Where thrift is not a virtue

1st November 1996 at 00:00
I am writing on behalf of a number of school library services in the West Midlands, which are concerned that school libraries rarely receive in the press the attention they deserve.

It was pleasing to see an article on school libraries in your section on primary schools (TES2, October 11), but disappointing that its focus was so negative.

Jonathan Rooke was entirely right to say that school libraries need to be attractive places and I am sure that many of the tips he gave have been used to good effect in school libraries over the years. What was disturbing about the article was that the underlying assumptions on which it was based merely served to reinforce the "second-rate" status from which most school libraries have been trying so desperately to escape.

The article states: "Here are some ideas on how you can make your library exciting without having to break the bank." Why is it supposed to be a virtue not to spend money on the library? We do not read self-satisfied articles in your columns advocating "science on a shoestring", or "economical English lessons".

I am not making light of school funding problems: most schools are underfunded on almost any evaluation of what they need to spend but all schools have to establish priorities for their budgets. Unless the library is held up within the school as something worth spending money on, its position will never improve. No amount of "prettifying" will make a library attractive if the most recent book in it is dated 1976.

The article also states: "An old computer and printer will let the children type in work started in class." The unavoidable implication of this statement is that there are newer and better computers elsewhere in the school, but that an old one "is good enough for the library".

In fact, if the library is to fulfil its role as the "learning centre of the school", its computer equipment needs to be up to date to provide not only word-processing but also CD-Rom or Internet access and library management systems.

Many primary schools are already going along this route; it is a pity that Mr Rooke did not mention that as a means of making the library attractive.

Please continue to feature school libraries, but with articles which address the real issues. Other Schools Library Support Service colleagues and I would be happy to contribute information from a wider perspective than just one school.

Mr Rooke's article, while undoubtedly offering well-intentioned advice, perpetuates the myth that leaving the library to rely on goodwill and "make-do" won't make any difference to standards of learning within the school - that is simply not true.

PAUL THOMPSON Schools Library Support Service Pelsall Walsall West Midlands

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