The Role of the School Library

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Yesterday the All Party’s Parliamentary Group for Libraries published a report titled ‘The Beating Heart of the School’ which calls for a good library in every school. With 1 in 6 adults in the UK struggling with literacy skills, the APPG for Libraries chairman Lord Graham Cope CBE believes that ‘that school libraries and librarians contribute an enormous amount to educational attainment’ but he argues that ‘the case must be strengthened.’

The reports goes on to list the following four recommendations:

·         That annual data collected by the Department of Education include the school library and its staff.
·         That an examination is held into the role school libraries and librarians play in supporting student’s academic and personal development.
·         That Ofsted inspections and reports includes an inspection of school libraries.
·         That the Department of Education has a dedicated member of staff acting as lead for libraries, who will support both teachers and librarians.

I think the most striking aspect about this report for me is the fact that libraries in schools are not a statutory requirement. Whilst I may have thought this for Primary Schools as they tend to be smaller, I was surprised that it was not a requirement for Secondary Schools, especially as some also incorporate Sixth Forms, with students studying for their A Levels. It was also surprising to learn that only 17% of the libraries surveyed have enough computers/laptops for an average class. With so much focus being put on ICT skills I thought that this statistic would be a lot higher. The sad reality of budget freezes and cuts is also highlighted in the report, hinting at the possibility that school libraries are undervalued within schools.

All of that paints a rather depressing picture for people like me who are passionate advocates for school libraries. All is not lost though. What the report does do is promote a feeling of encouragement. It now appears that politicians are once again waking up to the fact that if the UK’s literacy levels are to improve then school libraries need to be pushed to the forefront and valued as much as the curriculum.

Lord Cope makes an excellent point when he says:

'A whole range of people have the chance to improve school library provision across the UK. Head teachers, the Department for Education, Ofsted, school librarians, parents, teachers, school governors and politicians – we all have a part to play to make sure that the next generation is a smart generation.’

It is not just up to the librarians or the schools to improve the focus on school libraries, it is up to everyone. We must ensure that students receive the best possible service from libraries that are properly stocked and ran by staff that are dedicated to improving literacy skills and promoting the advantages of reading.
I am not a library professional but I do plan on undertaking the CILIP certification and chartership process once I am in a full time library job. The ambition is to become a school librarian because I am a passionate advocate for the role that a school library can play in not only a student’s academic development but also personal development. I strongly believe that a school library and its staff can have a hugely positive impact on a student’s life.

During my time at Secondary School I had strong relationship with my school library and the librarian. The librarian who ran the library was a positive, enthusiastic person who was always willing to have a conversation and was always full of recommendations. Whilst with hindsight I realise that my school did not utilise the library like it could have, I do think that the effort the library staff put in made all the difference. One thing the library could definitely have done better was to try and engage reluctant readers. I have always been a voracious reader, so it was natural that I would gravitate towards the library. Whilst the librarian could have tried her hardest to reach those reluctant readers, I think the support from other departments in the school was missing.

Reading the APPG’s report today reinforced my desire to become a school librarian. Knowing that there are steps being taken to ensure school libraries receive the support they need is encouraging for someone who wants to turn their passion for reading and education into a career. I strongly believe that a successful school library comes from a strong relationship with the rest of the schools staff and most importantly its students. A healthy dialogue between the library and the rest of the school means that everyone would be able to work together and ensure the library reaches its full potential. One area I think should be emphasised is the relationship between the library and the students. Asking students what they think of their library and brainstorming ideas with them would create a feeling of inclusion and make the students feel as though their opinions are valued. This may be one answer to the reluctant reader problem. I know from experience that students in Secondary Schools do not want to be dictated. They want to feel included, be treated like the aspiring adults they are. I also believe that other avenues need to be explored when it comes to reading materials. Reluctant readers may feel intimidated by novels, which is where resources such as comics, magazines, newspapers and Graphic Novels come in. If a student is able to feel as though they have an input in their own education and also find interesting and diverse resources available to them, then they may start using the library more often. Underpinning all of this, of course, is the library staff. Without trained and enthusiastic staff a library could be full of the best resources and offer the best activities but it would still fall flat. It takes dedication and passion to create a space that contributes towards a school and improves its student’s skills.

For me the role of the library goes beyond being an extension of the classroom. A school library is a place where students should be able to go and feel comfortable. They should be able to develop not only academically but also personally, exploring their own personal interests and carving out their own reading personalities. Students should be able to have conversations with the library staff who have extensive knowledge of not only the curriculum but also children’s and teen fiction. The library should have a programme of activities outside of library based lessons that are inclusive of reluctant readers.

A school library should be the beating heart of the school and most importantly be a place where every single student has the chance to shine.