With 94% of schools having a library you may be surprised to hear that, just below the surface, many schools are struggling to keep them open. Statistics show that many schools have cut their library services dramatically over the last five years. While some look at technological advances as a factor, others question whether financial pressures are forcing schools to make tough decisions. But, how much have schools and colleges cut back on libraries, and why does it matter?
Since 2010, a third of all school libraries have experienced cuts of 40% or more, with 20% of library staff being made redundant, and 32% of all schools not having a designated librarian at all. Other schools have cut back on the hours the library is open while two secondary academies have even closed or tried to close their school libraries altogether.
So, should we be concerned?
Or, as one head-teacher recently told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers at their annual conference, “all reading can be done on iPads” – effectively declaring books and libraries obsolete!
There is no doubt that technology has played a part in the decline of libraries in many towns and cities, with many adapting to offer other services alongside lending books to the community. However, it seems that the constraints placed on school libraries are missing the point of having them. It is not simply a question of paper versus screens, but also about a place where students can go for quiet study, support, or even have their minds opened to new books, authors, and ideas.
To suggest that the school library has no real function in the modern school or college is to miss many of the extra benefits a library brings. This is something that is recognised by the Department of Education, with a spokeswoman recently saying school libraries "played a vital role."
However, despite declaring that “we want all children to read widely and well and believe school libraries can play a vital role in fostering that love of reading,” the Department of Education passed ultimate responsibility to the schools themselves, stating, “We trust schools to decide on whether to provide and maintain a library service for their pupils."
With many schools reducing opening hours or getting teachers and support staff to act as librarians could it be that funding is an issue? Perhaps schools are seeing libraries as something that they can afford to cut back on?
Losing dedicated library staff means not just a loss of skills but also one less non-teaching member of staff who students can engage with. And, as for the assertion that students can just read on their iPads – surely that is to completely ignore the many families who may not be able to afford such luxuries for their children?
Even in this age of technological advancement, there is a very real need for traditional libraries in schools, and it’s not just all about reading…