I recently wrote an article for a newspaper, about my horror that a school had moved into a brand new £25million building with ('in an advance on tradition') no school library.
I showed the draft article to my husband, before sending it to the editor.'It's no good,' he said. 'You have to spell out the benefits of a school library.'
He was right of course, and so I did, but it felt like a very strange thing to do. Surely anyone with a brain, anyone who cares about children and their education, can see the benefit of a school library. A place where children can access books and information, learn to research, to browse. A place to meet writers, and hear them talk about books and writing. A place to do homework, shelter from the playground bullies, stretch yourself intellectually, or catch up with your peers. A well-run school library is all these and much more. A good school librarian changes lives.
Sadly it seems that the benefits of a school library are lost on many in influential positions. Some are dazzled by technology, others just want to save money. 'Architects don't like books,' a school librarian told me the other day, 'They don't look good on their plans.' Her school - one of the first academies - was planned without a library. Then a couple of classrooms were put together at the back of the building. She insisted that the light airy atrium at the front of the building should be cut in half.'The children need to see us right at the front of the school. That's more important than vast open space.'
That same day I went from her school to another one nearby.Halfway through my talk, the librarian stopped me, and gave a quick summary, drawing a mindmap of what I'd said so far, to demonstrate to her pupils how they should take notes.'I simply can't believe that the national curriculum contains no study skills,' she told me.'So I always do this, to teach them how to learn.'
The next weekend, a friend introduced me to her grandson. 'He loves your book,' she told me.'He didn't even know I knew you. His school librarian recommended it.'
According to a recent survey by the Times Educational Supplement, 600,000 children in the UK have not got a school library service. This is truly shameful. I am completely certain that no member of the government would dream of sending their child to a school without a library. Why is it acceptable for other people's children?
A new campaign started this week. The Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL), the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the School Library Association (SLA) - yes, people who traditionally ask you to hush - want people to shout about school libraries, to make sure young people have access to libraries and librarians n their schools.
Gillian Harris, Chair of ASCEL said, “Teachers need a wide range of stimulating, up-to-date and relevant learning resources to deliver an exciting and vibrant curriculum. ... Schools Library Services are an amazing cost-effective way for schools to make sure children of all abilities have the best quality materials in the classroom to inspire their learning. Add to this the professional support, advice and books Schools Library Services can provide to those wanting to build a reading culture and an excellent library, then they should be at the top of every school’s list to buy in.“If anyone should be shouting about school libraries, it's children's authors. We visit them, we meet librarians, we hear about their successes, we see their value. I've been to one school so far with no library (just a Learning Resource Centre full of computers). There were four shelves of books to borrow in an English classroom. It was the only school I've been to where a boy boasted to me that he never read 'books with words.'
Go out and shout!