Do all school libraries have equal futures?
Not in the UK, according to recent surveys. Mary-Rose Grieve of Hartland International School looks at the Great School Libraries campaign in the UK and urges international school librarians to get involved.
The mission was simple: to bring libraries and access to librarians to every school in the UK.
The beating heart of the school
But why the need for such a campaign? Surely every school in the UK has a library? We know that not all do, but astonishingly, we don’t know the exact numbers of libraries that are in schools. In 2014, the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group published a report called ‘The Beating Heart of the School‘. One of its key recommendations was for the Department of Education to collect annual data on school library provision as part of the official reporting process. This recommendation has never been enacted.
So, one of the key priorities of the campaign was to raise funding to commission two large scale surveys to ascertain school library provision across the UK. The findings were a cause for concern but also offered glimmers of hope for the future. It emerged that there is a huge inequality of provision across the nations and school types; you are less likely to have access to a library and librarian if you receive free school meals and just over two thirds of primary school libraries have no budget at all.
Across the UK we can see some school libraries working hard across departments, co-teaching, inspiring reading and delivering media and information literacy lessons. However, this isn’t a universal tale and it is causing, re-enforcing and contributing to an imbalance of opportunities for children across the UK.
The role of the school library and its librarian in the UK
The Great School Libraries Campaign made it to Parliament twice this year, first to launch our report in front of an audience of members of both Houses of Parliament, industry leaders, headteachers and policy makers. Then, my co-chair and I joined CILIP’s CEO Nick Poole and master wordsmith Michael Rosen in a small room off Westminster Hall, to host a drop-in session for MPs. This was an opportunity for them to hear about our campaign and show their support for school libraries and librarians. It was as a result of this, that an Early Day Motion has been tabled by Margaret Greenwood MP and we are continuing to lobby parliamentary parties to ensure that school library provision is part of their election manifesto.
However, we have a more fundamental issue that we need to address: The role of the school library and its librarian in the UK is not always fully understood by the wider school community. All too often, the school librarian’s reading and literacy capabilities and the part they play in the wellbeing of the school is overlooked. The school librarian has a holistic view of the school’s academic principles, of its stance on teaching and learning and of its character and objectives.
The way forward
We are unhindered by assessments, targets and results. We have no National Curriculum objectives against which we are measured. We defy convention and classification. We work across the school, across the curriculum and across departments. We are teachers, middle leaders, curriculum planners, administrators, counsellors, accountants, designers, planners and trainers. And while all this puts us in the very best position to lead the school’s reading policy and information-to-knowledge acquisition through reading in all its forms, it is – conversely – the very reason that it is so difficult for a school librarian to be recognised as such. Headteachers and principals are flummoxed by us. If we are not a qualified teacher, how can they measure our performance? If we do not teach a curriculum subject, how can they track progress? There is a clear argument for a qualified, experienced school librarian in every school. In the school library, we take on a myriad of different roles all from the position of something of an outsider.
The GSL campaign looks to sources of inspiration and best practice from across the world, including the IFLA School Library Guidelines (2015) to illuminate and inform our way forward; by adapting and adopting their recommendations we ally ourselves with best practice for school libraries around the world. Their definition of a school library as;
“a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth”
gives a clear and unequivocal idea of the value and impact that a school library – staffed by a librarian – can have on the lives of the students and communities it serves.
The wider, international picture
We are keen to better understand how the situation in the UK compares to that in other countries. We want to know, if the role of the school librarian is valued and understood and does it vary depending on the region they operate in or the curriculum they teach? Are there issues which are shared across borders, such as cost cutting, budget restraints or the misapprehension of the impact that a Great School Library can have on their community?
We would love to hear from teachers, school leaders and librarians from around the international teaching community about how your school library operates in your setting. Please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Mary-Rose for the photograph showing Michael Rosen and Nick Poole, the CEO of CILIP, with campaign co-chairs, Alison Tarrant and Mary-Rose Grieve.