Findings from the SLA Member Survey 2021 :: NEWS

Findings from the SLA Member Survey 2021

05 November 2021 Share

Firstly, thank you to all the members who answered the survey. The feedback is hugely important to us – the insights help connect us with what’s happening in schools, and then we also use the information to plan, inform wider work and advocate. This is your association so we really appreciate you taking the time to help us run it in the best possible way.

The survey was open during May and June, for 6 weeks, and was sent to all members and shared on social media. There were between 200 -287 responses depending on the question, which is approximately 10% of members. It was the second yearly member survey.


The vast majority of respondents said that ‘Librarian’ was their job title, though there were variations around ‘school librarian’, ‘Head Librarian’ and ‘senior Librarian’. There were also a significant number of ‘Manager’ and ‘LRC’ manager or co-ordinator. This question also highlighted the focus on reading for some, with ‘Reading Champion’ and ‘Reading for Pleasure Leader’ also occurring.

Most respondents were from England, but all of SLA’s regions were covered, with the exception of Wales. This is also reflected in the types of school, with just under half being Academies, closely followed by Independent schools. 

In terms of the age range supported, half were mainly 11-16, a quarter 16 – 18 and one fifth were ‘Other’ – which may relate to all through schools, but if you answered in this category do let us know. The respondents support a total of more than 16,100 pupils.

As has been seen in other explorations of the sector (including the Softlink and SLA Survey, 2020, and the Great School Libraries research, 2019) there is a significant variation in budget. The most frequent budget ranged from £1000 to £4999, with another 35% having a budget between £5000 to £20,000. A small number had more than £20,000, however a proportion had no specified library budget at all. Fifteen percent of respondents had less than £1000 for their school library for the year, and that is assuming that no Library Management System (LMS) or other computer systems or licenses are to be taken out of this budget (we are aware that some will do).

As you can see from the below, books are not getting cheaper and decreasing budgets are putting school library budgets under even greater pressure. A budget of £500 means only 50 picture-books can be bought, and the same amount only reaches to 46 information books for older pupils. When you take into account the natural expiration of books (information going out of date; being lost; being damaged beyond repair) and the changes in curriculum and cohort (changing reading abilities, interests, backgrounds) this makes it very hard to keep a library up to date – and this excludes the need for digital resources and e-books which have been vital over the past few years.

Compounding this, one third of schools weren’t in an area with a School Library Service (SLS), which means they’re unable to benefit from those services and expertise. Nearly a fifth were a member of an SLS, but nearly half (45%) weren’t taking advantage of their SLS’s offer.

Interestingly, when it came to the length of service in school libraries there was a fairly even spread over the time spent within school libraries, with most respondents having worked in school libraries for 11-15 years.

School libraries in action

One question asked “What is your school library related highlight of the year?” and there was a definite mix of responses. Some were able to celebrate moments from the year, while others left the question unanswered, or responded ‘None, this year’, which is a crushing sign of how incredibly difficult the situation in schools has been. Here are some of the responses for us all to celebrate which show the impact and power of a school library:

