Research commissioned by the Great School Libraries campaign, has uncovered the startling fact that one in eight schools do not have a library – something many accept as a given within all educational environments.
A vital resource that not only provides a wealth of reading materials and often access to computers but a place to meet friends, study, read, relax and socialise, libraries are essential to schools and pupils.
It’s this point of view that kickstarted the Great School Libraries campaign in the first place. Running for three years, the aim of the campaign is to bring school libraries and librarians back to every school in the UK.
Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and information professionals), which is one of the bodies collaborating on the campaign said every child should have a “great library in their school” run by “inspiring and professional librarians, and stocked with up-to-date books and resources.”
Other tenets of the campaign are for “Ofsted to inspect [libraries], for government to put school libraries at the heart of their education strategies and for ring-fenced budgets for school library improvement,” Poole continued.
The statistics have left many shocked and worried about the implications for children without access to a library. In an article written by senior teacher Anjum Peerbacos on the TES, she says, “My concern is largely for those students who perhaps belong to busy households, where they may not have a quiet space to work at home.”
AM Dassu, a former student librarian, said, “It is incomprehensible for me to imagine any school in the UK without one.” And yet, this is the reality for many students. While students in England were more likely to have a library (9 in 10 had one), fewer than seven in ten have one in Wales, while in Northern Ireland the figure stands at fewer than six in ten. The research also found that primary schools are less likely than secondary schools to have a dedicated library space.
Access to libraries runs across social-economic lines too. Schools with disadvantaged pupils are twice as likely to have no access to a library, while independent schools were nearly twice as likely to have a dedicated budget for their library as state primary and secondary schools.
If successful, the campaign could have many benefits. A similar campaign launched in Scotland in 2018, designed to make sure all school pupils have access to a “dynamic” school library, cited improved reading levels as one of the benefits, and the Great School Libraries research noted that having access to books in a dedicated space improves writing skills and results in students getting “greater enjoyment out of reading as a hobby”. In addition, access to books in general (whether at home or in the library) is also related to “reading motivation, reading skills and reading frequency and positive attitudes towards reading”, a paper published in ‘English in Education’ found.
While the research and the campaigns are complex and multi-faceted, the proposed outcomes are as simple as it gets: a school library for every child.