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Public libraries face massive funding cuts. . . and schools are smarting t oo

As an example near Stirling shows, school libraries are crucial - but they are having to make do on tiny budgets. For pupils at Balfron High School in the Stirling Council area, the school library is a haven of tranquillity amid a bustling rural school. The building was designed originally for around 450 pupils, but now has almost twice that number, having sprouted annexes known as "sheds".

Katrina Woodford, aged 16, from Strathblane, Fiona Turner (17) from Buchlyvie and Gillian Dalrymple (16) from Balfron spend study periods in the spacious, well-ordered library, where there are several computers for locating books, using educational CD-Roms and viewing careers information. There is a computer link to CampusWorld, BT's education network.

Katrina uses the library for studying and doing research projects. She has used the computer to gather newspaper articles for an essay on abortion and for a geography project.

"Last year," she says, "I accessed French newspapers and got print-outs. There's a public library in Strathblane, where I live, which I use to get out fiction but not for research. It doesn't have computers and things like that."

Fiona, who is doing geography and biology sixth-year studies, uses the library during half-a-dozen study periods each week, as well as any time she needs information. "Last week we were looking for material on Flanders Moss, a raised bog near here for a biology project. We came into the library and Mrs Baron, the librarian, gave us some books and the phone number of the warden of part of the bog owned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Then we went to see her."

Fiona says: "Living out here in the country, it's difficult to get to public libraries in Stirling or Glasgow, though I do go to Stirling during the holidays when the school library is shut."

Gillian uses the school library for dissertations in geography and history. "There's also a computer in the careers section at the back of the library. It would be difficult if the school library wasn't so well-resourced. I use my local library here in Balfron for personal reading and for videos and CDs. "

School librarian Jane Baron admits that she has cut her subscriptions to several journals, including Newsweek International, Geographical Magazine and National Geographic, because of lack of funds: "I don't subscribe any more, because my budget is so limited that I feel the need to purchase other things is more important."

The available money is being spent on books and computer services. CampusWorld costs Pounds 32 a month, but gives important Internet access. "Even if I don't have up-to-date books, the Internet produces the most up-to-date thoughts on most subjects."

She says that her budget of Pounds 1,300 for this year does not buy many books. If she were to receive the Pounds 10 per year per pupil for library books recently recommended by the Government, she would receive Pounds 8,500.

"What the Government is recommending should be spent on school library books and what is actually being spent doesn't tally," she says.

Mrs Baron reckons that tomorrow's students have to be self-starters, not passive receivers of information but active seekers. Using the school library will help them find their way around the bookshelves of academia.

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