Jeanie McDonnell ( Family Liaison Officer) from St John the Apostle Primary school shares her schools Street Library story with us

Tell us a bit about yourself, your school and the community you live in.

Our school is St. John the Apostle Catholic Primary School in Narraweena on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We belong to the Diocese of Broken Bay and our community has historically been a very Italian community which is now diversifying rapidly. We have many families in our school who have been in Australia and even in Narraweena for many generations as well as families who are new to Australia.

What made you start a Street Library at your in primary school?

At St. John’s we have a well-stocked school library, which children borrow from every week as part of their literacy learning and the local public library which is not too far away, but we really liked the idea of a library as service to our local community: There were so many positives about a Street Library, such as a place where people are free to donate and take books without the rigidity of registration and fixed dates for return. Also, we liked the idea of a street library as a way for people to give to each other, by sharing favourite books. We also liked the idea that people in our local community would feel welcome to step through the school gates and use the Street Library, it is a way of welcoming community members to our school.

What challenges and obstacles did you face getting the Street Library installed?

We didn’t really have any obstacles in getting the library set up and running. It was just a matter of going through the motions of finding someone who could help to paint it, deciding where it should go and getting a handyman to install it. Luckily, we have a parent who is a brilliant artist: Amelia Stubbs, who was very generous in taking on the painting project. Amelia has made our library into a beautiful eye-catching artwork, it includes the symbol of the Brigidine Cross to connect the design with our Brigidine values of strength and gentleness.

Did you have any help getting it going? How did people help?

It was very easy to stock the library for the opening announcement on 8th November 2018 as our school had just had a school fair and there were plenty of books left over from that. So, we filled the library, with a range of books for adults and children of different abilities and put a message in our school newsletter. The teachers also took the children to the school library to show them where it is and how to use it. Since then, it is running almost independently, with some occasional re-stocking still using books from the fair or school library to keep a good selection available.

Do you think your Street Library has encouraged literacy in your school?

We think that the Street Library encourages literacy, because we see families stopping on their way in and out of school, looking at books and borrowing or donating.  This act alone is a way to encourage literacy and conversations about literacy from an early age in families. Borrowing from the Street Library is a way for parents to be engaged in their child’s literacy and we know from research that when parents and children connect through learning then children do better at school, so it is important to offer these family opportunities for developing and encouraging literacy.

Our Kindergarten children were taken down to the street library earlier this year, to make sure they know that it exists and how to use it. We also have a satellite class from St. Lucy’s Catholic school for children with disabilities on-site at St. John’s. who are also taken to the Street Library so that they can also learn how to donate and borrow books from it? Whenever we get visitors from our local pre-schools who come to story time in our school library, we introduce the children and the pre-school teachers to our Street Library, so that they also know they are welcome to borrow from it. The same happens on Open Day when the year 6 children do the school tour, they point out the Street Library, so that people living in the area know that regardless of whether they chose to come to our school or not, they are always welcome to borrow a book at St. John’s.

We would encourage any school to operate a Street Library because of the opportunity it offers to connect with local community as well as the obvious benefits of making books available to all families within the community and thus encouraging literacy. In our experience, it takes very little effort to install and keep running and there are lots of opportunities to get even more community engagement around the library which we are still to explore.