School libraries are not a substitute

I came across a piece in the Cotswold Journal yesterday reporting on the message of support we received from Booker Prize winning Author Yann Martel (2002).
Quotes appeared in the article from Councillor Noble which have left me rather bemused and frankly quite angry. Councillor Noble is responsible for public libraries in Gloucestershire so you would think she would know about the value and role of libraries but it seems not. She is quoted to have said:

I hope families concerned about proposed changes to libraries around the county will feel reassured that there are still fantastic resources available in their school library.

Councillor Noble should know as well as I do that school library services are NOT statutory, as is illustrated later in the piece when it states that schools can:

buy into the counties library service for education (LSE) and currently 145 of the 245 primary schools, 31 out of 41 secondary schools and two out of 12 special schools use it. Other schools, who are not members of LSE, can use services on a pay-as-you-use basis.

I ask Councillor Noble how she will reassure the parents whose children’s schools do not have libraries or are not able to buy LSE services? Were these considered in the library cuts? I doubt it. Schools are having to make savings too – what about the hundreds of school libraries closing up and down the country?

What will children have when their public libraries have been taken away also?

What about the children whose appetite for reading is more voracious than the school can cater for? School libraries are often no more than a cupboard with books in, if they exist at all.

What about the children who do not have a computer or access to the internet at home and so use the public library to do their homework?

What about the children whose first opportunity to taste independence and responsibility is walking to the mobile or public library with their brothers and sisters?

What about the children with family problems to whom the safety of the public library is one of their only escapes?

What about people who are not of school age that are losing their library service?

It seems to me that Councillor Noble is grasping at straws here. Councillor Noble is  basically accepting that the library plans are flawed and damaging and that parents have cause for concern but the “reassurance” she tries to give is poor and misleading.
We have had hundreds of parents, teachers and literacy experts contacting Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries expressing their concerns and dismay at the library cuts but, as is clear here, Cllr Noble has no understanding of this. I have met many people who believe that all schools have libraries and so therefore public libraries are not needed but to hear this coming from the lady who holds the library portfolio for Gloucestershire is of grave concern to us.

Until school libraries are statutory Cllr Noble should refrain from making such misleading comments. Even if school libraries were statutory there is no substitute to taking your child to the public library to explore the world of books, imagination and learning together.

School libraries AND public libraries are essential

Councillor Noble should read a report published by the National Literacy Trust on 5th February 2011 which found that young people who use their public library are nearly twice as likely to be above average readers than peers who don’t visit their library. She should then go and have a hard think about the damage her and her colleagues are doing to our children’s futures with these drastic cuts to our public libraries.

To find out more about school libraries and the national picture see this fantastic website Heart of the School

Update: Cllr Noble’s astonishing comments are now being repeated by Sue Laurence, Gloucestershire’s Library Service Manager, who responded to a concerned childminder with,

“I note your concern for others and children in particular.  However, don’t forget that school children will still  have access to books and the school library and I am sure teachers are concerned  to make sure their pupils have good access to books as part of their teaching of language and literacy”

It is of huge concern to us that someone in her position does not appear to understand the role of public libraries. This might explain the lack of logic behind the library plans!

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11 Responses to School libraries are not a substitute

  1. Martyn says:

    School libraries are not open in the evenings, at weekends or during school holidays – but most public libraries are. Public libraries also contain, or give access to a much wider range of resources than are available through school libraries, or on the internet. As students get older, it is using the wider range of books and electronic resources through the public library which can help boost their marks in exams.

    It should also be noted that many schools have been running down their libraries over the last few years.

  2. libraryonline says:

    As a school librarian, I am a passionate supporter of public libraries. As has been said, many schools do not have libraries, or they have a cupboard of books which they call a “library”. Many schools do not have professional full-time staffing of their library, even where they have a reasonable provision. Other schools are removing their libraries and making library staff redundant. In my view school and public libraries should be working together to provide complementary services – one is not a replacement for the other.

    Martyn – many school librarians are developing virtual 24/7 services through their library websites – these make available many of the electronic resources that we are purchasing to support the curriculum and also online catalogues. I have also experimented with using “chat” technology to reach out to students – but had issues with child protection, so could not go down that route. Several school libraries also use Twitter and Facebook to reach out. Also, there are loads of school libraries that have far better stock, both print and electronic, than local small public libraries. What we can’t do easily, since Local Management of Schools, is tap into inter-library loans, which of course small public libraries can offer to students.

