because I know this is not the case everywhere.
Not all of us find it easy to push our way in and I know some of us are nervous of ‘intruding’ and aren’t sure whether our opinions and ideas carry as much weight as those of our classroom colleagues. As someone who has been on both sides of that classroom-library fence I can say with confidence that we are information professionals and have just as much to offer educationally as our classroom colleagues. It isn’t fair on them to expect them to work out for themselves what we have to offer – we need to get out there, build relationships with them and explain in practical detail!
If it is possible to go to teaching staff social events, then do. If you can get yourself on the teaching staff email list, it opens up a whole world of opportunities because you have access to so much more information about what is happening. Go to staff meetings and staff INSET if you can (if possible, even if they sometimes fall outside your normal working hours – teachers do). The more we view ourselves as teaching staff and include ourselves in their activities, the more they will ‘see’ us and include us as a matter of course. Many of us do these things already, some of us have been told we are not welcome and are fighting an uphill battle for recognition – and some of us are patiently waiting for invitations that will never come.
My guess is that teachers reading and contributing to this forum are already convinced of the value of the library and collaboration with library staff, but to echo Elizabeth again, we’d love to hear how that happened.