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Sharing Ideas and Inspiration: A visit from a School Librarian from Stockholm, Sweden.

I was very fortunate to recently have a visit from Gulla Hermannsdottir, a school librarian from the International English School in Stockholm, at the end of February. Gulla is very proactive in her CPD and has made many visits to other school libraries in Sweden; but she felt it was time to visit a school library in another country in order to get to know mo about the work and methods of a different school library culture. Therefore, Gulla applied and received a travelling grant from the Swedish Library Association (Svensk biblioteksforening) to visit a school library in the UK. I was over the moon that she chose to come to Saint Wilfrid's Academy. She learned abou our school through the SLA's School Librarian of the Year awards, and wanted to come and see some of the wonderful things that we do here in the school library to promote reading for pleasure and literacy.

After numerous email exchanges prior to her visit, Gulla had an agenda of what she wanted to get out of her visit to help promote reading for pleasure within her own school library. These are listed below, and I was pleased to be able to assist her with her research.

The library as a place

* How the library is used (class visits, drop-in during breaks, etc)

* Rules/opening hours

* Library layout/shelving system/displays

* Late/lost books and reminders * Website/social media

* Budget/resources

* Selecting books to buy/reading hours (as in when we read the literature we work with)

* Other roles the librarian has in school (teaching/admin for example)

The library as a function

* Collaboration with teachers/support from management

* Book talks

* Reluctant readers

* Information literacy

* Special needs students (reading disorders for example)

* Inclusiveness

* Events/clubs/activities

* Library council/library helpers

* Parent outreach

* Collaboration with local libraries

* School library culture in our respective countries


After a weekend of sightseeing in Manchester, Gulla arrived on the Monday morning. I do not know who felt more excited: her, the student librarians, or me! The student librarians were panicking slightly at first because they couldn't speak a word of Swedish but, after they were reassured, they couldn't wait to meet her. Gulla had a lovely first day having a tour of the Academy and talking to students during lunchtime to see what they liked about reading. She took in the vibrant and very busy library. We have been reading They Saw Too Much by Alan Gibbons in Year 8 and 9 book club and Gulla was having a quick read of this book during the afternoon so she could join in with the discussion; the book club students were over the moon that she could join us and be able to participate. After book club, Gulla visited the public library in Blackburn centre to see what services public libraries provide in the UK.


During her visit on Tuesday, we talked lots about how my school library operates. Showing Gulla all the wonderful things we do in the school library really helped me to reflect on the last five years, what has been achieved and, more importantly, how she could implement some of these activities in her library. Hopefully she will be able to get management on board with her new initiatives as she can demonstrate that these ideas can be effective and bring about wide-ranging and highly positive impact. Gulla also took numerous pictures of the library and displays to use in her report about her visit to Saint Wilfrid's, as well as to take back to her school. I know that I am very lucky to have a large library (seats 160 and I have 36 computers) compared to others, and that the space is adaptable and convenient. Gulla did mention that her library was smaller, but she is able to make most of the space by being innovative and creative. During the afternoon, Gulla visited the Harris library in Preston city centre to see the service they provide within the museum and art gallery.

I arranged for two other local librarians--Valerie Dewhurst from QEGS Blackburn, and Fiona Fahalin from Smithills High School, Bolton, to join Gulla and me for a meal out after work. It was obviously all school library talk but it was really beneficial for us to share ideas and for Gulla to hear how some other school librarians operate; our united goal is the same, but we all get there in a different way. It was a fabulous fun evening and we laughed a lot which is always lovely after a day at work and I know Gulla is also now in contact with both Valerie and Fiona.


Gulla is a big fan of graphic novels and it was lovely that she could join the Excelsior award club that I run on a Wednesday after school. The students were very passionate talking about the shortlist and we completed the JABBICA (Judge A Book By Its Cover) competition. As Gulla had not seen the shortlisted titles before, it was lovely to have her input and hear about which graphic novels she likes, and the students were really engaged by her discussion. Gulla also recommended some Manga and graphic novels for my library; this was met with enthusiasm by the members of the Excelsior Award club.


During Gulla's visit we were very fortunate to have author Tom Palmer visit the Academy to work with our KS3 students on the Thursday. Tom has visited numerous schools in Sweden as a lot of his books have been translated into Swedish; it was great for Gulla to be at Saint Wilfrid's during his visit and it was equally great for Tom as he had not had the pleasure of visiting IES Stockholm, but this may be on the cards for his next trip. Tom managed to persuade me to act as goalkeeper in the library trying to save the penalties from students when they got answers right in his quiz! It was very entertaining; I wasn't as bad as I thought I would be and I was over the moon to see Gulla having a really good time.

Before she left on the Thursday afternoon, Gulla had lunch with Tom Palmer, my line manager, and the student librarians who presented her with a goodie bag of books and Saint Wilfrid's souvenirs to take back to her students and her school library. It was a wonderful way to end her visit, we were all sad to see her leave as her presence in the library was just lovely.

Two Way Benefits

Having Gulla visit was really beneficial to both of us as she also had some strategies that she wanted to share with me and it is very pleasing that I can implement these into my school library. She suggested that students have badges for clubs in the LRC as she noticed the student librarians have badges for their blazers, and many students have badges for music clubs and sports clubs--why not have badges for literacy clubs which I host in the library? This is something I am already looking into for the next academic year. Gulla showed me some images and the website of a public library in Stockholm near her school that only lets children into the children's library, no adults are allowed! It looks fabulous and I wish I was young enough to visit! I really want to implement visits to our local libraries again for our students as we have many in the area and Blackburn Central Library is a 10--15 minute walk from the Academy--this is something else that I want to look into for some of our students--especially those in Additional Support as a fun activity for them.

I am so grateful to Gulla for travelling all the way from Stockholm to visit Saint Wilfrid's; I certainly learnt a lot and hope that she did too. Having someone visit your school library, love it and be so complimentary is just so rewarding and makes everything worthwhile. Advocating is so important for school libraries and being able to do this internationally is remarkable for the profession. I know I have a made a friend as well as another school library colleague in Gulla and who knows, I may get to visit her school library one day...

by Emma Suffield

* Emma Suffield is School Librarian of the Year 2018 and Librarian at Saint Wilfrid's CofE Academy, Blackburn. @emmasuffield @stwLRC
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Title Annotation:Features; Gulla Hermannsdottir
Author:Suffield, Emma
Publication:School Librarian
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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