At the helm of every library are the wonderful librarians who ensure that each building is a welcoming place with opportunities for learning, wonderment and joy. A happy side-effect of a librarian’s job is that they have an incredible depth of knowledge of books and of all the great things happening in their community. We wanted to hear more about what they do…
JCSP School Librarian
“I love when a student who had told me that they "hated reading" comes back after enjoying the book I recommended and asks for another one like it!”
Jenny Mangan, JCSP School Librarian
Tell us a little about the JCSP Library Project and your role within it.
As a JCSP School Librarian, I work as part of a network of librarians in the JCSP Demonstration Library Project, which was set up by the Department of Education in 2002 to address low literacy levels in some schools. Our JCSP Libraries are in 30 schools across Ireland, all in designated areas of disadvantage, each staffed by a full-time professionally qualified librarian who received intensive training in literacy and language development specifically aimed at underachieving disadvantaged teenagers.
Like all of the JCSP libraries, in our library at Larkin Community College, we have timetabled library-based classes, along with a full programme of events and activities where reading and writing skills are developed, reading habits nurtured and information skills taught. JCSP Librarians work in professional partnership with teachers and run intensive and focused programmes to tackle the literacy and numeracy difficulties experienced by many Junior Cycle students.
Compared to most other European countries, Ireland has very few school libraries, and therefore very few full-time school librarians. Apart from some private schools, the 30 JCSP Librarians are among the few, but our work is well respected internationally, and two of my colleagues have won the SLA School Librarian of the Year Award, after competing against librarians from Ireland, the UK and many International Schools. It’s like the Oscars for school librarians, so a very big deal! Another JCSP Librarian is on the shortlist this year - good luck, Éadaoin!
Tell us about the library where you work. What are you most proud of?
I absolutely LOVE my job as a JCSP Librarian. Our library is a busy, dynamic secondary school library at the heart of Larkin Community College in the centre of Dublin, just off O'Connell St. I’ve been in this position over 12 years now and I still look forward to work each day. No two days are ever the same and there’s always a new challenge.
Many of our JCSP students would typically have little or no access to books at home, very low levels of public library use and often little interest in books and reading so we focus on reading activities that encourage active student engagement such as author visits, book clubs and paired-reading to promote an interest in reading - though a lot of these activities have had to be moved online this past year.
We run timetabled library classes for all 1st- 4th years and all of our students are expected to read on a regular basis. Borrowing books, both physical and digital, is part of daily life in Larkin.
One of the things that I am most proud of is managing to run lots of very successful events such as author visits, creative writing groups, career talks, tech events and book clubs. These take place each month along with regular classes in a welcoming relaxed space, though adapting some of our events to online over the last year has been a real challenge.
What is your favourite part of the job?
There are so many parts of my job that I love. I especially love it when a student who had told me that they hated reading comes back to me after enjoying the book I’d recommended and asks for another one like it!
Taking ten minutes to sit on the sofa and read one-to-one with a student is something I have always loved about my job and I really miss this in the current climate. I have often found that reading aloud to a student tends to engage even the most reluctant teenage readers. We still do it online but it’s not quite the same unfortunately.
I love when a student pops into the library just to tell me that they had stayed up all night reading or sneaks in between classes to get the next book in a series.
Who was one of the most inspirational or interesting people you have met through your work?
I really admire students who come from difficult situations at home but still push themselves to do more. We have a lot of students from diverse backgrounds, some who arrive in Ireland with little or no English and who work so hard that they surpass their classmates whose first language is English. Some students spend a lot of their time acting as translators for parents who have no English and so need help communicating with office staff or landlords.
One of my favourite moments was when a past pupil, who really struggled with school attendance, got in touch to arrange a visit to our library. While attending Larkin, this student frequently sought refuge in the school library. I introduced him to Darren Shan's books and he got really into reading through these. He enjoyed challenging himself with Accelerated Reader quizzes and ended up with way more points than his classmates, even though he often only attended school to get more library books. This student came back to visit last year and I was so happy to hear that, seven years later, he is still reading a book a week and also has an Audible subscription. He brought with him a donation of (almost) the full collection of Darren Shan's Demonata series, which has helped many more students enjoy the series.
Another inspirational person who comes to mind is Eileen, the first JCSP librarian I ever met. Eileen was a guest speaker in our School Libraries course in UCD and showed such enthusiasm for her job. She told us about this amazing JCSP Library programme and when I heard her describe a day in her life I knew that that is what I wanted to do and I did.
Tell us an interesting fact about your library.
We’ve had many fascinating visitors over the years, from famous authors and actors to magicians and jugglers. We have hosted all sorts of reptiles, from bearded dragons to iguanas - we only ever had one snake escape though! There was also a minor incident with a baby crocodile and… let’s just say it’s not easy to get crocodile pee out of carpet.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Some of my favourite books as a child include Little Women, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables which are still popular with our students today. Another one of my favourites was Forever by Judy Blume and this is always in demand in Larkin!
What are you reading right now?
The Rosie Project and The Guest List for my bookclubs and A Series of Unfortunate Events with my daughter.
Which of your books is battered from using again and again?
Not many anymore as I mostly read on my Kindle or listen to audiobooks these days. Even my cookery books are being replaced by the BBC Good Food skill on Alexa.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I have taken several woodwork courses over the years and even bought a lathe for woodturning. Our woodwork teacher in Larkin let me join 1st Year Woodwork a few years ago and, during the summer, I built a large wooden playhouse, which is still standing, so I might even try an outdoor reading area behind the school next year.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
It has been a completely different job in some ways this past year but we are all adapting to different ways of working and innovating to engage and encourage students.
School closures meant that we all had to move online very quickly. Luckily, we already had our Digital Library on Sora up and running so students could borrow ebooks and audiobooks on their phones. A lot of our students did not have laptops or tablets so the library (and the whole school) was stripped of computers to be delivered to students for online learning. Initially the library engaged with students a lot through social media - particularly Instagram. Each JCSP Library then created a Virtual Library space so we could direct students and staff to visit our Virtual Larkin Library, which is a mini (and tidier!) version of our school library, where everything is clickable so we can easily guide students to various books, resources, and educational games.
When we returned to school in September it was difficult not being able to open the library outside of class times and being unable to read one-to-one with students in class. Reading aloud through a mask took a lot of getting used to and it’s very strange not having seen the faces of most of our 1st year students yet!
So although we definitely have increased borrowing from our digital library and increased student engagement on social media, I am really looking forward to the day when our physical library can become a place where students from more than one year group can mix again and we no longer have to place our books in quarantine.
We want to hear about the books that matter to you. Tell us about your most cherished books, what you’re reading right now, your favourite book from your childhood, and the books that make up the story of your life. Share your recommended reads and take part here