Something very important happened at this year’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) School Libraries Group Conference. A brand new campaign was launched by CEO Nick Poole in his opening speech. The Great School Libraries Campaign sees CILIP team up with the School Library Association (SLA) to campaign for the end of school library closures across the UK. They are also stating that every secondary school should have a professionally staffed, fully funded library. This is wonderful news and I am determined to provide my full support. However I firmly believe that a well stocked and properly funded library managed by a professional librarian is equally important in primary schools.
Earlier this year a report commissioned by the Oxford University Press detailed the results of a survey of 1,300 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK which found that more than 60% saw increasing incidents of underdeveloped vocabulary among pupils of all ages, leading to lower self-esteem, negative behaviour and in some cases greater difficulties in making friends. The majority of teachers surveyed attributed this underdeveloped vocabulary to a decline in reading for pleasure. Surely this means that we should be prioritising reading for pleasure in schools as a matter of urgency and particularly in primary schools where patterns and habits for a lifetime can be set. If schools are given adequate resources, then great school libraries could make all the difference. Properly funded, stocked and staffed school libraries lead to higher student achievement regardless of students’ economic backgrounds.
Research carried out into the provision of school libraries supports the view that access to a good school library and professional librarian input is vital at this stage of a child’s education.
“Access to library space and School Library Services will have an impact on attainment at a pivotal point in a child’s educational life. Studies have shown that children who read for pleasure from a young age are much more likely to do well throughout their academic life.”
(The All Party Parliamentary Group report ‘The Beating Heart of the School’. 2014)
Seventeen years as a primary school librarian has taught me that a well stocked library managed by a librarian is hugely important. Why try to play catch-up from 11+ when a library and librarian can sow the seeds from early years on? The formative stage has a lasting impact on reading progress and pleasure. The transfer to secondary education can often be a tricky time for children as they adapt to new routines and expectations. Even the best librarians and teachers will find it difficult to instil a love of reading from scratch at this stage. If the groundwork has been done and a reading for pleasure habit developed at the primary stage then at secondary school the huge range of quality literature suitable for teens is available to them.
‘The primary and secondary schools visited emphasised the school library as contributing markedly to improving literacy skills… The enthusiasm and responsiveness of the librarian generally had a direct impact on the attitudes of the students towards the library and reading’
(Ofsted, 2011. Removing barriers to literacy)
A librarian is vital in ensuring that reading habit is nurtured from early on in a child’s reading journey. Ideally this would be a librarian in each primary school, however funding makes that unlikely in the near future but with the closure of many county School Library Services it appears to me that some sort of local librarian team shared between a small group of primaries is needed sooner rather than later.
An aspect of the librarian role not often mentioned is that of nurturing teachers as readers. It is possible for librarians to make a vital impact here. Running staff book clubs, book swap boxes in the staffroom and email recommendations of new books for both children and adults all raise the profile of reading for pleasure and are initiatives I have had success with. A librarian is able to keep time pressed teachers up to date with new authors and titles that they may want to share in the classroom. Teresa Cremin and the Open University have done a great deal of research work on the importance of teachers as readers and reading role models. Librarians have training and expertise in the areas that will enable, support and encourage this in primary schools.
This is just a very small part of why school libraries and librarians matter in primary schools and I wrote about other aspects of the many ways in which librarians are educators last year. These include the importance of information literacy in the age of ”fake news” and the vital pastoral role of both the libary and the librarian.
If you care about reading for pleasure, literacy and children lapping up books from an early age and recognise the vital role that school libraries play in enabling this and so much more please do add your support to the new campaign. The organisers will be collating evidence over the next three years of all that great school libraries do. Add your voice and make a difference.
Thank you for reading.