SCHOOL LIBRARIES should be made a statutory service by the Scottish parliament to protect their crucial role in raising education standards, councils say.
A Convention of Scottish Local Authorities task group says they have been an easy target in recent council cuts and unlike public libraries have no mandatory base. Cosla's education and cultural services forum, meeting in Dundee today (Friday), will consider a recommendation to set national standards of provision.
Rhona Arthur, assistant director of the Scottish Library Association and a task group member, said critical developments in information and communications technology, including the National Grid for Learning, placed school librarians at the heart of the Government's education agenda.
"If we put them into a more central role, you cannot do that across Scotland unless there is nationwide provision," Mrs Arthur said.
She believes school librarians will increasingly be engaged in supporting learning and teaching through ICT, a point recognised by ministers when they allocated pound;20 million through the New Opportunities Fund for training teachers and librarians.
Mrs Arthur said: "Quite a lot are looking at fulfilling a different role, supporting teachers as they come to grips with IT. Computers will quite often be available in libraries and you could end up with pupils coming in throughout the day. They will need to access information, they will need support and to be taught how to search and print off materials. There is also the use of CD-Roms. ICT is having a major impact."
Librarians also had a key role in raising standards of reading and literacy and were heavily involved in the National Year of Reading.
More than 90 per cent of secondaries have full-time librarians, most professionally trained. Nearly 400 staff are based in schools, backed by 80 in central library support services. Primary and special schools rely on central help.
Senior staff remain concerned about the quality of recruits, raising questions of initial training. Cosla states: "There was also evidence of problems with retention of staff, attributed to poor career structure for school library resource centre staff. The lack of career advancement demotivates staff and encourages them to seek promotion outside the sector."
Mrs Arthur admits there has been long-running concern about levels of pay and grading. "They have lower pay and status than teachers and work longer hours," she said. Librarians were "quite an isolated profession".
Elaine Murray, South Ayrshire's education convener and Cosla's cultural affairs spokeswoman, said: "The main idea of this substantive report is that we want to highlight the importance of school libraries in primary and secondary. Sometimes it has been a Cinderella service. We are indicating clearly how it is linked in with learning skills and gaining information either from conventional sources or ICT."
Sandy Watson, chief executive of Angus and a group member, said: "This sets out ideally where we would want to go. It sets standards we can aim for."