The differing impacts of COVID - a blog from the Softlink/SLA school libraries survey :: NEWS
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The differing impacts of COVID - a blog from the Softlink/SLA school libraries survey

23 June 2022 Share

This blog uses the results of the Softlink/SLA survey to uncover the impact of COVID

Status

Across primaries, respondents indicated that 86% of primary school libraries were either ‘back to normal’ or open with restrictions, while for secondaries the figure was 90%. Although there may be some bias in this (as it’s more likely open school libraries would have responded to the survey) it does provide a solid base for understanding the context the respondents were working in at the time of answering (Dec 2021). 

It is the case that the vast majority of respondents were open, even if operating with restrictions (either of hours or use). 

Staffing

The vast majority of respondents (73%) said that COVID had had no impact on levels of staffing in the 12 month previous. However, of those who said there had been an impact, this is split between an increase and a decrease in staffing – with 17% saying there’d been a decrease and 10% indicating an increase. 

No impact Decreased staffing Increased staffing
369 85 51
73.07% 16.83% 10.10%

Perceptions of the school library

However, the most interesting responses come in relation to the question: “Has there been a difference in perceptions since COVID?”

There were 405 measurable responses to this question, and nearly a third said that there had been no impact in perceptions of the school library. These responses are split between two very different camps: 

“Not really. It has always been valued and continues to be”

“Many of the staff who worked in the Library last year when it was turned into a staffroom as that was claimed as a classroom were very surprised with what we did and could offer.  We managed to have lots of great conversations with staff and some of them have come to ask us about sessions following on from that. But in a wider sense, I don't think much has changed.”

And:

“Sadly no, it wasn't overly valued before and that hasn't changed.”

Of the 58% who reported a change in perception there were some responses which couldn’t be defined as positive or negative. There were 14.32% who indicated a negative change: 

“Yes, completely devalued and I feel as if all the hard work I did has been completely undone”

“Seems less valued as a resource for the whole school”

“Yes definitely, there is a sense that so much time has been lost due to lockdowns so the staff don't want  to 'waste' time in here pleasure reading”

There is a clear proportion of school libraries which have been adversely impacted by lockdown. Some of these indicate a clear emotional response, and highlight the pressure all staff have felt over the past few years. However, 35% reported a change for the positive in terms of how the school library was perceived:

“The skills and knowledge in online information sharing has been more highly valued”

“Definitely.  Lots more support given and a higher priority in promoting library services and literacy in general.”

“Yes, Unfortunately it is valued for it's size. It keeps being taken for an exam room. Rather than being valued for its function as a library and promoting literacy and reading.”

“I think it is valued as a space and I am valued as a support to students but we are not valued for are real function by SLT although the English Department are really supportive"

There were some responses which reflected both takes:

“Taking on the digital reading platform has made some senior staff think it replaces the need for paper books.”

“The students value the library more and they are pleased to have access again but there has been no change in the view from staff, if anything they value the library less.”

“Since COVID, academic use has dropped off greatly, as teachers use laptops in classroom or book computer rooms... this had been happening pre-COVID too, but it is now exacerbated. I've tried to promote using the library space, even if using laptops for research as they would have me on hand to fully support a lesson, however to little avail. It is VERY isolating.    Library is very much valued for the Health & Wellbeing role as a 'safe place', particularly at break times - it can be busy and we are still in break time bubbles (BGE S1-3 & Senior Phase S4-6) which means longer 'leisure' time opening.”

The change for the whole of the educational landscape has been significant and challenging, and that shouldn’t be denied, but there are a number of respondents who highlight how positive the pupils are about having access to the school library space – for reading, learning and wellbeing reasons. There are also notable patterns of responses highlighting splits in attitude – between pupil and staff, as above, but also between staff and senior leaders, as below:

“I think it is valued as a space and I am valued as a support to students but we are not valued for are real function by SLT although the English Department are really supportive.”

Is it possible that during such a time of intensity and unfamiliarity, that teaching and senior staff were less linked into the perceptions and ideas of pupils and each other? It would seem to make sense, but it is vital then, that as we start to plan for a new term school leaders at all levels make the time to reconnect and talk to their school staff, to reflect on the past year, and make plans for the future. 

Other themes

Some other interesting themes also came out of the responses to this question. 

One response highlighted the lack of understanding which can exist in a school in relation to the school library. IT seems that often school leaders see school libraries as ‘nice to have’ – good for PR and pupil recruitment; used for conversations with parents and when VIP’s visit school – but aren’t sure of how they can be used to further the aims of the school. This seems to be illustrated in this response:

Covid coincided with new management and there have been a lot of changes which could be attributed to either. Having been totally refurbished with PTA funding in  2018 the library is now seen as the ideal spot for filming promotional videos for the school as a whole but without reference to the library itself.

It is a missed opportunity by that school’s leadership to not be maximizing the space or staff available. Having a school library is great; but it can be so much more than a space to show off – it should be vibrant, support teaching, inspire reading and encourage positive wellbeing, and the responses to this survey show that not only is that happening in schools across the country, there are many more school library staff who wish to contribute in this way, but are not being given the opportunity. 

So, if you’re in a school like this reach out to your line manager and ask for an appointment – propose a library development plan for next year. 

And if you’re a school leader or line manage a library, ask them to have a conversation. Ask for an End of Year report; think about how the school library can help you achieve your aims, and if you’re not sure it can, ask the library staff.

Related resources:

You can see the results of the survey here: https://www.softlinkint.com/resources/reports-and-whitepapers/

For primaries - including a guide on writing an annual report, reading for pleasure lessons and tips for engaging parents: https://www.sla.org.uk/support-for-primary-schools 

For secondaries - including a guide on writing an annual report, reading for pleasure and a departmental review: https://www.sla.org.uk/support-for-secondary-schools

About: 

Softlink - Established in 1983, Softlink www.softlinkint.com proudly has a global presence across 60 countries. Softlink continues to work with school libraries and educators to provide solutions that engage students and support school library staff. With the help of our customers and our flagship school library system, Oliver v5 is continually evolving to meet the changing needs of libraries, educators and students. We are passionate about School Libraries and have had a

long relationship with the library and information industry. We strive to make the best products we can to help navigate the challenges and opportunities the teaching and learning environment presents for school libraries.

School Library Association - The SLA works towards all schools in the UK having their own (or shared) staffed library to help all children and young people fulfil their potential.  School staff and children should have access to a wide and varied range of resources and have the support of an expert guide in reading, research, media and information literacy.  We provide training and access to resources to support the running of school libraries and the continuing development of all staff, as well as advocating for and allowing other educational staff to maximise their understanding and use of school libraries. Membership is £95 per year for up to 10 members of school staff, which includes access to an advice line, training, networking (national and local) and much more. Full details can be found here: