Sunday, 18 September 2016

School librarians, A precious resource. Still under threat - Linda Strachan

Today I make no apologies for repeating a blog I wrote in December 2013, sadly it is as relevant now as then, if not more so.  We have not progressed, in fact even more schools are losing School librarians and leaving our young people without this valuable and necessary resource.

When pupils wrote to authors to ask for support because local councillors were taking the decision to get rid of their school librarian, Julia Donaldson, former Children's Laureate,   wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

IN these two short videos the pupils say it in their own words

"A library is not a library without a librarian" - fantastic video created by Argyll and Bute pupils

 Some say school libraries could become tech 'think' places... I am all for looking ahead but without experienced librarians, who will make the most of these spaces?
 Below is my blog about School librarians -

What kind of a society are we going to become?  

It makes you wonder when they start to close libraries - now the axe is raised over the heads of the School librarians, champions of reading and often the one person who can open the door for a child into the world of books.

Many children do not have books in their home. In December 2011 the National Literacy Trust released figures which showed that of 3.8 million children in the UK, 1 in 3 do not own a book.
 With fewer libraries and restricted opening times and closures, for some children the only access they will have to books will be the school library. But it will become a mere storage facility for books if the school does not have a professional librarian.

Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that a librarian is just someone who arranges books on shelves?   Do you know what a school librarian does?

  ' School librarians and educational resource service expertise are key factors in the improved delivery of curriculum outcomes, attainment of the goals of education, promotion of literacy and reading, information literacy and technology use, and should be retained.'  CILIPS ( the Chartered Institute of Library and Information professionals in Scotland)

 I have never been a librarian, not trained as one and I don't have their expertise. But what I have seen is the enthusiasm and excitement about books and reading that a great school librarian can create among the children in their school. They organise reading programmes and promote books and reading in a huge variety of ways that no one else in the school has the time or expertise to do.
I have been involved in lots of different events and projects organised or managed by school librarians, such as the Kids Lit Quiz, where teams of 4 pupils compete in a quiz about books, and where the winning UK team travels to the World final, that can be as far away as New Zealand, the USA or South Africa. There are lots of practice runs and many books are read in the run up to the competition each year.

Kate Harrison, Teresa Flavin, Jane McLoughlin
& Elizabeth Wein at Teen Titles event
I've been interviewed by pupils for the glossy Teen Titles magazine where teenagers review books they have read. I have no doubt that these reviews and interviews would never be written, collected and organised without the school librarians from Edinburgh Schools. They also host a great evening during the Edinburgh Book Festival when the young reviewers get to meet some of the authors whose books they have reviewed.

It seems very strange, Teen Titles is an Edinburgh Council publication, so why is it that Edinburgh Council has suggested that as part of its proposed budget cuts they plan to cut the number of school librarians by half?  They suggest that if enough stakeholders act during the consultation process this will be overturned. Surely a matter like this should not depend on a vote of interested parties to over turn it, any more than other important aspects of education?

Red Book Award
I tried to find a photograph of a school librarian to put here but despite librarians inviting me to visit more schools than I can count over the years, I was struggling to find a picture of any one of the wonderful librarians who had organised these author visits.
It made me realise that in these days where everyone seems to want to be center stage, school librarians tend to stay well behind the scenes, working tirelessly and often well beyond their remit and contracted hours, providing an invaluable service to our children.

So instead I put in this photo of the very excited audience at the Red Book Awards in Falkirk. It is an amazing day, full of fun, and a really wonderful example of how school librarians working together can get huge numbers of children reading and talking about books they have read. There are book awards organised by librarians all over the UK, but sadly many of these are also falling foul of budget cuts.

School librarians appear to be a soft target to those who lack a proper understanding, and those who might think that they are a luxury. But reading for pleasure is not an extra or a luxury for young people.

The National Literacy Trust’s 2012 report for UNESCO also found that pupils who read outside class were thirteen times more likely to read above the expected level for their age.

As Lin Anderson  Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland (2012-2015),  mentioned in her letter to Sue Bruce, Chief Executive at the Edinburgh City Council - ' a new analysis by the Institute of Education (September 2013) has found that children who read for pleasure do significantly better at maths, vocabulary and spelling, compared to those who rarely read. Regular reading and visits to libraries were found to be more important factors in improving a child's test scores than a parent's level of education.'

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  Albert Einstein.

Librarians have the expertise to know exactly which book to direct a child to when they are floundering, and which they are not yet ready for. In these days of poor literacy levels we need dedicated school librarians to help children discover the joy of reading that will sustain them throughout their lives.

The Society of Authors' survey on Author Visits in Primary and Secondary Schools (October 2013) found that school librarians play a crucial role in selecting texts and organising the author visits that inspire so many pupils. One respondent to the survey said:
I believe that inspiration for reading comes at a very early age. With cutbacks in library services and funding in local communities an issue, schools must play a larger part in encouraging pupils’ reading and writing. As a secondary librarian I see a percentage of pupils who have decided it is not cool to read; some pupils joining us from primaries have already adopted this attitude. It is our job to work hard to convince them otherwise (hence as a passionate librarian I organise as many author visits as I possibly can). It should be our job to enrich, empower and expand pupils’ reading without the hurdles of peer-pressure.’

