A few years ago I was very impressed and excited to see the creation of a document called Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools a national strategy for school libraries in Scotland 2018-2023. It talked of the importance of dynamic school library services and set out 20 actions that decision-makers could implement to deliver that vision. It was endorsed by John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and Councillor Stephen McCabe, CoSLA Spokesperson on Children and Young People. This document even caught the attention of the Great School Libraries campaign which also wanted to raise awareness within higher circles of the importance of school libraries with professional school librarians and were considering using it as the foundation of something they would like to produce for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There were many involved in the creation of this document but I particularly want to highlight that there were librarians from North Lanarkshire involved too. Jennifer Macfadyen was in various working groups and Lee-Anne Connor, former NLC Librarian and Chair of SLGS (School Libraries Group, Scotland), was on the main National Strategy Committee. Many others submitted evidence, along with other school librarians from across Scotland.
What is shocking and saddening about this?
Even before the end of its term, we have seen a shocking turn of events. The sad reality of the lack of understanding about what a school library and librarian is and does has come to light with North Lanarkshire council deciding to remove 23 school librarian posts, including some of those responsible for writing the above document, in order to save money. This blinkered decision is in line with many other schools that lack the fundamental knowledge and understanding of the important role of the school librarian.
What does a school librarian do?
It is impossible within a short blog post to fully explain the role of the school librarian but I just wanted to take a few moments to give you the highlights. They:-
Raise literacy standards
Raise academic attainment including exam results
Work collaboratively with teachers providing media and information literacy skills needed for students to navigate the online world
Provide mental health and well-being support
Provide much-needed access to resources that many students don’t have at home
What is changing within Scotland?
When senior leaders and the education department lack understanding of the school librarians' role this can lead to poor solutions to save money. The misconception that vending machines can do the job of a school librarian, like the one at Coatbridge High School for example. Yes they are exciting and fun to use and they do put books into the hands of students but these vending machines are only a nice extra and can’t replace the knowledge and expertise of a school librarian. Just as students can’t replace school librarians as they tried to do in the Scottish Borders. Professionally qualified school librarians have degrees and many have master's qualifications. If schools are planning to replace them with vending machines and student volunteers they really don’t have a clue about the value school librarians bring to teaching and learning.
I wonder if the story would be the same if they started replacing PE teachers with parent volunteers, well it is only running around, isn't it? Or Maths teachers with calculators…
Why aren't the school librarians in North Lanarkshire doing more?
This abomination is not due to school librarians in North Lanarkshire sitting quietly behind their desks. One of the school librarians about to lose her job is Jennifer Macfadyen who is on the 2022 CILIP shortlist for Scotlands Library and Information Professional of the year. A school librarian of 30 years, who is being recognised for the difference she is making in the lives of the students and staff she works with.
Reading Schools is another campaign run by the Scottish Book Trust. Several school librarians in North Lanarkshire are working to gain their schools this national accreditation. Kilsyth Academy and Caldervale High School are already accredited and Airdrie Academy and St Aidan’s High School have Silver accreditation. All these Reading Leadership Group groups are run by school librarians with teachers, pupils and other school staff.
Read to Succeed is an initiative funded through the Scottish Attainment Challenge but created and run by North Lanarkshire school librarians. With this funding, schools get a book for every S1 pupil and an author visit for each S1 cohort. Without school librarians to organise and run this, it would fall on the shoulders of their very busy teachers or more likely it just would not happen and these children would miss out.
Examples like this are ‘2 a penny’ as they say in old money when it comes to understanding the value school librarians bring to education, teaching and especially students. We know that school librarians make a difference in literacy and academic attainment and the loss of any school librarians whilst schools are trying to get back on track after the pandemic is really shortsighted indeed.
What can you do to help?
It is important that you really understand the role of the school librarian and how they are essential to the students and teachers of your schools. A good place to start is by reading my blog post The Power of School Librarians
I would also recommend that you sign and share this petition that has been set up in support of these school librarians. We must not let them go quietly!
Update January 2023 - Sadly the North Lanarkshire school librarians all lost their jobs.