School libraries: an endangered species?

18th September 2009 at 01:00
Politicians on the prowl for public spending cuts are eyeing them up, literacy lobby warns as it calls for service champion

School libraries face an increasingly shaky future, literacy groups have warned, as politicians look for areas in which public spending can be cut.

Now Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust, has called for the appointment of a school library tsar to champion the service. Campaigners are also demanding that school libraries become a statutory requirement.

"School libraries are now in a very vulnerable position in the current climate of constrained public spending," Mr Douglas said.

The lack of a champion at national level is, he said, an issue, and "nine years of delegated funding" for school library provision has led to weakened services.

"There needs to be an assessment of what is going on in terms of library provision in schools and for schools.

"But it's not simply about access; it's about the quality of provision. To have in every school a room full of books is good. But it only gets exciting if the library is integrated with teaching and learning, and a good school librarian with quality resources can do that."

Mr Douglas has backed author Alan Gibbons, founder of the Campaign for the Book, who has posted a petition on the No 10 website calling for school libraries to be made statutory. It has been signed by more than 4,000 people.

Mr Gibbons said: "School library services are under threat because a lot of people see them as an easy cut. School library funding is agreed by the governing body of a school, and a small minority of head teachers are choosing the library as something where they can cut budgets.

"It is statutory to have prison libraries, but not school libraries.

"We believe prisons should have libraries and can't see why it is not statutory to have libraries in secondary schools.

"We want some kind of national reading development agency, a body to integrate the three sectors of public libraries, school libraries and the school library service. Because there isn't a leading body, the sector is very bitty. You do get waste, you do get overlap and there is no coherence."

Author Philip Pullman is among those who has spoken out in support of school libraries. When the Meadows Community School in Derbyshire announced it was cutting the post of learning centre manager, Mr Pullman wrote to the headteacher to object.

Two national reviews of public library services are currently being carried out, one by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and one by the all-party parliamentary group on libraries and literacy.

Tricia Adams, chief executive of the School Library Association, said: "Every child should have access to a school library. Although public libraries are statutory, not all schools are near them, so a school library may be the only time a child can access them."

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