A librarian at Kingston Grammar School (KGS) has been named as a finalist in the prestigious School Librarian of the Year Award 2019.

Helen Cleaves is the librarian and learning resources manager at KGS and made the honours list with two other exceptional librarians as finalists for the award, which is run by the School Library Association (SLA).

Speaking to the Surrey Comet, Mrs Cleaves said that the massively positive response to her being named among the top three school librarians in the country had taken her by surprise.

"It's been a bit crazy really!" Mrs Cleaves said of the reaction to her achievement.

"It has been brilliant to see the response from the community, staff at the school, parents, fellow librarians and everyone being so excited and supportive," she added.

The response seems reflective of the energy with which Mrs Cleaves engages with her role at KGS, a post she has held since 2012.

Far from being content with just administering the books and resources at KGS library, Mrs Cleaves has worked to make the library a genuinely vibrant hub of learning and engagement with literature in a way that goes beyond most people's assumptions of what libraries can contribute.

"I try to make the library an interesting place, to create really memorable events for students.

"We've done things like arranging Skype chats with authors when we were learning about the Carnegie Prize, we've arranged live chats with other schools to discuss what we think about books and reading.

"We had Heather Morris, the author of the Tattooist of Auschwitz (Harper 2018) and guests from other schools came to that event too," she recalled.

Yet those high-profile events only scratch the surface as to what KGS library offers thanks to the work of Mrs Cleaves and her team.

Book trailer film-making competitions, bingo events, a literary quiz team and the hosting of debates and podcasts are just some of the other activities KGS library has helped put on recently.

When quizzed on her seemingly superhuman efforts in organizing much of this, Mrs Cleaves prefers to praise the team around her at the library and KGS as a whole.

"I'm really well supported, lots of staff get involved. I run a podcast called The Guilty Librarian and that's a big collaborative effort with people from all over the school, as were the debates we've helped host with the school's debating society.

"It's definitely not a solo effort, it's very much collaborative," Mrs Cleaves said, highlighting the work of her colleague and Assistant Librarian at KGS Rebecca Taylor in particular.

A self-professed lover of books — Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro is a personal favourite — the KGS librarian's passion for literature is clear.

At a time when the role of libraries in British society seems under threat — 127 public libraries closed in Britain last year alone — the more dynamic path Mrs Cleaves has carved out for the library at KGS seems like a model that might be suitable for export outside the confines of the school, not least if libraries remain sidelined by those with the power to reverse this trend.

"Igniting that interest in reading is really important to keep people coming back. That's my job," she said.

"Helping students navigate the overwhelming mass of information out there is also part of my role. Awards like this are a good way of showing what librarians and libraries are able to contribute."

The winner of SLA's School Librarian of the Year Award will be announced on June 27.

To read more about Mrs Cleaves and the three-person honours list that comprises this year's finalists, go to: https://www.sla.org.uk/slya.php