Today we consider school libraries – do all schools still have them and are they still needed or indeed relevant?
If you visit any Primary School you will, I am sure, find a school library. But in many cases we can now see that it is hidden away in a corner and not utilised as in previous years. So just why does this seem to be happening, should this be happening and what may be the outcome of this apparent side-lining of the library for pupils?
It is not too long ago that School libraries held an important place in the life of a school. Sectioned into the School Improvement plan the library was an expensive showcase that was a focal point for study across all classes.
Each year the library was allocated funds to be updated or upgraded – with new books bought and older ones consigned either to the bin or to classes. Bookcases were proper library cases or were even the more expensive moveable design with books being catalogued and shelved on both sides. In short…school libraries were a focal and vital part of school life.
On my visits to schools I have to say that school libraries now seem to be in decline. Many schools in the past had libraries situated in their own rooms and whole classes could visit and study in the library room or large area. Libraries were kitted out with tables, chairs and bean bags to sit on….however now they seem to be heading for small corners with limited or no seating areas at all.
So what possibly could be causing this – lets consider a few facts.
- Libraries are expensive to maintain both furniture wise and also up to date book wise
- Libraries take up a lot of room, especially if they have been allocated a room for “the library”
- The decline or closure of the local authorities library service.
(Before we look at each of those points – just a quick mention about class library areas. These used to be a little more comprehensive than they appear today. The Class library in the past would contain reference books and selected topic books. However, class libraries are now correctly called book corners and consist exclusively of reading books appropriate to the class age range and really nothing else. Unfortunately there is little money regularly allocated to these resources and books are usually supplemented by reading books donated from home or bought at school fayres!)
With school budgets under pressure the inclusion of the school library in the school improvement plan and its regular allocation of funds has all but disappeared. Books are now not updated or replaced as they once were and as such the size and breadth of libraries is shrinking as books become damaged, out of date or in this politically correct climate, inappropriate! A similar lack of maintenance funding has a negative effect on the furniture and storage.
The need for class expansion or for modernisation of premises to accommodate both the needs of the school or more directly the needs of disabled children and equipment means that school space is also at a premium. One of the first casualties of this is the library area or room with the library being moved to a smaller area that is often tucked away and not a prominent feature in the school or its life.
Local education authorities have long been “feeling the heat” from the government with regard to all measure of things, from funding to devolved school budgets to academy status and many more. This has led to a dramatic shrinking of L.E.A influence into schools and accompanying department and staff cutbacks.
One of these casualties has been the Schools Library service….if this has survived in your area then you are one of a few lucky ones! The Schools Library Service did brilliant work in providing books and all manner of resources as requested by schools tailored directly to topic work. These boxes spanned the needs of the whole school and provided books and artefacts around which the topic teaching programme could be based.
However the closure of this service has led to problems for schools simply because schools do not possess the reference materials that staff and children need to accompany topics covered. The school library does not and has never had the breadth of materials for staff to research and present a topic nor allow children to do the same as the topic progresses. This has, of course left a gaping hole in curriculum provision and coverage which must be met by other means.
Computers have transformed the information highway in a way that could never have been imagined with the internet providing unlimited access to educational material. However with this has come problems for schools. I am not going to refer here to child safety and the associated safeguards as that is another matter. Instead I am going to base my statement on the actual provision of computers and access to the internet. It has now been a few years since the IT revolution took place in which ring fenced funding saw all schools kitted out with computer rooms and banks of mobile lap tops. However the problem is that technology moves quickly and equipment has a limited life. Funding now is no longer provided and schools are being faced with broken and expensive computer repair/replacement budgets. It has actually got to the point where many schools cannot provide the “computer” curriculum as they simply don’t have the equipment.
If we look at Public libraries we can see how they have now evolved to embrace the computer and tech revolution. Computer access is now plentiful in libraries and forms a major part of the information provision that for generations was from books. I am suggesting that this is the way to go for schools.
In answer to the question posed in the title I am giving a definite YES…libraries are still a vital need in schools and should provide a central information hub for each and every school. However the nature of these libraries now needs to change and to incorporate computers as a central resource alongside a planned smaller but necessary book based system. If this structure was planned and resourced then it would incorporate the best of both worlds allowing both a library and study facility whilst at the same time providing the necessary resources for the Computer curriculum provision.