‘’We are all educators…….accompanying young people in their efforts to build their lives for today and tomorrow.’’
For seventeen years I worked as a librarian in a school at which the words above formed part of the mission statement. When I left in the summer of 2017 the head-teacher said that as the school librarian I was an example of this. Not me personally but in my role within the school community. Unfortunately today it would appear that there are many who do not believe that school librarians are educators and that schools do not need a librarian at all.
Inevitably discussions about education concentrate on teachers and teaching assistants. That they are the public face of education is not in doubt but schools work best when the staff collaborate and work together as a team and the school librarian should be an important part of that team. Quietly and stealthily school libraries and librarians are disappearing. There are schools that may have a library but no professional librarian to run it. Without a school librarian the library is simply a room full of books, with a librarian it can become the heart of the school for both pupils and staff. We live in age when much in education has to be assessed, measured and counted. These things that can be counted appear to matter most to those who are making the decisions. So much of what librarians do can’t be assessed or counted. That does not mean that what they do does not matter. Nor does it mean that they are not having a positive impact on the children they serve. Why? How do librarians add to a child’s education? Why do school libraries matter?
- School Libraries matter because Reading for Pleasure makes a difference
There has been much research carried out in recent years that supports the view that enjoying reading has benefits for a child’s education generally. Reading enjoyment has been reported as more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. There is a growing body of evidence which illustrates the importance of reading for pleasure for both educational purposes as well as personal development. In the school library children may not learn how to read but they are likely to learn how to become ‘’a reader.’’ I know that there are many wonderful teachers who create readers; however creating readers is what makes school librarians tick. It’s what we are all about. Finding that right book at the right time that opens up a whole new world for a particular child is the reason we are there. We have the time to chat about books, to recommend and to guide, to allow time and space for choice and browsing. Librarians love what Teresa Cremin (Professor of Education, Literacy at the Open University) describes so delightfully as book blether. The best class teacher in the world simply does not have enough time to do all this. School Libraries matter because they enable this to happen and librarians can help teachers to make it happen too.
- School Libraries Matters Because Facts Matter
‘Fake news’ was named Collins Dictionary’s official Word of the Year for 2017. Never has it been more apparent that we, the public, need to be able to access reliable and accurate information that we can trust. However, some children’s idea of independent research is to ‘Google it’’. School librarians are trained to teach research skills – referencing, plagiarism etc. and know how to carry out online research, use digital tools and can guide Google searching. As librarian for a junior department I stored links to numerous websites for both teachers and pupils, provided links to suitable sites for young children to use both in school and at home and guided research lessons using books and online resources. School librarians can educate the next generation to select, appraise and use the information they find with confidence. Surely this matters.
- School Libraries Matter because we want children to be not only good readers but good people too.
2017 saw the celebration of the first Empathy Day to highlight empathy’s importance in our divided world and the power of stories to develop it. The day was an amazing success and will now be an annual event. Through stories children are able to briefly put themselves in the shoes of others and in this way learn about what life is like for people very different to themselves. Equally importantly, in stories children may find themselves and learn to cope with situations, worries or feel less alone. Children’s books matter because they can encourage tolerance and understanding. School librarians know which books can do this. Education is not just about the academics it is about educating the whole person to be the best that they can be. This matters a great deal.
- School Libraries matter because they can be a safe haven.
Perhaps this should have been reason number one. Every single school librarian can tell you of a child that has been ‘’rescued’’ by the library. The new pupil anxious about the hurly-burly of the playground, the worried child who needs some time alone and a quiet space to simply ‘’be’’. If for any reason a child feels out of place the school library can provide security and a place where they feel valued. The school library offers comfort to many and this matters enormously.
As I write this, Nick Poole, the CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, is asking children’s authors to support a letter that is being sent to the Government calling for a halt in the decline of school and college libraries. They are responding in large numbers. This is wonderful. My voice may only be a small one but I want to use it to support this call. This is not about self-interest or my job security as I’m no longer employed as a school librarian. It is about speaking up to protect something that I believe to be of great value. If all teachers, teaching assistants, parents, authors, illustrators, book and library lovers speak up too maybe all our voices can add up to something that cannot be ignored. If you think that school libraries matter please add your voice too.
Thank you for reading.