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School Libraries: Do we really need them?

A boy lying on the floor reading a book next to book shelves
Reading in a school library

As someone who has worked around school libraries over the last 20 years, it has been horrifying to watch the speed of the demise of such an essential service. Many schools are no longer employing qualified librarians or worse closing their libraries altogether.

If schools are functioning ok without a school library then why do we need them? Am I just nostalgic for things of the past or is there more? Sadly we know that literacy levels are decreasing across the UK and that many of our students now get their news from places like Tiktok and Google without any skills to understand fake news and misinformation. To put it simply school librarians bring not only a wealth of knowledge and skills as information professionals but also access to resources that not every student has access to at home. Without them, the situation will only get worse.

Why are school libraries undervalued?

I often ask myself what has happened. Why are school libraries so undervalued when they are essential in prisons and universities? Where have we gone wrong? Why do we have to fight so hard for something that we know can make such a difference to our children? Yes, the financial pressure on schools is enormous but when did something of such value ever have to fight so hard for existence?

Why don't schools fight for their school libraries?

I believe this comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding from our Senior Educational Leaders, SLTs (Senior Leadership Teams), and teachers. I don't blame them though as I know there is a real lack of opportunity to learn about what school libraries offer. I know that even teacher training programmes do not talk about how school libraries can support teaching and learning, so it comes as no surprise that they don't know. What do they need to learn I hear you ask; surely everyone knows what a school library can do. The sad fact is that everyone seems to think they know what school libraries do but the reality is they don't. If they did they would never let them go!

What can school libraries bring to education?

The IFA School library Guidelines highlight the 5 core instructional activities of the school library:-

  • Literacy and Reading Promotion

  • Media and Information Literacy Instruction

  • Inquiry-based Learning Models

  • Technology Integration

  • Professional Development for Teachers

If you have a school library and yours is only focused on literacy and reading promotion maybe it is time to find out more. The list above only scratches the surface of what is available. Don't let a lack of knowledge leave your school library underused.

School libraries and the future

We currently don't know how bad the situation is across the country as there is no statutory legislation for schools to have a library, therefore we don't know how many school libraries there actually are. What we do know is that the numbers are getting less as more school librarians tell us that they are not being replaced when they leave. There are also reports coming from places like North Lanarkshire where 23 school librarian jobs are being removed and the Norfolk Schools Library Service which closed in March 2022. This paints a very poor picture of the health and future of school libraries. This is why it is important that all schools understand what school libraries are about and I want to help you keep your school library if you have one.

What am I doing?

I have a podcast called Engaging and Empowering School Libraries where we discuss all things school library related. I am joined by my co-hosts Ruth Maloney, Sabrina Cox and Darryl Toerien and guests to unlock the power of school libraries. I have a FaceBook Group called Engaging and Empowering School Libraries where we talk about ways to advocate for what school librarians do. Come and join us!

You can also follow me on Twitter @elizabethutch .

I write articles for teaching magazines talking about what you can get from school libraries. The latest one is called How your school library can help pupils and staff that I co-wrote with Clare Brumpton for the Headteachers Update.

I also offer training membership to schools to help them engage with their school libraries and librarians. To find out more click here. If you have any questions please feel free to post them in the comments below or contact me here.

What can you do?

Use your voice to advocate for school libraries. They are not just a nice thing to have they are essential for our students and should be central to the educational process. Join my membership or Facebook Group. Learn what you can and share it with others. Be proud if you have a good school library and tell others all about it. Share your best practice, especially with teachers. We need voices beyond school libraries so if you can add your voice we would be delighted.

Don't let your school library close because you didn't understand all it could do. Join my membership or contact me for more information.

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