Victoria Briggs is an education writer.
Three schools that switched to a digital library system explain how it has cut admin and encouraged pupils to read more.
In a digital world, driven by technology and busy with social media, smartphones and other devices, it can be hard for schools to make the case for reading books. For young people who haven’t grown up in an analogue world, libraries can seem outdated and the printed word far less compelling than the excitement of computer games.
Whatever the size of your school or the stage of your pupils, Reading Cloud can offer a technological-based solution to encourage reading and independent learning while supporting the school community and meeting curriculum objectives.
But faced with demanding work schedules and overstretched resources, implementing a new library-management system might seem like an onerous task. So schools understand exactly what’s involved in converting their libraries to Reading Cloud, and to help them derive maximum benefit from the resource, we spoke to three schools that have already gone through the process, so that they could describe all the steps involved and lend us their advice on getting the most out of it.
Catalogue your books
Reading Cloud helps schools to simplify the administration that comes with running a library. Simply scan in a book’s ISBN barcode and the system will automatically add the title, author and synopsis information, leaving schools in a better position to track and trace books and manage their check-out and return. It also helps to inform purchasing decisions for popular books.
Jayne Mullane is headteacher at Mersey Vale Primary School, in Stockport, which signed up to Reading Cloud in July 2017.
“When we first got Reading Cloud, we spent several days cataloguing books. It took a long time, not least because it turned out we had thousands more books than we were expecting,” she says. “As well as support from Reading Cloud and a team of willing staff, we had parent volunteers come in to help us complete the cataloguing in shifts. It was worth it because now we know exactly what we have and the process enabled us to sift out a lot of low-quality books.”
Have an implementation plan
Paul Smith is a Year 5 class teacher with co-responsibility for literacy at Barry Island Primary School in South Wales. For a small school, implementing Reading Cloud two years ago meant careful consideration had to be given to how the system was rolled-out so as not to "bog staff down".
“Trainers came in from Reading Cloud to train those of us who are going to be responsible for the resource,” says Paul. “We kept management of the system restricted to three members of staff, including myself, and then held an Inset training session one evening for the other teachers. After that, we introduced it to pupils over a six-week period. Then all the staff came together again to share findings and come up with the best way forward.”
When it comes to introducing Reading Cloud, Jayne is in agreement. “It does need an implementation plan, and get as many people on board to help. We launched our system one parents’ evening, where we took them through a demonstration and gave out information.”
At Jayne’s school, the English subject lead and two librarians take overall responsibility for the system, while all staff received basic training so they too could benefit from Reading Cloud’s features and support.
“Teachers are able to use the system to search for specific topics, like volcanoes, for example. Reading Cloud has a list function which then shows them all the books in which volcanoes feature. It saves teachers a lot of time,” says Jayne.
Engage pupils from the outset
Beth Khalil is the library resources centre manager at Thorp Academy in Tyne and Wear. Having worked with Reading Cloud for several years (including an earlier iteration of the system, hosted by Eclipse), she advocates introducing it to pupils from the outset.
“We have library lessons at the school, and from the very first induction sessions, I introduce everyone to Reading Cloud. I show them where the catalogue is held and all the functions that can be accessed from the home page. The first thing I get pupils to do is to create a profile and avatar for themselves, which they love, and write a small biography. Afterwards, I task them with posting a blog – all these things help to familiarise them with the system,” she says.
Because Facebook isn’t allowed in school, pupils enjoy the social media aspects of Reading Cloud, which allows them to chat to other pupils, recommend books and see what others are reading via their timeline, says Beth.
Jayne Mullayne backs this up. “Reading Cloud is such an easy tool for children to use and really does help to engage them with reading. It’s a very sophisticated system, with author recommendations based on books that pupils have previously enjoyed, while a search function helps them to see instantly if the library has the book they want in stock. Children also love having their own book reviews published and enjoy the blog and online chat features where they can talk securely with other children from our school about their favourite books and authors.”
Support the school community
Every school is different, and both demographic composition and attainment levels vary widely.
With a high proportion of English as an additional language pupils at Mersey Vale Primary School, a total of 19 different languages are spoken across the school community. One of Jayne Mullane’s main motivations for getting Reading Cloud was to promote reading, “which also has a knock-on effect for writing,” she says.
The focus on reading not only helps all pupils to increase their vocabulary, but it also improves their confidence levels when it comes to communicating verbally," says Jayne. What’s more, because the system can be accessed from home, “it usually involves and engages parents in the process, too,” says Jayne.
For Paul, encouraging boys to read more was one of the reasons behind their decision to install the Reading Cloud in school.
“There was a significant gender gap when it came to reading. We chose this system because it provided an innovative way to engage boys, but at the same time had provision for all,” he says.
In order to "diversify reading opportunities", the school took out an extra subscription to access an additional 1,200 ebooks with the aim of "establishing reading patterns and habits" beyond the school gates.
“People lead busy lives and we bought in the extra ebooks as they’re good for when children are travelling in cars or during holidays,” he says.
Beth agrees. “With Reading Cloud, students can use the library all the time, regardless of whether they are physically present or not. We have accelerated reading at our school, where students are given a vocabulary test at the start of the year and books are recommended on that basis. As students’ vocabulary levels progress, their book levels change.
“All books are catalogued with accelerated reading information, as well as catalogue and quiz information. It enables a consistent focus on reading and makes it part of pupils' lives,” says Beth.
This article was first published by TES.com on 25 September 2018.