Friday, 21 October 2011

Shout it Loud by Keren David

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!


JO said...

Like you, I find it astonishing that we are even having this discussion. How can a place of learning survive without a library? It makes no sense.

Penny Dolan said...

This boastful "modern world" vandalism makes no sense at all. In fact, thinking back over several years of school visits, I'd say that a well-stocked and well-used library - especially with a friendly & positive librarian involved - is often a sign of a good and happy school.

I was especially depressed and angered by this:'Architects don't like books,' a school librarian told me the other day, 'They don't look good on their plans.' Oh dear. Like the wire people in the always-sunny, never-windy "boulevard" models of modern developments?

And I'd also add the wretched interior designer pages, where a bookshelf rarely appears, and if it does, holds no more than five books. ie "Make your home like this! Make your school like this! Make your life like this!"

Thanks for SHOUTING THIS OUT, Keren!

Penny Dolan said...

Sorry if that was an ambiguous ending - got too angry!

"Make your home like this! Make your school like this! Make your life like this!" she said sarcastically

Thanks for SHOUTING OUT about the benefits of school libraries and librarians and the state of the situtation today, Keren!

Saviour Pirotta said...

A lot of junior and primary schools have axed their libraries in favour of an IT suite. They feel under pressure to let the kids have access to computers and, insanely, if they lack space and resources it's the library that goes. The only schools that have libraries now are the ones were there's a person, usually the literacy coordinator, who is passionate enough to get one going.

Candy Gourlay said...

Here's something to get really angry about - Telegraph columnist John McTernan (a former librarian) wrote: 'Middle-class liberals are fighting to keep libraries open out of condescension for the less fortunate and guilt that they, like everyone else, no longer use them.' The article is here.

He's talking about public libraries. Says he: 'The crisis in our libraries is not because of the “cuts” – it’s because they are needed less.'

My response would be that it's not that they are no longer needed but that we are changing and libraries need to change along with us.

Stroppy Author said...

Perhaps a slightly tangential point.... libraries are a free resource that people with little money should be able to use. But the cost of inner city parking and bus fares makes this 'free' resource inaccessible to many of the people who might want to use it. In Cambridge, if you want to go to the library for the morning (say 9.30-12) parking near the library will cost £6. So it's more complicated than people choosing not to use libraries.

Thank you for shouting about school libraries, Keren. When my bints' primary school got computers in the 90s, it was the library that suffered. To start with, the books and computers shared the space, but eventually the books were shuffled out into a corridor. A few years ago I went to the opening of the 'new' library - it was no more than an alcove, whereas fifteen years previously it had been a large room. At least their secondary school had (and has) a dedicated library with a wonderful, committed librarian.