Primary schools often lose out and if they have a library at all it is all too often staffed by a parent or part time by a teacher and at times it is reduced to a few shelves in a corridor.  Far from reducing the number of librarians, because they seem like a soft target,we should be increasing them by making sure that not only every secondary school has a trained librarian but also that each and every primary school also has, not only a proper library but a well staffed one, too

At least Edinburgh Council have put it to consultation, far too many councils have been reducing the number of school librarians by stealth, simply by not filling posts when they become vacant. This way they disappear without even a whisper of loss.

Sadly even as I write this I have heard that another region is about decide whether to split school librarians between two schools, reducing the number by half.  The worry is that after this has happened and the librarians that remain are unable to keep doing all the work twice as many people did, will that leave them even more vulnerable to even more cuts?

What kind of society do we want to belong to?
Reading for pleasure is a way of understanding the world around us, fiction and non fiction have an important place in the education of our children at all ages. Reading gives children the opportunity to experience life beyond their immediate surroundings and experience, it can show them how to empathise with others in situations we might hope they never encounter themselves, to consider and question other views and to understand the past and how it might influence their future.

School librarians are a vital resource. Parents should ask whether their school has a full time librarian, but to make sure we have a literate and educated society we all need to take responsibility to make sure that this vital resource is retained and not lost by lack of a vote or by stealth when we are not watching.

Does your child's school or your local school have a full time librarian?



Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 


Sue Bursztynski said...

I work in a secondary school library. I'm the sole TL and no, not full time -I have to teach as well. Sometimes I am in the middle of a lesson when some student comes to ask for something libraryish. A class set, headphones, whatever. I tell them I'm teaching and can't abandon my class, but it keeps happening. I have support about twice a week. At that, I'm luckier than others. I do get most of the week in my library. A colleague at another campus has a large chunk of his time in the classroom and also is expected to do handyman stuff because he's a qualified electrician. One campus library is run by an integration aide who learned on the job; most of that campus's books were thrown out when the Principal decided it wasn't important. Our Senior campus has almost no books at all. There is only someone there at all because after throwing most of the books into a dumpster, someone realised they needed someone to charge the laptops and iPads and lend out the literacy books to teachers. She's a teacher, but not a librarian. The place looks pretty and - oddly - has a few books on display. But no borrowing, definitely no book club such as mine! One of our year 10 students has said wistfully that perhaps they can start a book club at Senior. I told her she'd have too start it herself. But the lady is nice enough; perhaps I can ask her to look after my book clubbers. Once I retire that will be it.

One of our feeder schools has books in a corridor, yes, because they needed the space. Another does have a library, staffed part time by a library tech. They have an art teacher who does all the things a teacher-librarian normally does. Lucky them!

There is too much of an attitude that "they're getting it all on line now, why do we need a library?" It's cheaper.

Sue Bursztynski said...

PS When my library technician did her annual review, she showed them an overdue list. "Oh," said the Principal,"are they actually borrowing books?"

Joan Lennon said...

This really brings home how little progress there's been. It isn't fruitful to say "How can people be so stupid?" but, well, "How CAN people be so stupid?"

Linda Strachan said...

Yes Joan, they can, sadly.

Sue. I hardly know where to start. It is peple with your experience, organising book clubs and other library related events that make reading and exploring the world of literature, in the widest sense, possible and attractive to our young poeple.

I absolutely hate that attitude of 'they can get it all online', it is so short-sighted.

Also reading fiction puts the reader into another person's life/world/problems and lets them experience the consequences. It is a way to learn empathy for others, something many children in our modern world are not learning online or with the culture of 'celebrity' and the desperation to 'be' somebody by having the latest brands.

Anonymous said...

I am a school librarian and as of this year work in two VERY large schools. It breaks my heart that I can not do my job properly for all the children at these schools and it tears me to bits that my own children will probably go through school just like I did with no librarian at all. When I asked about all the things I wouldn't be able to do when the cuts came into play a senior told me then they just wont get done! All our children deserve better and you know what after all these years of service and dedication - I deserve better as well!

Linda Strachan said...

You do deserve better, as do all the children in our schools, the next generation of readers.

Sue Bursztynski said...

There was a teacher librarian from my school - the campus library now being run by an integration aide - who took a job at another multi-campus school which, at the time, had very good library staffing. It was supposed to be for a year only, but she stated on. Now she is, as the other librarian mentions, travelling from campus to campus - there are three - as the only librarian left. All she wanted to do was run a library. Now she runs three. And the school got something called "classroom libraries" - translation, move the books to the classroom and hope they don't vanish. This is not a primary school, so there are students from different classes using each room and not just one teacher responsible for each room. The lady tells me the expected has happened, of course. They were thinking if doing it at my school, but the teacher sent to check it out elsewhere said that when she asked them, "How does it work?" she was told, "It doesn't."