What Is the Impact of the School Library on Pupils' Personal Development? A Case Study of a Secondary School in Northern Ireland

Article excerpt

What is the perceived impact of the school library on pupils' personal development? This paper reports on a case study of a secondary school (all girls, 11-18 years) in a disadvantaged area in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The study explores the impact of the school library in terms of personal development, and seeks to answer the question of how best to evaluate impact in this regard. Interviews and postal questionnaires are used to collect data from both school staff and parents. Data collected from the interviews with school staff show that staff regarded the school library as having a positive impact on pupils' motivation to learn, and on their self-esteem and personal confidence during both formal learning activities in the library and periods of free access. The results of the survey of parents show that parents perceived that the activities of the school library contributed positively to pupils' attitudes towards reading and the development of literacy skills. This paper makes a valuable contribution to how we demonstrate the impact of the school library and data is collected from a geographic area that is significantly under-represented in the research.

Introduction

The aim of this research was to investigate and measure the perceived impact, if any, that the school library may have on the personal development of pupils coming from a disadvantaged socio-economic background.

The school that was selected for this case study is a secondary school (all girls, aged 11-18 years) in a disadvantaged area in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is situated in an area that has suffered from "social and civil unrest for a period of some 30 years" (Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), 2003, p. 3). At the time of the study (late Spring 2010), 420 pupils were on the role, 42% of whom were in receipt of free school meals (FSMs)1 and came from areas described by the Department for Social Development, Northern Ireland (DfSDNI, 2003, p. 41) as among those districts suffering the highest level of deprivation in the province. The ETI (2003, p. 3) report also noted that "approximately 52% of the pupils are deemed by the school to have special educational needs".

Results of MidYIS2 internal tests on cultural capital (specifically, what support for learning there was in students' lives, in terms of access to books in the home, and library and museum visits) showed that the pupils ranked significantly below the national average in some areas (e.g. only 36% had access to more than 50 books in the home against a national average of 79%; 33% used public libraries (compared to a national average of 76%) and surprisingly high in other strands (e.g. 96% used the school library, where the national average is 77%; 71% read for pleasure compared to the national average of 74%). So this data shows that the school library is well used, and that there is a fairly high level of reading for pleasure. By providing access to reading materials and cultural capital (in the form of cultural goods (Bourdieu, 1986)) and encouraging opportunities for independent learning and reading for pleasure, is the school library making any difference to the learning and personal experience of pupils? An evaluation of the school library's possible impact will give the service a chance to explore and evidence a "multidimensional perspective on its value" (Todd, 2007) as well as informing practice and contributing to the advancement of knowledge in the field of evidence-based school librarianship (Todd, 2001).

Review of Literature

Ritchie (2009) highlights the multidisciplinary nature of school libraries research. For the study reported here, evidence and existing research from school librarianship; socio-cultural and constructivist theories on learning outcomes from the field of educational research; and aspects of social research such as policies and studies on social inclusion/exclusion and cultural capital, had to be examined. A full literature review, as well as further details of the study (including copies of the data collection instruments), can be found in Fodale (2010). …