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Q&A: Running a virtual library at Queen’s Gate School

In celebration of World Book Day, we caught up with Elizabeth Scott, Head Librarian at Queen's Gate School, to discover how they kept books accessible no matter the circumstance. She shares examples of innovative competitions to keep children engaged as well as her top three book recommendations!

With so much disruption over the last year, how have you kept the library accessible for students?

At the outset of the first lockdown in March 2020, the Library Services at Queen’s Gate moved seamlessly from the real world to the virtual one. One of the primary reasons the transition from a physical to a virtual library was so simple is that both our Junior and Senior School libraries have had an online presence on our Firefly sites for many years. 

With Firefly, we have been able to create a digital library that contains a wealth of resources, including access to our subscription databases and electronic editions of newspapers and magazines, links to audiobooks, the library catalogue and our VLE Books ebook library, pages containing visual reading lists, library news and much more.  

What types of activities have you run to keep children engaged?

Use of the library resources on our Firefly sites, coupled with the School’s adoption of Zoom for live lesson delivery, has meant that we have been able to continue our regularly timetabled library sessions, including shadowing the Greenaway Award with our Year 5 and 6 classes (which we do every Summer Term), during the school closure periods. Additionally, we have been able to offer eBook and Book Quiz clubs, as well as run events such as a successful, 5-week Readathon during the second half of the Summer Term 2020, and our upcoming World Book Day activities. 

During the first lockdown, we created an ‘On the Bookshelf With…’ page on each site; a visual bookshelf of the girls’ recommendations, which became a virtual replacement for the book recommendation notice board in our physical library. This page has proven so popular that when we returned to school in the Autumn Term 2020, girls continued to post their recommendations; this has extended into the second lockdown and will likely carry-on for the foreseeable future. 

Recently, after having been taught how to create and add content to Firefly pages, the Junior School Prefect and the Senior Pupil Librarian have even started a blog, complete with polls, videos and voice recordings of themselves reading short extracts. 


Which tools have supported you with this?

As mentioned, Firefly and Zoom have been instrumental in helping us continue our library service when we have not been physically in school. Other key tools have been Browns Books for Students ebook platform - VLE Books - without which we would not have been able to offer eBook clubs. We have used a variety of online quiz generators, including Kahoot and Flippity, to create engaging, fun and, most importantly, interactive quizzes that kept girls returning to our clubs each week.

We use Padlet for ‘On the Bookshelf With…’, which has been embedded into the Firefly page. We used PowToon to create cartoon videos that were shown to launch the Library Book Blog as well as the Readathon. These videos were embedded onto Firefly pages and shared via Zoom during Assemblies. The content for these videos was created using collaborative tools in Office 365. Our Prefects and Senior Pupil Librarian were able to add their own ideas to shared documents and organise all aspects of the Readathon, despite not being able to meet very often.


We also embedded a Google form onto a Firefly page, so that girls could record their daily reading during the Readathon. This data populated a ‘Read-o-meter’, which was also embedded, so that the girls could visualise how their individual reading efforts were helping the School to achieve its overall targets.

Our Library Prefects and Pupil Librarians have used Office 365 to write scripts for Assembly presentations and other videos, as well as to plan their Library Book Blog. We also have used embedded OneDrive documents during regular library lessons for collaboration, in lieu of pen and paper, which is the standard method when we are face to face.


What have been the unexpected benefits? 

The restrictions put in place because of COVID have meant that we have had to modify how we run our physical library service as well. One of the most surprising and unexpected benefits of having to run a large portion of our service online is that it has boosted and prioritised the use of our library catalogue. 

Being able to effectively use a library catalogue is an important skill that all pupils should learn, therefore instruction in its use has always been part of our Library Induction programme. However, although we have dedicated OPAC machines in both our Junior and Senior School libraries, in the past our pupils have found it easier to just ask one of the librarians whether we had a particular resource available, instead of searching for it in the catalogue themselves. 

This year our pupils have not been able to just ‘pop into’ the library as they would usually do and so we have initiated a click-and-deliver service. Pupils (and staff) use the online catalogue to search for a specific book and place a reservation, should they wish to borrow it. We are notified of the reservation and then deliver the book to the person who requested it.

In September, we had anticipated that the COVID restrictions put in place for the School and its libraries would cause a decrease in loans, however loans in the Autumn Term were actually up 10% on the same period in previous years, which we feel was significantly aided by increased use of the library catalogue. The metadata in the catalogue record for each book provides an abstract as well as the book cover, the same things a person might look at when serendipitously browsing in the physical library. However, the catalogue homepage also offers suggested reading options such as:

  • Newly catalogued titles
  • Recommended titles (based on Interests that a user adds to their profile)
  • Because they have borrowed (suggestions in a similar genre or subject)
  • Highly Rated titles

all of which provide far more and varied titles than a person might pick off the shelf when coming to the library. 

What have been the most popular books during lockdown? 

It is difficult to say which specific books have been the most popular during lockdown, since the reading tastes of our girls are exceptionally varied. The Harry Potter books are perennial favourites, and many girls have used the lockdown periods to read and re-read the entire series; like binge-watching Netflix, only it’s binge-reading! 

At present, the favoured genre across all year groups is ‘Mystery’. We cannot stock enough copies – including ebook versions – of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries by Robin Stevens and the Scarlet & Ivy series by Sophie Cleverly. Agatha Christie continues to be a go-to author and even our youngest independent readers enjoy a good ‘whodunnit’, so the Violet Mysteries by Harriet Whitehorn and the Sherlock Holmes Children’s Collection (Sweet Cherry Publishing) are enormously popular.


Which 3 books would you recommend? 

Recommendations can be extremely personal, which is why one of the things I love most about my job is talking to people, discovering their likes and dislikes, before suggesting any books to them. I could write pages and pages of recommendations because there are so many books that I adore and believe others should read; however, as I am limited to three recommendations, I think they would be the following: 


  • Current children’s favourite: In the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido, a beautiful and unique novel, written in verse, about friendship and finding your place, which combines music and code and poetry. It is one of the six shortlisted books for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2021 (it was our school judging panel’s winner) and has just been included in the Carnegie Medal 2021 longlist. 

  • Favourite recommendation for older teens / adults: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a tale of pretentious college students, murder and the mysteries of Bacchus, sometimes referred to as a ‘why-done-it’ instead of a ‘who-done-it’. I love this book and recommend it time and time again, no matter what a person’s usual taste in books might be. I think I have read it at least four times, which says something as I do not often re-read books: there are far too many other titles on my ‘to be read’ list’!

  • All-time favourite: The Giver by Lois Lowry, a provocative dystopian story that remains with the reader for a long time. My career in education began as an English teacher in the United States and I used this book as a set text. Pupils would visit years later and tell me how much they enjoyed reading this book and that they were still thinking about it! It is suitable for Year 7 upwards. 

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