Announcement - winners 2020, and future award decisions

In 2020, the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Ceremony, planned for March 29th, had to be cancelled at short notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We, the Judging Panel, hoped this would only be a postponement and that we would be able to continue with our plans at some point. A year later and we were forced to accept that this was not going to happen so we decided to move the event online. As the situation has not significantly changed we are also forced to accept that we will have to suspend any decision about the next award until we have a clearer picture of how the situation is affecting the capabilities of UK schools and their libraries.

The situation within schools is still impacted by current circumstances. Students are in bubbles and many school libraries are not fully operational so our idea, that the peers and friends of the nominees could gather together and watch an online event, was logistically difficult. The Award Ceremony is also a joyous occasion, a celebration of all the finalists and their contributions to their school libraries, shared with family and friends, and the Judging Panel realised that we would not be able to replicate this virtually.

It is with reluctance that we are forced to announce the winners of the 2020 Pupil Library Assistant Award in this space. We would dearly love to be able to celebrate the extraordinary contribution these young people have made not just to their libraries, but to the greater fabric of their schools.

We had seven fantastic finalists for the 2020 Award and all had extremely strong nominations written by their school librarians with supporting statements from their Headteachers. As usual it was an extremely hard decision selecting a winner and two nominees stood out as outstanding. Unable to choose between them, the Judging Panel decided that this year we would have joint winners. 


Drum roll please.... the winners of the 2020 Pupil Library Assistant of the Year are...

Aaron Prior of Abbeyfield School in Chippenham, Wiltshire

Sam Steel-Jessop of UTCN, Norwich, Norfolk


Thanks to our sponsors – the Worshipful Company of Arbitrators – the winners’ school library receive a cheque for £250 to put into place their nominees’ ideas for their library.


Aaron’s was to create a makerspace to attract other students within the school community, focusing on creative writing, programming and crafts and he felt this fitted in well with the library values of “Read, Learn, Discover.”


Sam’s idea was to introduce a range of audiobooks including both fiction books and revision guides, to offer greater flexibility for where and how students “read”.


All finalists also receive certificates and commemorative glass books, thanks to Authors Aloud UK, and all school libraries will receive a gift card from the School Library Association. Many thanks also to our other sponsors: Reading Cloud; CILIP School Libraries Group; and Pearson - as well as the authors and publishers who generously support the award every year.


PLAA 2020 Finalists Citations


Sam Steel-Jessop, UTCN, Norwich (Joint Winner)
Nominated by Beth Settle

Sam has glowing recommendations from both his Headteacher and librarian, with his Head noting that Sam “understood the transformational power of books” so is always encouraging other students to read. His librarian, Beth Settle, said she felt lucky to have him as part of the team and that he made each day a little brighter. Sam’s nomination illustrates what a huge role he plays in the library, his dedication and professionalism, and his remarkable organisational abilities. Despite personal challenges, Sam is fully committed to his voluntary position with an “enthusiasm for reading that was palpable” and, as such, is a wonderful advocate and ambassador for the library.

Mariel Bastello-Kennedy, Glenthorne High School, Sutton
Nominated by Lucas Maxwell

On reading Mariel’s nomination, it is clear how much impact she has had on the school library. As lead pupil librarian, she mentors the rest of the team. She is co-creator of the school’s successful podcast “Booklings Chat” whereby students interview visiting authors, is leader of the library debate team, was on the library Mock trial Team and created a very popular staff room pop-up library scheme. Her Headteacher acknowledges that the “library would not be the success it is without Mariel’s contributions” and her librarian, Lucas Maxwell, says that she “represents what all pupil librarians should aspire to” and says that he “feels very fortunate to have her as an assistant.” 

Rachel Bosworth, The King’s School, Chester
Nominated by Ros Harding

The impact of the library on Rachel’s personal development is clear; according to her librarian, Ros Harding, Rachel has undergone a transformation and the library has been a major part of this. Naturally quiet, Rachel’s passion for books and reading draws her out to talk confidently to others and make recommendations, and she is as happy undertaking admin tasks as she is managing a whole-school project. She has a natural leadership style and understands the role of the library within the school; as her Headteacher says “Rachel has developed from seeing the library as a sanctuary to making the library a sanctuary for others.”


Beth Carson, Hornsey School for Girls, London
Nominated by Mary Murray

Beth’s Headteacher states that her “determination, resilience and professionalism far outweigh her years and her many projects, designed to open up the library space, are excellent events promoting inclusivity for all.” Beth produces and runs library competitions, has been involved in redesigning the library space, is a key decision maker with regards to book purchases and creates popular displays. Her school librarian, Mary Murray says that she has a clear vision for the future of libraries and their role, seeing the space as one where technology merges with the traditional role of books and information, and she sets the standard for other library helpers.


Aaron Prior, Abbeyfield School, Chippenham (Joint Winner )

Nominated by Gareth Evans

Aaron has been a pupil library assistant since Year 7, and is now training and leading the team by developing great relationships and being an excellent role model. His librarian, Gareth Evans, said he is always coming up with great ideas to improve the library and what it offers, assisting younger students with any IT issues, and constantly writing fantastic book reviews. Aaron’s nomination recognizes his customer service skills, his friendly and welcoming demeanour, and the fact that he contributes to the school community every day. His Headteacher remarked that “Aaron’s love of reading was undeniable and his voracity for devouring books was remarkable.”


Oyin Owolabi, Oulder Hill Community School, Rochdale
Nominated by Karen McCarry

According to her librarian, Karen McCarry, the tasks Oyin undertakes are endless; she sees a job needs doing and just does it, giving “100% of her effort 100% of the time.” Oyin is respected by her peers, being polite and patient with all students, matching book recommendations to students’ interests, encouraging reluctant readers and helping to break down barriers to reading. As head pupil librarian, she runs a skills audit to ensure appropriate training is delivered where needed and encourages team building through activities. Always with a happy demeanour, Oyin is a pleasure to have around and has a calming effect on students in the library.


Holly Rankin, The James Young High School, Livingston
Nominated by Kateri Wilson-Whalley

Holly has gone from being a near silent and struggling student to a confident, highly capable young person and the library has been instrumental in this personal journey. Now working front and centre in a busy library, she is quick to learn, takes the initiative when she sees jobs need doing and works independently. Her librarian, Kateri Wilson-Whalley, says that Holly is such a prominent figure, quick to promote the library in class and around the school,  that other students refer to her as “the library girl.” Key in popular events such as Space Con, Fantasy Con, Comic Con and numerous book groups, Holly also offers support and training to a team of 60 pupil librarians.