A drought stricken billabong…or an oasis of cool? News from Australian High School Libraries

This week we have a guest post from Tracy Dawson, teacher librarian at Parkes High School in New South Wales, Australia.

I first visited Tracy’s library last year while working with the literacy scheme Paint the Town REaD. I was impressed by the vibrant, witty and hip vibe of this rural high school library – a real oasis of unconventional thought and inspiration for local teens.

Tracy did heroic work in 2011: she encouraged a group of teen writers to participate in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. In that program, young people commit to writing a long piece of fiction in the month of November. Parkes lacks a tradition of writing and writer’s groups, so Tracy’s success in shepherding four of her students through to completing the challenge is exceptional – especially as November is exam season for Aussie teens! See media coverage of Tracy’s young NaNoWriMo participants here.

Now over to Tracy:

Parkes High School LibraryI’ve taught English here at the same Australian state high school for seventeen years and was so passionate about my subject; I never imagined I would change focus.

But a period of time in which I became disillusioned with the education system and society’s attitude to education in general made me rethink my career, and retrain as a Teacher Librarian. I’ve ended up in the same school – the same school I attended as a teenager! – which some people would say is like being stuck in a drought stricken billabong. But a move up the stairs and out of the classroom has invigorated me, my relationship with colleagues and students, my love of literature and my belief that teachers make a difference.

Sometime it is very disheartening to have a small budget when I know that the provision of information, and the skills with which to find, analyse and use it effectively, is essential for our young people to succeed in the world outside this small country town; when I believe with all my heart that those who read lead a vastly enriched life, and that opportunities to be creative and expressive can greatly enhance a student’s experience and educational outcomes at school.

But when I think about it, having a small budget can force you to think outside the square. In two years we have achieved a lot, especially in encouraging students and teachers to use the Library. Many of the changes have been about design: using paint and colour, posters, paintings and displays to engage and stimulate students.

Have You Seen This Wizard? Sirius Black at Parkes High School Library

In 2010 and 2011 we painted the main section of our Library three different colours to designate the different uses of each section. The ‘Blue Zone’ is the technology area, with PCs and a Smartboard and upside-down blinds to control the light. The ‘Yellow Zone’ is a bright sunny area for reading. Here our fiction collection, magazines and newspapers, and main displays of new books and latest events are housed. The ‘Green Zone’ is designated for senior study classes, and holds the non-fiction collection.

Over Christmas 2011 we painted the entry foyer bright orange, the side corridor purple and a small hall into the Audio-Visual Room pink. These colours were chosen by students in a poll, and have added “Wow!” to the entrance.

Foyer at Parkes High School LibraryWe are now working on a project to have the walls of the stairwell painted in street art style, by students who have been workshopped by professional street artists.

Meanwhile, my beautiful assistant Julie’s daughter has painted canvases to hang, and I have created painting/collages with inspiring images to challenge how students think, as well as those that encourage them to read, of course. Many props I find in op shops or discount stores, like the plastic fruit I have hung to indicate the location of food and cooking books. We had senior students paint fabric as a stress-release activity and used it to cover our lounge. The ugly circulation desk frontage is hidden by patterned paper from a surf shop, brand names covered up.

Our coffee table has legs made of books stuck together with steel rods and glue with a ‘tray’, made by woodwork students and covered in glass, on top. I change the display in the tray each term.

Edward and Bella from TwilightThis year I am going to experiment with QR codes, starting with information about famous couples for Valentine’s Day. Our famous couples display has started with Edward and Bella…in gorgeous mini frames from St Vincent de Paul.

Not only do I believe in the power of reading to change lives, I believe in the nourishing effect of art and humour. If we can make people laugh, surround them and each other with art and colour, and get them reading, maybe we can change the world…

Tracy Dawson

More from Tracy at her library’s blog, Nailing Jelly to a Tree:


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