Reading 'catastrophe' as book closed on libraries

3rd September 2010 at 01:00
England's largest local authority is latest to shelve specialist service to cut costs

The future of school libraries has been called into serious doubt after the country's largest local authority axed its service for tens of thousands of pupils.

Kent County Council has told its schools they will have to borrow books from their local libraries instead, after expressing concern that the service was failing to pay for itself.

The move comes after Cambridgeshire and Solihull shut their school libraries earlier in the year. The London borough of Sutton is to follow suit next year.

Schools in Kent will only be able to borrow 100 books for eight weeks at a time from local libraries for free.

"A service that relies on teachers going into their local library is not going to replicate an all-singing, all-dancing school library service," said Helen Boothroyd, chair of the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians.

"In a number of authorities the expertise in terms of working specifically with schools and supporting them in literacy interventions and the curriculum resides in the school library service staff. Public library staff do not have the same expertise."

School library services are not statutory, so authorities can choose not to run them. There are growing concerns that looming public spending cuts could threaten remaining services.

Alan Gibbons, children's author and libraries campaigner, said: "The progressive closure of school library services is a catastrophe. The notion that a public library service is going to take up the slack is laughable.

"We have a perfect storm. The public services are coming under the axe and individual school libraries are going to be under pressure.

"There is no sign from Government of setting the basic principle of retaining a reading culture. We have the axe swinging in every direction."

The concerns come as the Government called for general library services to be revamped as the number of users continues to fall. Figures released last week showed that the number of people who visit a library has dropped by 32 per cent in the past five years and 60 per cent have not used a library in the past year.

The Government has suggested relocating library services to places including pubs and supermarkets to make them more accessible.

In Kent, money to buy-in a library service had been given to schools but they could choose whether to opt in. There were 900 schools eligible to use the service across the county - the biggest local education authority in England - and in Medway. The council said it was used by 189 schools in the financial year until April 2010, mostly primaries.

A notice to schools from the council, issued at the end of last term, said: "Existing take-up has been very low in recent years and the service was failing to cover its costs."

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