Meet Gillian Harris (MBE)
I’ve been Head of Tower Hamlets Schools Library Service (SLS) since 2000 and started work with Tower Hamlets in 1991. Before that I worked as a librarian in Tameside in Manchester and the London Boroughs of Bromley, Southwark and Westminster. Whilst at Southwark, I organised a job exchange for myself with a librarian in Vermont, USA – we swapped flats, cars and jobs for a year and I had a wonderful time – and I left Southwark to work as a VSO librarian in Gambia in West Africa where I developed and ran two branch libraries 200 miles apart and met my husband.
My VSO experience was the start of my involvement in and awareness and understanding of global issues. I started work with Tower Hamlets when the Borough took on education responsibilities following the demise of the Greater London Council and Inner London Education Authority.
I have served as chair and other roles for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) International Group and School Libraries Group, as well as for the Association of Senior Library and Education Professionals (Ascel), and was very honoured to be awarded an Honorary Fellowship of CILIP in 2015 and even more honoured to receive an MBE for Services to Libraries in Education in 2019.
As well as stock from the ILEA Learning Resources Branch, LBTH inherited the history, geography and social sciences specialist collections from ILEA and led by Cynthia Stirrup, who had also been a VSO librarian in Gambia, and together with Margaret Burr who had worked in South America and brought global education to her secondary school though the library, we established the Humanities Education Centre, or HEC as it became known, alongside the Schools Library Service.
Margaret led the development of HEC’s (now Global Learning London) wide-ranging and exciting projects, and my role was to run the Schools Library Service – a very different job, but I brought my commitment to global education to bear by ensuring the books and resources we lent to schools was as diverse and globally orientated as we could make it. To my mind, through HEC projects we overtly campaign on global issues, and through SLS we covertly ensure teachers have the resources to teach a global perspective as much as possible.
And that relationship remains in place today. In 2020, HEC became Global Learning London and it’s exciting that under Alia’s inspired leadership, it successfully bids for and manages a wide range of projects that focus on global sustainability and harmony, backed up by a whole library of resources that we deliver to classrooms in Tower Hamlets. I just have to add that SLS/Global Learning London is a traded service within Tower Hamlets, which means that Tower Hamlets Council do not allocate a budget to us, but instead we raise all of our funds through subscriptions paid by schools and through bids for grants from grant-making bodies.
My role now is to maintain the environment in which Global Learning London can thrive and develop. This means ensuring our schools continue to want to subscribe to the service and recognise the incredible added value Global Learning London brings to our portfolio of services.