CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
Navigation Close

SLG Scotland Building Relationships: Working with hard to reach departments

Category: #LibrariesAreEssential, Blog, Branches and Groups, SLG Scotland

School Libraries Group Scotland believe that your whole school can (and should) be school library advocates, but we understand how challenging it can be to engage certain hard to reach departments with all the amazing services, activities and opportunities that our school libraries have to offer. Read and discover here how we came together on 5 December 2023 to discuss tips and techniques for maximising engagement and working with hard to reach departments. Professionals across the school library sector shared their news and views in a supportive space, helping to shape SLG Scotland’s programme of CPD for 2024!

The Maths department has traditionally been seen as the hardest to reach department, but not now.  Two members of the SLGS committee shared their practice:

Tanya Odie, Shetland Libraries, has all of S1 and S2 Maths pupils visit the library:

  • S1 – Focuses on the Dewey Decimal system and pupils have a worksheet where they put decimals in the correct order and also tell us what subject certain topics will come under (non-fiction is genrified by subject then by Dewey). A research task finishes with ‘The Dewey Rap’ on YouTube.
  • S2 – classes research and produce PowerPoints about a famous mathematician – 1 period doing research in the library followed by 1 period in an ICT suite producing PowerPoints.

Shona Page, Morgan Academy, Dundee works with pupils in the Maths department over three periods:

  • Session 1: linking decimal order to Dewey Decimal system with books, numbers and a fun Jenga game.
  • Session 2: Build on the finding books exercise to research skills and resilience (Maths department request) and researching a resilient person. This is a book-based research task, rather than an online one.
  • Session 3: Using the catalogue and Maths skills, this session focuses on a code breaker challenge and pupils have the opportunity to have a go at cracking the safe to find treasure (sweeties/pencils etc). This activity gives everyone the same opportunity and is fantastic fun.

Attendees at SLG Scotland's Building Relationships: Working with hard to reach departments.

Other approaches and different departments:

Graham Fairweather, The High School of Glasgow, advocates the Top Down approach. Rather than chipping away at individual departments, approach SLT and ask for a whole-school focus. An ideal example for this is Empathy Day. We associate empathy with reading and this is something we want in the whole school, an environment we want and for the library to be at the heart of this. Once you have SLT’s approval, you can approach the staff in your hard-to-reach departments and share what is being planned across the school.

Another approach is: Getting People to Work for You. Try this through Reading Schools Leadership Groups, which many school librarians are part of, with Scottish Book Trust. Having a leadership role in these groups, means that we can get people working for us and with us throughout the school. Conversations during Reading Schools’ meetings can facilitate lots of new projects and initiatives and these are also a wonderful way to illustrate what the library can do for departments.

Irene Lumsden, Armadale Academy, also advises working from bottom up: NQTS/probationer teachers are usually keen to participate in whole-school events and projects, and library projects such as The Royal Society Book Awards are a great opportunity for them to be involved.

Shona Page, Morgan Academy, Dundee and Shelagh Toonen, Elgin Academy, spoke about involving student teachers in projects. There was an example of a literacy project in Elgin Academy, collaborating with a student teacher in the PE department and focused on Marcus Rashford. The resulting research project was shared with all S1 classes.

Emma Grey, Forfar Academy, worked with the Design and Technical department in her previous school: they made bookends and stands in Craft Club.

Advice and tips shared by attendees:

  • Ask staff to get involved in lunchtime and after-school clubs and in library events.
  • Writer in Residence projects are a great way to reach out to departments.
  • Referencing and research skills are the ‘go-to’ for outreach and with the SQA bringing the science projects back in this year, these are a great opportunity for making connections.
  • Go to departmental meetings and share what the library can do for staff.
  • Link library improvement plans to school improvement plans and work on Rights Respecting Schools; LGBT Charter and Diversity policies, with resources and ideas. Be receptive to and tie in with both the improvement plan and the school’s ethos.
  • Start small, don’t stress and begin to build connections with colleagues.

Kirsten MacQuarrie, CILIPS, shared the amazing Green Libraries Grant Fund and the opportunities this offers: environmental action is a key role for school librarians. We can have an impact in expanding climate literacy, which is what we want to see in our young people.  Our schools have eco/sustainability groups and we can approach these and establish partnerships with them.


We can offer every department something and we are brilliant advocates for libraries and learning in our schools. Our job is about continually building relationships and looking for new opportunities to reach all of our departments.


  • This has been really brilliant. Thank you all.
  • Amazing work
  • Thank you, has been useful. First time I have managed to attend one of these events.

For the recording of the event, please view the 30 minute film below:

Finally, Don’t miss our first event of 2024: SLG Scotland’s New Year Vent Event, online from 4-5pm on Wednesday 24th January.


Skip to content