School libraries?

I see in the paper that there is a school which is closing down its library. Not surprisingly, Philip Pullman thinks that is a bad idea.

And it is, but it’s not a surprising idea, at all. I only know one (secondary) school library, but even that is struggling against the change of the times. Our local council appears to be one of the worst “paid” in the country. And with what little money it has, the council gives less per pupil to schools than many others. “Our” school, in turn, is the one in the borough that gets the least money per pupil, because ours is such a prosperous area.

I don’t know if this spiral of less money to the less deserving continues within the school, but it may well do, in which case the library doesn’t get much. During the years I volunteered there, the money came to an end long before the financial year did.

“The expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students” is what Philip reckons is important for schools. It is. But does it happen? Our school does not have a qualified librarian. It has someone who used to work in the school office doing the work of the librarian. She does it well, and I would guess she does it for less money. But being keen is not everything, and I expect that there are things she simply doesn’t know.

The shelf life of books is pretty short in our LRC. (It stopped being a library ages ago.) The books don’t get read to death. They get thrown out if not borrowed. This is just another step in the pointless waste of the library system. The classics the tax payers gave to schools for the millennium didn’t last long at all before they were gone, because who would borrow a boring old classic?

Philip Pullman is right in his concern. The question is if the kind of place he is trying to save disappeared a long time ago?

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5 responses to “School libraries?

  1. You might like to know that Alan Gibbons has started The Campaign for the Book, in response to this and other library closings. It is gathering huge momentum, and there is going to be a conference on 4th July at which the Culture Secretaries from all political parties have been invited to speak along with Roy Clare and another as yet unnamed high profile writer. Lots of other children’s authors are getting involved too. If you’d like to know more details, I can put you in touch with Alan–just email me.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with Philip. And I’ve visited lots of schools with wonderful, informed, inclusive librarians (I suppose it’s not a coincidence that they’re the schools that ask me to visit), and even a few with excellent but non-qualified people-acting-as-librarians. The atmosphere around reading at a school without a strong librarian is instantly recognizable to a moderately informed visitor. If the government wants to encourage reading, they need more good librarians, not necessarily more books.

  3. There’s a great comment on the London Underground blog, from a post talking about the future of books, which says

    ‘A library without a librarian is like the internet without search engines…’

    I don’t think the old notion of a library does exist any more. In order to be of worth in a modern world, they’ve had to become more social, community focused establishments.

    And that’s not a bad thing. After all, we all have the internet at home. Information is easily accessible to all. The great library experiment of the Victorians has been realised by the web.

    But as wonderful as the multimedia LRCs are, information is nothing without a guide to direct you to it. And that’s why Philip Pullman’s right – librarians are so important and always will be.

    These days though, if they’re to survive, they’ll need to be a guide to much more than the information found in books.

  4. My school library just fell victim to partial closing. For the last ten years it was the HEART of the school. All it took was a new administrator who does not believe in libraries and POOF! Gone. I was heart broken and went into a depression. I was given 2 classes to teach. I am still heart broken but the classes are benefitting from my expertise but it closes down the library half the time and programs that used be enjoyed by all have to be cancelled. How can this benefit anyone? WHY are libraries sacrificed? The only ones who get hurt are the children who will miss out on the benefits of having a library.

  5. I soon worked out I would never be able to do the school librarian’s job, as too much time seems to be taken up with trouble shooting computers and printers and the like.

    A lot of time goes on shouting at the children, as well. There could be someone else who does the policing.

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