Bradford’s books

Lesley Purcell tells us about Bradford Grammar School’s new library

Bradford Grammar School opened a brand new 21st century library this year, offering pupils a superb new resource. We caught up with Lesley Purcell, Library Manager, to hear all about it.

Tell us about the new library. What was the aim of the project?

The aim was to build a new library that reflects the ethos and values of the school: friendly, down to earth yet progressive. The old library didn’t quite have that combination of qualities that managed to embody tradition yet be modern, upcoming and at the very heart of the school.  

We needed something fresh and adaptable, like a college library, to be able to offer our pupils the best facilities, but more importantly a place to go where it’s not just about education but it’s about feeling relaxed and happy in a safe environment. It really supports the education/life balance that the school encourages for the pupils. So it really has been a complete transformation.

What makes the library unique? 

There are many things that make the new library unique. First, we have some excellent facilities. It’s a two-storey building and inside it’s made up of a Junior School library and break out area that also doubles as a junior and senior class with a large, touch-screen PC, a Senior School library including a sofa seating section with newspapers/journals, and a sixth form study area that also doubles as a class discussion and debating zone. 

It also has a specially room designed to hold the school’s impressive archive once it is all catalogued, seating capacity for 200+ students and staff and an inspiring, varied selection of fiction and non-fiction books.

It’s a very innovative space. We don’t use PCs anymore; it’s all Chromebooks, which the pupils love. 

Besides this, it’s unique in that the pupils tell us what they would like to see in terms of books/resources/activities etc. With a young, fresh audience it means we’re always bridging the gap between what the pupils want and what they need, which means the library is constantly evolving and gaining value to benefit everyone who uses it. 

It’s not just about education but it’s about feeling relaxed and happy in a safe environment 

Why is it important for the school?

It’s an essential space for pupils at any age at the school. With such a broad spectrum of age groups the pupils all go through different experiences, and a series of peaks and troughs, just like any children and young adults in life. 

Our headmaster recently wrote a blog about ‘Building Confidence’ and he covered a significant point that “many 17 year olds may feel a crisis of confidence. They are neither children nor adults” – they are discovering who they are as people.

The library offers a refuge if you like – an oasis, as we like to call it – when the pupils feel they need to get away and have some peace and quiet. This could be during more stressful times such as GCSE or A-levels or they simply visit for pleasure and to say hello to the staff. 

The staff in the library really do connect with the kids and our job, alongside all other teaching and non-teaching staff, is to nurture them to help develop that inner confidence.

How does it benefit pupils and staff?

A key benefit is that the library supports the school’s broad curriculum, clubs and societies so the pupil’s library experience mirrors and complements their educational learning.

Just before the summer holidays, Puffin author Marcus Alexander, who is the creator of the Keeper of the Realms series, Charlie Keeper and the magical world of Bellania, visited and spoke to year six, seven and eight pupils. It was fabulous to bring the stories to life and for the pupils to listen to his experiences. Now we are established in our new building we want to arrange more author and speaker visits.

Teaching staff are also arranging events to be held in the library. On 20 October Tamar Yellin (a Jewish authoress based in Yorkshire) will be delivering a series of six workshops to all of year nine regarding Jewish religious literature and relating it to Jewish festivals (in particular the Passover) and the significance of Jewish ritual. 

We also have lots more activities on the horizon now that the library is up and running, such as storytelling sessions and other extra-curricular activities run at lunchtime and after school. We also have students volunteering to help which is lovely. It’s a very exciting time. 

Tell us about your role as Library Manager. 

I’ve have been working in the library/archive field since 1995, in schools including working for the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association, The Second World War Experience Centre, and in state school and public libraries, so I have a breadth of knowledge and experience as a Librarian and Archivist. I love my job; it is a vocation. 

I can honestly say I know how lucky I am to work at the school, particularly taking into consideration that public libraries are closing and there are cutbacks. It’s a fabulous role and I make the most of it. I’m also a member of the Independent School Librarians Group so that I can stay up to date with the working practices and ideas of other librarians working in the independent school sector.

What do you like most about your job?

The thing I like most is working with the pupils. As I mentioned before, we have a great relationship with the kids and this is really important when it comes to their school environment and learning experience. 

Library staff are in a unique position because unlike other members of school staff (teaching and non-teaching) we get to work closely with pupils throughout their time at BGS.

I’ve worked here now for 11 years and so I’ve seen pupils grow from year two to year 13 at sixth form and it’s a pleasure to be a part of that, it really is. We really know them as individuals – they are our greatest asset.

In a way, they treat us as friends and I think that’s lovely because we want to create that intimate space where the pupils feel at ease to be themselves and make it their own as well as studying hard for their futures. 

What’s your favourite part of the library? 

Well this is easy. It’s the Junior Library section. When we introduce the new comfy chair and standard lamp for the storytelling sessions it will be very ‘Jackanory’. There’s also mood lighting for storytelling time which makes it extra special. 

But, to be honest, it’s all wonderful to me and quite frankly I feel honoured to be working here.


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