  • The buzz at the beginning of the academic year when the new pupils come in and see the library and get excited about books.  Also putting together quiz teams!
  • Because of remote learning and bubbles we have had to encourage the students to order books in a click and delivery system, and this has really raised the profile of our online catalogue and encouraged the girls to use it
  • Following our library being closed due to COVID restrictions, seeing the joy and excitement on the children's faces when we delivered a box of library books to each classroom that could be borrowed and taken home.
  • My highlight of this year was managing to get coursework books to every A’ Level History student at the start of the lockdown in January, which included students in Ukraine and Hong Kong.
  • Getting approval to have Matt Dickinson run a Writer in Residence programme with us next year. For something that happened this year, a brilliant virtual author visit from Chris Bradford.
  • Book Festival week - lots of different events took place throughout the week to re-engage the kids with the library after coming back after lockdown.
  • It's been a difficult and unusual year - but my highlight is reopening the library within COVID guidelines, to enable year group bubbles to access the library and resources and launching shadowing of the Carnegie Book Awards 2021.
  • Hosting the biggest online event that the school has ever hosted, from my living room, dressed as Mary Poppins for World Book Day. I had both of my children there too, sometimes on my lap! We divided the school in to 3 groups, so at one point we had 180 children on the call. Steve Antony was our author, and read and did a live "draw-a-long" with the pupils. It was a great success!
  • So many, difficult to choose.  Pre COVID our Dementia Friends visits.  Some of our S4 pupils undertake Dementia Friendly Training and then plan activities for members of the local community who have dementia and their families.  These activities are developed using library resources such as local history books and photographs, short stories, poetry, seasonal craft books (Christmas, Easter etc).  Visits are then held in the library for these members of the community where pupils run the activities, serve refreshments, provide entertainment and chat to the guests. Both sides get so much out of the visits and seeing pupils and guests participate fully and getting on so well together is fantastic.
  • The positive responses from parents and students to the reviews and resources I compiled on Microsoft Teams during lockdown.
  • Transforming the layout of the library after it had been closed for a year and used for key worker students. Shelves and furniture had been moved without any thought and when I reopened, I wanted an inviting and welcoming space for the students. They love it.
  • Launching eplatform during lockdown – lifesaver. Still managing to run weekly reading lessons in the library and a regular programme of digital author events for y7/8 through these unusual times. Sending home 700 sachets of hot chocolate at Christmas so families could celebrate Jolabokaflod - demonstrating the importance of reading at home.
  • SLT taking on board the importance of reading and running with lots of my ideas
  • Two A’ level student librarians entered a writing competition I had posted about on Teams and they were one of ten finalist entries, which means that their short story is going to be published in an anthology later this year. So proud of them, their hard work and dedication

What a wonderful statement of intent and resilience these are. There is so much to be proud of, and even if this doesn’t reflect your experience don’t be downhearted. Everyone’s circumstances are different; it’s not a competition, but hopefully it’s uplifting to see what school libraries can accomplish in the right circumstances.

The survey also presented an opportunity to members to work together on a project. Brilliantly, 116 members opted in, and so we will be in touch with them to move this project forwards.

Given the important and ongoing conversations around representation in education and publishing we asked members to rate how strongly they agreed with the statement: "Our range of literature and resources are varied and balanced when it comes to offering perspectives from diverse cultures, knowledge and identities."

The responses show that over 83% of respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement, which is promising. It may be that this is because members were aware of gaps and so have taken pro-active steps to adjust the balance. Again, do let us know the reasoning behind the answer if you can.

 Other organisations

The survey also asked a few questions about awareness of services and support which came from other organisations. There was a good level of awareness across all services asked about, which included the School Library Pack from BookTrust, The Reading Well programme from The Reading Agency, Empathy Lab and research from the National Literacy Trust.

Reflections on SLA services

The first section of questions asked members to reflect on SLA services.

The first question addressed how approachable the SLA was. Most people agreed or strongly agreed, and no one responded negatively. 

Respondents were then asked to rate the SLA services in order of importance. The website, TSL and the newsletter were most important, with the Advice line, social media and mentoring being rated as less important, however more people said they didn’t use these services, which may be why they are rated less highly. Both the website and TSL had roughly equal responses which rated them as ‘Incredibly Important’. There were no responses which rated TSL, the website, SLA publications or the newsletter as ‘Not Important’. 

For 2021 our quarterly journal, TSL, underwent a refresh. The survey asked to what extent TSL was more engaging. The vast majority of responses were in agreement (strongly or not), however a small number thought it was less engaging. The wider feedback seemed to indicate this was down to difficulty reading it, so we are exploring options to make it easier to read for next year. 

The survey also gathered feedback on the website. There were lots of positive comments, as has already been seen, on the content, and most respondents found the website easy to navigate. Other points which were raised by respondents were the search function, the navigations, the calendar, branches pages and the loading speed. These are all things which we will look to improve over the next year or so. 

The survey indicates that most people are aware of our additional services, namely the CPD Library, the Certificate of CPD Engagement, Wellbeing through Reading and our Jobs service. This year, data from the Job Advertisement service will be gathered, enabling the SLA to report on the salary range, disclosures and other points of interest at the end of the academic year. 

There seemed to be a significant different in the responses to the question which asked who offered the most support to the respondent in comparison to the responses to the same question from 2020. 

To finish, we were interested to see which areas members would be focusing on in the Autumn Term. These responses were categorised to allow analysis. There was a wide range of responses, from promotion to systems.

Reading through the responses gives the SLA an important insight into how members are feeling, and collating all the information together gives school libraries a voice. We hope that next year even more members will take part, together this enables the SLA to take informed service decisions and advocate more effectively for all those working in school libraries.