  3. Bookbabe49 says:

    School libraries are often underfunded, intermitently staffed and of unequal provision. School libraries are not statutory and schools re not obliged to provide them, let alone staff them with trained librarans. Their limited resources support the curriclum of their school or college, they are specialists and do not have the wide remit of the public libaries.
    Public libraries however ARE statutory and are part of a national network, unlike school libraries which operate independently and do not generally loan to one another.
    Hmmm….
    Prison librares are statutory too….perhaps we should encourage the children to use the prison service instead ? Just a thought………

  4. Gill the librarian says:

    “School libraries are often no more than a cupboard with books in, if they exist at all.”
    This is a bit of a sweeping statement, isn’t it? Some primary schools only have a very small number of books and yes, some secondary schools are being run down and even shut to save money but it’s unfair to generalise like this. I am a school librarian with a stock of 14,000 resources including the latest fiction and non-fiction plus DVDs and audio CDs. I regularly have 100+ students in the library at lunchtimes and it’s a wonderful place to be. I have a great Headteacher who is fully committed to having a well stocked library and good staffing levels – I’m very sad that all Heads aren’t like that but please don’t write us all off just yet.

    • um, no one has written you all off! No one is saying there aren’t great school libraries but school libraries are often little more than a cupboard with books in and can be as school libraries are not statutory. Congrats, your library sounds great. Lucky school. Doesn’t make it ok to cut public libraries around the place though does it?

    • Gill,

      Huh? Think you have this the wrong way round. Poster wants public libraries and school libraries to flourish, not for one to be played off against the other (as politicians do).

      The description of your school library, and school attitude, is great. I hope it continues and wish it was more so in other schools.

      JK

  5. Library user says:

    It would appear that even within our schools there is a diversity of the have’s and have nots. Many schools throughout our country are fighting for survival let alone a decent Library. With many teachers also about to lose their positions through their local council underfunding the first thing that will inevitably go will be the Library. Just look back to 2007 and you will see the truth about school Libraries.

  6. libraryonline says:

    Gill, I think you misunderstand what is being said here – no-one is generalising or making sweeping statements. I am a school librarian, as you are, and have worked in some fantastic school libraries, but you and I both know that there are loads of schools without facilities like ours. The number of school librarians on SLN and other lists is quite small compared with the total number of schools in the UK. I have visited hundreds of schools in a career that has spanned nearly 30 years and includes working for a Schools Library Service and six different schools – I have seen loads of very poor school libraries during that time. What we are fighting for here is to get councillors and other politicians (and some headteachers) to see that public library services cannot be replaced with school libraries and vice versa – all of our library services should be working collaboratively to support the people of this country.

  7. emerald says:

    Gill, just wondering if the public library service has any ties or links with your school library?

  8. I am a school librarian, and I maintain the Heart of the School website mentioned above. One reason that I created the website was because I (and others in my profession), were alarmed at seeing school libraries being closed down all over the country. There is a general misconception that ‘everything is now on the internet’ and that ‘children don’t read any more’. Both of those statements are totally wrong in the experience of school librarians, but they are being used to shut school libraries everywhere. Another popular misconception which is being mentioned every time that public libraries are being threatened is that the children can go to their school libraries. And I see that Councillor Noble and Sue Laurence are making those selfsame erroneous statements in Gloucestershire. It simply isn’t the case any more that every secondary school has a well stocked library run by a professional – I wish it were! That was the case a few years ago, but not now. What I would suggest is that first of all GCC takes a survey of all thier secondary schools to find out how many have fully stocked school libraries with (and this is important) a professional librarian in place. Not a teacher who opens at lunchtimes, not a dinner lady who mans it sometimes, and certainly not a roomful of computers. I am not exaggerating, all of these things are now happening. Once GCC have a list of all of their schools who have proper school libraries and librarians, then they can consider taking away the public libraries from their children, knowing that their literacy development is safe in the hands of their school librarians. Sadly, I predict, that if GCC do this they will find that they need to keep their public libraries open, as they are often the only place the young people now have to find out facts for homework or to read the latest books, as their own school library has quietly disappeared. Sorry this post is so long, but as you can tell, I am very passionate about this subject!

  9. Kitty says:

    I’ve spent massive amounts of my childhood in libraries and I owe a lot to them. Some of my favourite authors came to my attention only because I happened across their books in libraries. I still go to libraries a lot to do research (budding writer) – I can’t go to school library and I certainly can’t afford reference books. While the internet is fine for research, it’s very easily distracting and you really have to know what your looking for straight away. With a book, I find things I didn’t even know I was looking for.
    My local is Cirencester and it always pleases me to see how many people are in there, no matter the time of day. Books may not be cool anymore – certainly not to my generation – but there are still more than enough people who need and want libraries. School libraries are great, but only if you’re part of a school. It’s so disheartening to see a Cllr Noble dismissing them.

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