We need national benchmarks for school libraries

9th May 1997 at 01:00
The wide-ranging article on school inspection (TES, April 25) explored many areas that mirror the experience of members of the Library Association involved with the provision of school libraries.

Librarians in individual secondary schools and personnel in local authority schools library services are aware that self-evaluation is an essential stage in the development of effective school library provision for pupils and staff. The establishment of a library culture, and the awareness of the potential contribution to the effectiveness of the school and the enhancement of the curricular experience for pupils, is a vital element of change.

In terms of the quality and standards of school inspections, members of the Library Association have mixed views and experiences: while it is acknowledged that some inspection teams are aware of the function, power and potential of the school library, this is unfortunately not always the case.

There have been examples in England where comments by inspectors in primary schools have questioned basic library principles, betraying an ignorance of such matters. Other inspections have ignored the library and its contribution to the curriculum.

An accepted benchmark, understood by all those undertaking inspections would be useful progress in this matter.

The solutions you discuss in your article - quality control and independent assessment - would be sensible elements in the evolution of the inspection system. In the meantime, I am in correspondence with both chief inspectors for England and Wales, as part of our strategy for improving this situation.

In addition, the Library Association is revising its own highly regarded school library guidelines and I look forward to receiving, later this term, the results of the secondary school library survey of the United Kingdom (from a sample of 2,000 schools in the four countries), commissioned by the association from Sheffield Hallam University.

This will, no doubt, make seminal reading, including as it does, questions about the inspection of school libraries.

TOSS SHIMMON Chief executive Library Association Association for Library and Information Managers 7 Ridgmont Street London WC1

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