Jen the Accessit Librarian

Accessit Team Talk – Jen – Product Representative

Based in Manchester, the lovely Jen leads the way for our new series “Librarians of Accessit”. Whilst we are lucky to have her in our Accessit team as our product representative and market developer, we are even more fortunate to have her as part of our wonderful team of experienced librarians. Enjoy the librarian chat with her below, as she shares more about herself and her experiences as a librarian – offering some golden stories she gathered along the way.

Where in the UK are you based? What’s your favourite part about it?

I’m originally from County Durham, but now live in Manchester. I love it here; the music scene is fantastic, there are so many independent businesses to support, and the Peak District is so close for gorgeous walks and scenery. There’s such a good atmosphere, but the downside is it does rain all the time. I do miss the sea, though. I could see it from the windows of my house back in the North East.

How long were you a librarian for?

I still am a librarian! Once you’re in, you never leave. I worked in public libraries for about 8 years, having started helping out casually wherever I could, like doing late nights and weekends (the shifts nobody else wanted!). I continued throughout university and after I got my degree, I had my own branch. Then I moved to Manchester and into school libraries, and I was there another 8 years and just adored it. School libraries are a very different world.

What is the best part of being a librarian?

I can’t pick just one thing. I love seeing a student go from “I hate books” to grow in confidence and say, “Miss, I read this all night and I need the next one!”. I also love the joy a student has when they find themselves in a book and just knowing exactly how they feel when they’re bursting to talk to someone about it.

Public libraries are wonderful worlds and are absolutely essential, but people generally come in because they already know they like reading. School libraries are magical because you get to help students explore books and reading for the first time, and foster it and nurture it. And even if you’ve only done that for one student you’ve changed their entire life. Plus, you’re surrounded by books!

In your view, what are some important key features of school libraries and librarians?

School libraries are safe places for students who do and don’t fit in with regular school society, and school librarians are the safe people within them. We help students deal with issues they don’t tell other people about, either by letting them find themselves in books, by listening to them, or in lots of other ways. We have the time to get to know students and be interested in them, to encourage them and be on their side. Being a school librarian is as much a pastoral role as well as an academic one, and I don’t think many people outside the profession realise that.

What is the strangest thing a student has ever said to you? What is the strangest/funniest story from your time as a librarian?

Oh my goodness! My students used to spout nonsense to me all the time and I loved it. One girl came up to me at the end of the day after being in the library for a while and, very genuinely and earnestly, asked me, “Miss! Do I smell like gerbils?”. I declined to sniff her.

Another student, again, very genuinely, asked if she could be my library dog. When I said no, her best friend reassured me that she was “very good at it”. Still no.

I had to ask one Year 8 boy to refrain from photoshopping American politicians’ heads onto Pokémon because he was making his friends too giddy. One of my favourite memories is leaving the library one night to discover a pupil had written an “Out of Stock” sign and stuck it to the library door which I found absolutely hilarious. I still have it.

The best story I have, though, is of a Year 9 EAL student who transferred to our school, which was, admittedly, not very genteel. He was excellent at violin, and had brought it in to show to his new friends. It was after school and the library was a low-level buzz of activity; reading, PC usage, crafts – the usual. He started to play his violin and the whole room fell silent at once; it felt like we all stopped breathing. He played the most beautiful piece, and when he finished the room burst into spontaneous applause. It was completely unreal and sounds like something from a film (or a book). The best part is, one of his new friends crept up to me to ask in a whisper if I could let their whole group of boys stay a little past closing so the violin boy could play them another piece without everyone else being around as he was too shy to play in front of everyone again. Of course, I said yes!

What were the most rewarding things about being a librarian?

The students! The students make the job. They’re the reason we do it, and why we stay in the job through all the challenges. They’re wonderful, bonkers, hilarious and just break your heart. It is so rewarding when they decide that books aren’t so bad, and then discover that they love them. I’ve had students who were previously disinterested in books come running in to tell me what’s just happened and where they’re up to. It’s marvelous.

I saw one of my low literacy Year 7 girls pick up a Planet Omar book and leaf through it, finding an illustration of the mum wearing a hijab. She brought it up to me and said “Miss, she looks like me” and took it off to one of the tables to read it. She borrowed it at the end of break. How do you top something like that?

When did you first encounter Accessit?

I’d heard rumblings about it for a while, and had often seen them at the SLA Weekend Conferences. It was probably 2017 or 2018 when I decided I was fed up with the lack of support my current system was giving me and I booked a few demos. Then, I fell in love with it and couldn’t wait to get it installed.

I know there are many things you like about Accessit, but what is your #1 favourite feature?

It’s so hard to pick just one thing. I know that sounds like a contrived answer, but it’s true. I think I’ll have to go with how completely customisable the Web App is. It lets you target your students with specific stock promotion in ways that will actually engage them, because you know your students. I love that we can have different dashboards or home pages for different year groups, so my Year 11 students don’t have to see and dismiss Year 7 content. I love that they log into engaging, relevant content, and that you can have dashboard specific reading lists. I love that it’s so easy to update, too, and how having things like carousels means I don’t have to keep manually updating it to keep it fresh.

How does Accessit make a librarian’s life better?

It saves you so much time, and it actually engages students. You can bulk catalogue and with the SCIS cataloguing service I don’t have to do any further cataloguing beyond scanning them in if I don’t want to. It’s so easy, I even had students to catalogue for me. The Authority Files allow me to tidy up all my data so quickly and transparently.

The My Interests section lets the system automatically alert students and, crucially, staff when new stock arrives that matches things they’re interested in or supports their teaching and learning.

The underdues reminder emails that go out before a book is due to be returned cut down all my overdues hugely, and they’re automated. The reminder emails go out automatically too, and I don’t have to worry about them failing. I can email form tutors with a list of all overdues in their form with a click. It’s amazing!

Are you quite the reader? How often do you read and what do you like to read the most?

I love to read, although I wish I had more time to do it. I try and read every day, but life often gets in the way of that. My favourite genre is fantasy, but I’m also partial to some dystopia, cyberpunk or a bit of crime fiction. Anything engaging with good writing and I’m hooked. I’d like to read more non-fiction, but I always find myself halfway through a graphic novel or a piece of fiction before I realise it.

What are some book recommendations for primary school readers? And for secondary school readers? And even for librarians?

That’s tricky without knowing who they are and what they like!

I think for Primary I’d recommend Robot Dreams by Sarah Varon. It’s a great wordless graphic novel about a dog who orders himself a robot best friend – then misadventures occur. It’s quite poignant, but it’s great because children can tell the story themselves without needing to be able to read words. Or Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith.

For Year 7 and 8 in Secondary. I’d really recommend Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes; a very engaging and empathetic story of historical racism and police brutality and how it affects lives that provokes thought and discussion, or the brilliantly creepy Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

For Year 9 and Key Stage 4, one of my main go-tos is the Heartstopper graphic novel series by Alice Oseman; a wonderfully sweet LGBTQ+ romance between Nick and Charlie that makes your face hurt from smiling even as it tackles more serious issues. I also really like anything by Kwame Alexander, as well as I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, that has these gorgeously illustrated and embellished pages woven through it.

For librarians… Hmm. I’m working my way through Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which is fascinating and enraging and should be read by everyone. I’d also suggest anything by Terry Pratchett, regardless of if they’ve read it before, and also Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb just because it’s the start of my most favourite series in the world. If you’re looking for a graphic novel recommendation, without hesitation I’d recommend the Blacksad series by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guardino. Crime noir told by the eponymous grizzled cat detective. It sounds fluffy and cutesy but it’s gritty and beautiful.

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