Great School Libraries Campaign – Unequal Futures: An Imbalance of Opportunities
A guest editorial by Mary-Rose Grieve, co-chair of the Great School Libraries campaign
Since 2018, CILIP, the CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) and The School Library Association (SLA) have been collaborating on the Great School Libraries Campaign which aims to ensure that every child in the country has access to a school library and to professional library staff. On 7 March, we published a report into the current school library provision in the UK based on a large-scale survey carried out on our behalf by BMG Research.
The research highlighted the glaring inequality of school library provision across the UK, both in terms of quantity and quality. It seems it really does make a difference where you live, what school you attend and what your socio-economic background is. Schools who have a higher proportion of pupils who receive free school meals are less likely to have access to a library space and when they do, their libraries are stocked with 60% fewer books than their counterparts who have the lowest number of children receiving free school meals. In Northern Ireland, a third of their schools have no library on site. Three quarters of schools in Wales have no specialist library staff and only a fifth of them have a designated budget for the library. The story continues in Scotland, where nearly a quarter of schools have no library space at all and two thirds of school libraries have no designated budget.
It makes for fairly depressing reading. However, the research has allowed us to highlight innovative, pioneering and transformative work being done by librarians in school libraries around the country. The research showed that in Secondary schools, more school librarians are being recognised as heads of department and work collaboratively with different subject departments and specialist leads. This is hugely encouraging and allows us to demonstrate the multifaceted skills of a librarian to school leaders and policy makers.
There is no doubt of the librarian’s role in finding the right book for the right child and in creating a safe space for pupils to read and relax; however this is to ignore their more fundamental position in the academic life of the school. The school library should be at the very heart of learning, inquiry and intellectual curiosity; a place where the work of the classroom is continued, enhanced, expanded and enriched. The school library is a place where both students and their teachers come for inspiration and ideas and where academic success and individual curiosity is allowed to flourish alongside the social and emotional support that the space (and its staff) can offer to the school community as a whole.
The role of the school librarian is more important than ever as we teach our children to negotiate the wealth of information, misinformation and fake news that is available to them at their fingertips by giving them the skills they need to be information and media literate – which at the moment is not embedded into the National Curriculum and is surely doing our young people a huge disservice.
The success of our launch in Portcullis House has given us much optimism for the future. An audience of politicians, publishers, charities, authors and other sector bodies all agreed that by working together we can put school libraries at the heart of every school. To do this, we need to demonstrate to headteachers and policy makers the impact that a great school library can have on their pupils’ attainment and then equip them with the resources they need to establish, develop and improve their library provision. It can and must be done! Find out more about how you can support us here and sign the petition here.