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History of UK School Libraries 1937 to the modern day

Updated: May 20


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FOSIL, Education and School Libraries - Podcast

History of UK School Libraries, how much do you know?


How many of us can claim to understand the history of school libraries and their pivotal role in education? I certainly couldn't until I was privileged enough to start a podcast with Darryl Toerien called FOSIL, Education, and School Libraries which ended its first year, exploring significant developments in school libraries over the years. This fascinating conversation took us from the inception of the School Library Association in 1937 through the progressive education era, all the way to the present day.


The Early Days and Progressive Era


Our journey began in 1937 with the formation of the School Library Association. This period marks the start of a relentless evolution in school libraries. Initially, school libraries were seen primarily as places for recreational reading. However, as educational philosophies began to shift, so did the role of these libraries. The progressive education era brought a new focus on academic honesty and fostering intellectual curiosity among students. This transformation underscored the importance of school libraries as essential resources for independent learning.


We discussed the historical schism within the School Library Association, the birth of CILIP SLG and how it influenced the focus of school libraries over time. The tension between traditional and progressive educational approaches significantly impacted library usage habits. We highlight how the evolution of school libraries mirrored broader educational reforms, emphasising the increasing prominence of these institutions.


The UK's Unique Path and the Advent of Technology


We explored Norman Beswick's influential research on the history of school libraries. Beswick's work provides a comprehensive look at the dramatic trajectory of librarianship, budget struggles, and the changing roles of librarians with the advent of computers in education during the 1980s marking a significant turning point. This technological advancement promised to revolutionise how libraries operated and interacted with students. We focused on the challenges and opportunities that arose during this period, and explored how libraries adapted to the digital age. These insights are crucial for understanding the current state of school libraries and their future direction.


Information Literacy and Collaborative Efforts


A significant part of our discussion focused on the rise of information skills and the increasing collaboration between teachers and librarians. We explored the concept of information literacy and how it differs from the inquiry model. Noting especially Anne Irving's nine-question steps model from 1985, setting a new tone for the synergy between teachers and librarians. This model emphasised the importance of teaching information literacy skills and the struggle to secure curriculum time for these essential lessons.


The internet's impact on school libraries cannot be overstated. While it brought about unprecedented access to information, it also led to the devaluation of school libraries in some educational contexts. We discussed the challenges of teaching information literacy amidst these changes and how a focus on information availability may have hindered a smooth transition during the introduction of computers to schools.


Embracing Diversity and Future Prospects


We also touched on the impacts of AI and the need for diverse, multicultural teaching methods. School libraries have evolved beyond academic learning centres to become hubs for personal development and independent learning. We talked about the importance of librarians in diversifying teaching methods and aligning their educational philosophy with current concerns and aspirations in the education sector.


We invite you to listen as we explore the rich history, current challenges, and future prospects of school libraries. Embrace the past, understand the present, and envisage the future with us.


Listen to the full podcast episodes here:



We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Did you know the history? Do you think this is significant in helping to understand where school libraries in the UK are today? Please feel free to post any comments or questions you have below.



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