13 July 2022 Share
As part of the celebrations for the SLA's 85th anniversary, Justin Tomlinson MP hosted a roundtable on the ways that school libraries can be a part of the solution to the issues we are facing today
On Monday 11th July, the SLA team headed to London to talk all things school libraries. Hosted by Justin Tomlinson, MP for Swindon North, the title of the event was “How can school libraries significantly contribute to the national commitment to educate, empower and level up our communities?” and we were delighted to host brilliant speakers: Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy Education at the Open University; Julian McDougall, Professor of Media and Education at Bournemouth University; Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust; Ros Harding, School Librarian of the Year 2019/2020 as well as our very own CEO, Alison Tarrant.
The event started with Alison Tarrant introducing the afternoon, and sharing her thoughts on the state of school libraries at the moment. A vision which doesn’t include school libraries is no vision at all. She shared some stories from her time as a school librarian, stressing why leaders need to recognise them as a fundamental part of every child’s education.
"We need to raise our aspirations for school libraries… our children deserve beautiful reading experiences and books which are tackling the topics of the day." She went on to say: "We want to develop a new reality for school libraries, where respect and understanding flow between school library staff and policy makers… the vision for the future should include school libraries."
Following on from Alison was Professor Teresa Cremin, who highlighted that the right to read freely and for enjoyment is the right of every child.
Teresa demonstrated the immense benefits that stem from Reading For Pleasure. "It’s critical that children’s fiction should be diverse and reflect the multiple realities that children experience every day." Teresa also announced that the Open University was working with the SLA and Bounce Together to delve further into the relationship that reading and wellbeing have on each other. More information about this will be released in due course.
Moving on from reading to processing, Professor of Media and Education and SLA Patron, Julian McDougall, then spoke about how, if we’re serious about levelling up, we need to think about media and information literacy.
He shared how school libraries are crucial spaces to the development of Information Literacy and the levelling up agenda: "School libraries are rich third spaces for media and information literacy education." He also announced a new research project in the works to further explore the concept of how school libraries support resilience and wellbeing as pupils navigate digital spaces between the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, the SLA and TASIS.
Next up, and agreeing with Julian on the role of information literacy in levelling up, and with Teresa on the importance of reading for pleasure, came Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas. The challenge with levelling up is that it’s not located in the individual, but in the structures and policies surrounding the individual.
Speaking about school libraries from the perspective of employment chances and opportunities he said: "The school library is the strongest space for the exercise of agency within the school environment... The simple room with the books is not enough… school libraries need librarians." He particularly focused on the ability for librarians to connect across students, business and the community to build skills and opportunity.
"Libraries offer students the chance to learn for themselves, in a safe environment.” And last, but by no means least, we were thrilled to hear from spectacular school librarian Ros Harding, who shared her own experiences of how school libraries educate and empower, as well as the experience of being a judge for the SLA's School Librarian of the Year Award.
"The library is a space where students can fail without fear." - a bold statement, but one which gained nods of agreement from the school librarians in attendance. She continued: "In every school I visit, the library is seen as a safe space and the librarian as someone students can talk to."
That brought the formal talks to a close, and the floor opened to questions. Responding to a question of whether school library books should be exclusively replaced with eBooks, our CEO Alison Tarrant highlighted the problems with this approach: “it’s about consistently providing a range of resources so that you can support every pupil. The pandemic illustrated multiple barriers digital reading faces - WiFi or data, devices, content etc. But e-books do play an important role in reading for today's children. It's not just about 'the right book, at the right time, for the right child - it needs to be in the right format too".
She went on to highlight the difficulties school libraries can face in supplying e-books, including a lack of support and investment opportunity from senior leaders, and the difficulty some face in understanding the licensing terms.
There was further discussion and comment, and attendees were encouraged to fill out pledge cards stating how they'd act on what they'd heard over the course of the day. The day came to a close with one attendee stating: "Thank you for providing this, it's allowed us to do a deep dive into library provision, what it looks like now and what it could contribute to our schools. We've got some thinking to do."
You can read further notes on each speech, or the full text where available, below.
Alison Tarrant's speech - The State of School Libraries today
Teresa Cremin's speech - Impact of Reading on literacy and wellbeing
Julian McDougall - Information Literacy as a tool to empowerment
Jonathan Douglas - School Libraries and their contribution to Employment
Ros Harding - Reflections from a School Librarian
Get involved and download your own pledge card here. Fill it out and share on Twitter by tagging us @uksla and using the hashtag #SLALevelUp!