Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Leadership - Libraries Are Necessities, Not Luxuries: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Leadership - Libraries Are Necessities, Not Luxuries: News

Article excerpt

These underappreciated facilities should be given the credit, and cash, they deserve.

A number of public libraries have closed in the UK over the past year and the School Library Association (SLA) has pointed to "anecdotal evidence ... that the position (of libraries) in many schools is worsening", with budgets and librarian posts being cut.

Wherever they are in the world, school leaders may be reading this and asking: what's the issue? What place, after all, do libraries have in the modern digital age? If this is your response, it is a very short-sighted view that could be damaging your school.

The importance of reading widely and for pleasure is now well established as a vital ingredient in turning children into fluent readers. In 2000, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) reported that: "Being more enthusiastic about reading, and a frequent reader, was more of an advantage on its own than having well-educated parents in good jobs." Libraries are central to facilitating that reading.

In addition, research by the National Literacy Trust confirms that young people who receive free school meals enjoy reading less, do it less often and think about reading more negatively than those who do not receive free school meals. These are the students who especially need libraries. Librarians are expert at turning children on to reading, and the argument for libraries in this context is an argument for fairness and opportunity for all.

School leaders should be building libraries into their strategic plans and exploiting the potential for better, more joined-up use of school and public libraries. Even if technology facilitates reading for some children, it will not do so for all, or contribute the full experience and benefits of a library.

Installing a school library is not just about giving over a corner of a corridor to some bookshelves, or asking one of the senior staff to act as a part-time caretaker. It requires commitment.

First, a library needs to be well-stocked, relevant and led by a knowledgeable and well-qualified professional. That person needs to be given the authority to work in a position of responsibility alongside subject leaders to develop school literacy.

Schools must also improve the quality and coherence of programmes for teaching information literacy across all subjects.

Finally, school leaders and governors need to know if the library is having an impact; this means better and more systematic evaluation. …

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