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Turning the page on library services

There has been much publicity about the threat to school library services. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has established a working party to look at standards for school libraries. Sadly, in some cases there has been a sharp curtailment in or even closure of a service, but the news is not universally grim.

Under the old two-tier council system, school libraries mainly belonged to the regions and public libraries to the districts. East Dunbartonshire took advantage of the shadow year in which the unitary authorities were being set up to look at the education resource service and redefine its role. In practice, little duplication existed, although there were areas of overlap, the most obvious in provision for local history. It was decided that in this sphere schools would be best supported by the public library's reference department, and so local history material from the resource service was transferred.

The resource service became entirely focused on support for the learning and teaching process, and its stock now falls into three main areas: a professional development collection, topic boxes for primary schools and pre-five classes, and an evaluation collection of current fiction and curricular programmes. Resource service staff work from within education in close partnership with curriculum development officers as part of the curriculum support unit.

The service has been renamed the curriculum resource service. The change of title reinforces the distinction between the work of the resource service and that of the public library. However, the close liaison established in the shadow year is being extended to other branches of leisure services, such as the museums and art gallery.

It was agreed early on that the public library's non-fiction stock should not be used by teachers to supplement the resource service's topic box collection, but that it would be available in branch libraries to individual young library users.

Interestingly it became clear that, reflecting their different purposes, the two services took a different approach to stock selection.

At the beginning of last session the public library's young people's services were supplied with data on forthcoming topic loans to schools and thereafter regular exchanges of information took place. Young people's services held an author event for teachers and school librarians in October to introduce them to branch staff. Curriculum resource officers helped to promote this event which was extremely well supported.

An added benefit of the evening was that it demonstrated to school staff that the two services were working co-operatively. Young people's services now advise on author visits and offer schools the opportunity to tap into promotional events.

Curriculum resource service staff are able to pinpoint which schools would find a particular event, such as a recently held Anne Frank exhibition, especially pertinent. Each of the three curriculum resource officers has an expertise - in special educational needs, pre-five or copyright issues - and has responsibility for an area of East Dunbartonshire. The emphasis of their work has changed and the majority of their time is spent working in primary schools implementing and refining a system for the management of 5-14 resources first developed by colleagues towards the end of the life of Strathclyde Region.

Central service staff are now more aware than before of what is held by individual schools and where there are gaps in provision. Schools are given assistance in building their own collections in the hope that eventually they will become self-sufficient in core curriculum topics they undertake less frequently.

The unitary authority structure has afforded the resource service the opportunity of concentrating firmly on support for the learning and teaching process. There is no longer the need to be distracted by trying to provide a more comprehensive service. The resource service delivers a service to children as learners: the public library delivers a service to children as citizens. The ultimate aim of both services is to achieve the best possible provision for the children of East Dunbartonshire.

This article based is on a presentation to last year's Scottish Library Conference by Sharon Barron, principal curriculum resource officer in East Dunbartonshire, and Theresa Breslin, the council's young people's service librarian.

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