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Development and Discussion 2019 10: School Libraries Share

29 November 2019 Share


In April 2015 Caitlin Moran wrote a passionate column about the impact of austerity on our public libraries. As cutbacks empty our libraries of the rich and enticing collections that were once available to us, Moran claims that we cannot fight for something which has been stripped of all that is important “because all the words they could have learnt and used are now heaped up by the door, for sale”. In a previous SLA blog post Christina Clark, the National Literacy Trust’s Head of Research spoke of the importance of school libraries, not just for children’s reading and writing skills, but also their academic attainment and self-esteem.


The fantastic research being produced and collated by brilliant Empathy Lab evidences how reading helps to build empathy skills in children. In her superb presentation at the Peters 2019 Love Literacy event, founder of the Empathy Lab, Miranda McKearney described the research of the Emory Centre in Atlanta which demonstrates that the empathy we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sensitivity towards real people.

We can see these impassioned opinions and academic research point to the value of libraries and reading. Our hearts know they are important and research backs up our emotional response to the loss of libraries in our schools and communities. Yet…over 500 public libraries have closed in England since 2010, and anecdotal evidence from the Softlink sales team, who speak with school receptionists and library staff across schools in the UK on a daily basis, suggest school libraries are actively closing or not replacing librarians. So the fight must continue, thus any work being put into evidencing the value and importance of our libraries must also be supported by all those who believe it matters. That is why the data collection involved in campaigns like the Great School Libraries campaign and the Softlink School Library survey are so significant. These surveys are our collective voice.


Softlink launched its first School Library Survey in 2010 to form a response to the Australian Government’s Inquiry into school libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools.Since then, to highlight the issues and opportunities school libraries experience, Softlink has continued to survey Australian schools annually, extending this to include New Zealand and UK schools in 2015 and in 2019 the survey was extended include Europe and the Asia Pacific region.Continuing this annual survey builds a critical reference point for understanding changes, impacts, and trends over time.

The survey looks at important statistical information, such as staffing and budgets, as well as school library practices, services, resourcing, and trends. In addition to this statistical data the survey also asks staff a couple of open ended questions about their libraries and their roles. This information is then used to create feature documents to support peers: https://www.softlinkint.com/blog/softlinks-school-library-survey-feature-documents/

These surveys can give us some reassurances. The Softlink 2018 survey highlighted that 13% of schools surveyed experienced a decrease in library staff provision in comparison to 16% in 2017. A small difference but significant in these times. These surveys can also highlight the work that is of most importance to those individuals actually doing the job. In the 2018 Softlink survey respondents were asked to select 5 services or objectives that are the main services their library provides. They were also asked to select 5 services they would like to provide more of. The top 3 services that respondents felt they provided were: 

1. Promoting and supporting reading for pleasure (94%) 

2. Providing an engaging and welcoming space for learning and leisure (86%) 

3. Library administration – circulation management (76%) 


The top 4 services respondents expressed that they would like to provide more of included: 

1. Developing or teaching information literacy programs (56%)  

2. Collaborating with other school departments (51%) 

3. Curating relevant information and resources to support topic-based learning and curriculum (47%) 

4. Developing or teaching research skills programs (47%) 


94% of those who responded to the survey felt that they were actively promoting reading for pleasure, thus helping students improve their self-esteem, empathy skills, and academic attainment. However, the services that the respondents would like to provide more of suggest that perhaps given adequately staffed, funded and resourced libraries, our school librarians could provide a greater range of services that support our children in navigating the abundance of information available to them. We know our libraries and librarians are important. We know reading for pleasure opens up a world of opportunities for our young people. However, it is only by sharing our experiences and challenges that we can, in partnership, look at ways to overcome the obstacles we are facing.


You can participate in Softlink’s 2019 EMEA survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MZ3YVVC


The full UK 2018 Softlink survey results from can be accessed here: https://www.softlinkint.com/downloads/2018_Softlink_UK_School_Library_Survey_Report.pdf


Bibliography:

Clark, Christina. “Development and Discussion 2018 6: Why Do Children Need Great School Libraries? : NEWS.” School Library Association, School Library Association, 13 Dec. 2018, https://www.sla.org.uk/article/alison-tarrant/development-and-discussion-2018-6-why-do-children-need-great-school-libraries

Editorial. “The Guardian View on Librarians: Guides to Life, Not Just to Books.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 31 July 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/31/the-guardian-view-on-librarians-guides-to-life-not-just-to-books

EmpathyLab Research Bank, https://www.empathylab.uk/empathylab-research-bank

 “Home: Great School Libraries.” Great School Libraries, https://www.greatschoollibraries.org.uk/.

Moran, Caitlin. “What Have They Done to My Library?” The Times, The Times, 18 Apr. 2015, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/what-have-they-done-to-my-library-smqk9830m9q