Non-academic skills

“Non-academic skills” are those elusive personal capabilities and qualities which seem to determine success in adult life, despite academic success/prowess or lack thereof. It has been a hot topic for quite some time now in the education sector. Academics and non-academics alike, have produced a myriad of terms to pigeonhole the various skills or personal characteristics that fall into this special category, but it’s still all a bit up in the air.

I wouldn’t dream of entering into the debate… but I will happily go out on a limb and say that the school library, as an institution, plays an important role in supporting and revealing non-academic skills in individual students.

The role of the school library in the development of the student, in a non-academic sense, is sometimes overlooked. There are lots of reasons for this, but two are worth noting:

  1. Libraries are mistaken as educational institutions, in the traditional sense.
  2. We still do not have a unified definition of “Library” which properly emphasizes the psychosocial impact libraries have.

Don’t get me wrong, definitions are out there. They exist in the literature and in the white papers and charters and codes of professional associations (and this blog!), but they aren’t on the ground. It’s all elusive and lofty and mostly not yet packaged and delivered properly to the lay person. Patrons still see us as resources and services. That’s okay, but we need to be clear about the fact that sometimes people visit the library, and sometimes people are ‘touched by the library’.

School libraries can and do change people’s lives. Our resources and services might occasionally target particular student groups, but groups are made up of individuals. By informing, supporting, nurturing, expanding and enabling students, and helping them to explore who they are and what this world might be all about, we assist them to become stronger and more certain. Or sometimes we might provide the means by which naive convictions are broken down, and a more ‘adult’ or balanced view can emerge.


…book club students have heated debates about social issues,
intense negotiations are had at the Magic the Gathering cards table,
refuge is sought from the playground,
story is required,
laughter is needed,
advice or facts are required,
…being alone for a while is a coping method,
…a club is a means of learning how to make friends,
troubleshooting is necessary to get results from a resource,
…investigation provides a path to answers,

…when all these sorts of things occur, as they do each day in front of me, it seems obvious that a major part of the school library’s role is to support and develop non-academic skills. In other words, to nurture individual students directly and (mostly) indirectly, by providing a venue and service which assists them to develop into who they need to be.