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Making the School Library Integral to the Education Process

When I got home from visiting family this weekend I was delighted to find this publication sitting on my doorstep. Making School Libraries Integral to the Education Process: An Introduction to the IFLA School Library Guidelines written with Darryl Toerien. It has been in the planning a long time so it was lovely to see it published.

Making School Libraries Integral to the education process
Making School Libraries integral to the education process

If you have been following me you will know how important I think the IFLA School Library Guidelines are to school librarians across the world but more importantly to school librarians in the UK. You may be surprised to read that currently there are no official guidelines for UK school librarians. Nothing to guide headteachers in helping them understand what their school librarian could or should be doing, nothing to help school librarians understand what their role is all about and it really is time for change. I do hope that this brief publication published by the School Library Association (SLA), will help guide those who are not yet sure about the IFLA Guidelines and that there is something there for them.

What is the problem?

Over the last 20 years or so the school library profession has started to collapse. We have seen schools not replacing their school librarian, or worse closing their libraries. We have seen schools not replacing their qualified librarians decide to bring in a paraprofessional instead (I know this is a can of worms but stay with me).

In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this, firstly budgets... yes this is a big one and I could go off on a tangent to talk about why this is not really an issue... if something is important enough funding will be found...but this blog is not about this so I will try to keep on track...

Secondly a lack of knowledge and understanding about the role of the school librarian and this is what I want to talk about today.

A little history

Back in 2015, CILIP published a book called CILIP Guidelines for Secondary School Libraries around the same time as the IFLA School Library Guidelines were published. This was a perfect opportunity for CILIP to stand out and say that either of these guidelines was something that they were advocating and endorsing as their guidelines. A time to show great leadership and push forward a stance on what was expected in the school library world. Sadly, as far as I know, this did not happen. The guidelines are there but CILIP's stance seems to be that every school is different so it is impossible to say officially what the school librarian's role is. This really saddens me because if our professional body can't define what the role of the school librarian is I am not sure I understand their role in supporting school librarians.

Moving forward

I believe that it is important for school librarians, regardless of their qualified status, to be able to find definitive guidelines when asked to talk about what they do. It is not good enough that we leave school librarians to 'make it up' based on their school's expectations and knowledge. It is not good enough when a headteacher reaches out to ask what a good school library looks like that we are not able to point them to an official document that we are all working towards.

I decided to write this post following a recent conversation on X (Twitter) with Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, about guidelines, this is what was said

Twitter discussion around the IFLA Guidelines

Continued Twitter discussion around the IFLA Guidelines

Added Twitter discussion around the guidelines

Now I have to be honest and say that I don't know the full history of this. I am not sure when CILIP adopted and endorsed school library guidelines or even which ones. If this was done in the last 20 years it has certainly passed me by. The fact that some school librarians rejected the idea seems a poor reason to backtrack on them. We need to be focusing on the future not pandering to the school librarians who don't want change as we watch our profession die.

The Future

I also don't really know what the plan is for the Great School Libraries campaign and the SLA in creating something that will please everyone going forward but it seems such a waste of time if the IFLA School Library Guidelines are not a significant part of this. I would love to hear some real arguments as to why a document that has over 50 years' worth of research pumped into it, has recently been looked at to be updated and it was decided that it is still fit for purpose, can be acceptable to school librarians internationally but for school librarians in the UK we need something else.

I can see that it may need a little adaptation for UK purposes, but these are insignificant in relation to the message of the document about what school librarians should be working towards. It gives a clear focus on the role of the school librarian for school librarians but also for those senior school leaders who are looking to learn about the role of the library within education.

This can be done very quickly and then work can be carried out to provide CPD to help school librarians and senior leaders work on adopting them. A much better use of time and money in my opinion.

The arguments against it...

The arguments I have heard about not adopting the IFLA School Library Guidelines are these:-

  • There are some school librarians who don't have qualifications and they are still professional.

Ok, these guidelines have nothing to do with where you currently stand as a school librarian. We should have clear guidance for anyone currently working in a school library, regardless of their status, to learn about their role and engage in CPD to enhance their learning. If some school librarians do not want to learn more then it is up to them and their school. We need to provide guidance for our new and upcoming school librarians who are new to the profession to help them move forward.

  • IFLA is an international federation and does not focus on the UK.

If we want school librarians in the UK to become a profession that people aspire to we need to look outwardly rather than staying in our own bubble. Being part of an international community of school librarians gives us the power to enhance school librarianship based on authority and research. Even the IFLA School Library guidelines themselves say that they should be adapted for local purposes "The School Library Guidelines are intended to be adapted and implemented in ways that suit local contexts, especially legislative and curriculum contexts" (p14).

What do you think?

As this has obviously not yet been decided and GSL/SLA are working on it I would love to hear what you think.

  • Do you think guidelines are important? If so why/why not?

  • Do you think we should create UK guidelines or adopt IFLA's with a UK context?

Do post your thoughts in the comments below... Thanks!

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