Peter Horacek, Head of Secondary School Library Wheelers Hill Campus, chats about writing novels, his background in art, swimming in open water and the crucial role libraries play as community hubs.

Every Saturday morning – winter, spring, summer or autumn – Wheelers Hill’s Head of Secondary School Library, Peter Horacek, can be found at either Port Melbourne or Williamstown beaches.

“Swimming is my big passion. I absolutely love open water swimming.”

Peter has a wetsuit, booties and gloves to keep him warm in the winter months, and even then it’s cold, but he claims the feeling afterwards is “fantastic”. He’s met some amazing open water swimmers along the way and cites a swim tour in Greece as one of the best experiences of his life.

“I’d encourage everyone to do it. It’s so humbling. You’re just a little spot out in the ocean. The world would be a happier place if everyone did open water swimming.”

Having been at Caulfield Grammar School for 22 years, Peter’s held several positions. He started as Coordinator of Personal Development, providing information sessions on puberty and adolescence, conflict resolution, stress management, communication skills and positive thinking.

Then he was Head of Lumsden House, supporting student wellbeing and academic progress. When an opportunity came up in the Art department, he took it, having a background in art and a Bachelor of Education in Visual Arts.

“That led to becoming Head of Art for Years 7 to 9.” A role Peter held for 12 years.

Then, the chance to work as a Teacher Librarian came up and he applied. In that role, he added a Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) to the Master of Education (Student Welfare) he obtained while Head of House.

“I’m grateful to Caulfield Grammar for the opportunities I’ve had,” says Peter. “They haven’t pigeonholed me but allowed me to grow and pursue different interests as I’ve matured and evolved over these 22 years.”

The award-winning library offers some great resources that students can access, including database subscriptions. Peter says it’s a challenge to make students aware and get them to use the library to full advantage. Encouraging Senior students to read more is also a challenge once they start VCE and workloads increase. Reading for ‘pleasure and leisure’ becomes less of a priority.

“I’m a big believer in reading for mental health and wellbeing,” says Peter. “Books give you time out from your day and transport you to all sorts of exciting places.”

Libraries have evolved over the years and are no longer stereotypically quiet places where students focus in silence. They’re community hubs and they bring people together. Wheelers Hill Campus library, in particular, is bright, open and conducive to community mingling. Peter is fortunate to work with a creative team with great ideas. These ideas, along with his art background, gives them the opportunity to make the space visually exciting and enticing to students, so they come in for the love of learning something new or doing something different.

“We make sure displays are engaging for students and we also set up creative workshops or craft tables,” he says. “Students can wander in, sit down and draw or contribute to the creativity. It’s learning without assessment – a happy space to be.”

Apart from swimming, Peter also writes in his spare time and hopes to one day be a published author. He’s currently partway through a contemporary novel for adults and he’s written a six-part sitcom which is “sitting in a drawer in need of a redraft”. He also has some ideas for young adult fiction.

“I just get great pleasure from putting words down on a page and making up stories,” he says.

For the future, Peter is excited for the proposed Secondary Life changes in 2023 in terms of timetable and the introduction of the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program.

“Having started my career in personal development, I’m keen to be part of, and support, that.”