Pupils from East Dunbartonshire with the Shelf Help Book they helped to publish.

This month on the SLIF blog School Librarian Pamela McLean from St Ninian’s High School in East Dunbartonshire talks about the Shelf Help Project. The project received funding from the School Library Improvement Fund in 2017.   


When the School Library Improvement Fund (SLIF) was opened school librarians in East Dunbartonshire welcomed it as an excellent opportunity to work together. There are eight secondary schools in the area, each with a library and most with a full-time librarian. As a group we had identified a need across our schools for more information and resources on health and wellbeing issues. This is how the Shelf Help project was born.

The Shelf Help Project

Our project aim was to promote good mental health and social wellbeing by showing pupils, through shared reading and writing, that they are not alone. We hoped that the project would allow pupils a platform to express themselves, as well as open a dialogue on teen mental health that identified the school library as a key school resource for health and wellbeing.

The project had three main strands – writing about a book which pupils thought had helped through a difficult time, producing fiction reading lists which featured characters dealing with health and wellbeing issues and arranging a mental health teen expert visit.

The Book That Saved My Life was made by pupils across East Dunbartonshire High Schools and was launched during Book Week Scotland last year. Librarians were also able to successfully create both fiction and non-fiction reading lists which were printed at the back of the book.

To help pupils further, up-to-date fiction and non-fiction books on teen health and wellbeing, including mental health issues, were also purchased and promoted. Two of schools also hosted teen mental health expert Natasha Devon in September 2018. She spoke to S3 pupils from all eight schools about mental health awareness and showed them techniques for coping with stress.

Shelf Help Evaluation

The project was managed by school librarians and we ran a pupil and staff survey both before and after. This provided a baseline from which to measure the impact of Shelf Help. We also asked all pupils who attended the speaker event to fill in a separate feedback form.

The Book That Saved My Life has been a brilliant piece of evidence demonstrating the impact of the project, but also the impact that books, reading, libraries and librarians have had on our pupils. All pupils who contributed were given copies along with our Senior Management Teams and Guidance staff, and each library has copies for borrowing.

For those who attended Natasha Devon’s talk, 95% found them enjoyable. Our survey showed that pupils enjoyed the talk because it was relevant, useful and gave them strategies to use when they (or a friend) feel stressed. Some also said that the talk made them feel less alone or made them appreciate what others are going through.

Reflecting on the Project

Working together on the project has been very rewarding. One thing I would say is to make sure you look at minutes from meetings with colleagues and look to see where funding can help. Documents like How Good is Our School Library, and Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools can help identify an existing need within your school library.

It’s also a good idea to go to conferences. One of our librarians discovered Natasha Devon at a School Library Association conference, where she was the keynote speaker.

The SLIF application form is demanding but it’s also a brilliant planning tool. It also gets you talking to your Senior Management Team, making them more aware of the work you do, even if you don’t get the funding.