It's our 85th birthday! :: NEWS

It's our 85th birthday!

23 January 2022 Share

Celebrate 85 years of the SLA with our biggest giveaway yet

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the School Library Association, and we want to involve all our members – past and present – in the celebrations.


From humble beginnings – the first meeting was on 23rd January 1937 of 10 or so people – the Association has supported schools through the following decades, not stopping for the Second World War or any of the many changes that followed. Directors of Education and Headteachers had a huge role in founding the SLA and throughout its early years. Directors of Education were the first Presidents, while Headteachers sat on the Board and occupied other officer posts.

The first premises – rented with a grant from the Department of Education after the 1944 Education Act specified that all secondary schools MUST have a school library –  was acquired in central London, and after 12 years there it moved to Bloomsbury. However, when the rent increased to £2,000/annum the SLA moved outside of London, to Oxford, and then to its current home in Swindon in 2012.

In the beginning, support was offered to members via booklists – on Domestic Science, Scripture, History, English and, later on, Agriculture. A booklist of 100 books on history was itemised at £102 if purchased from Harrods. Some of the companies advertising even back then are names that will be recognised by people working today: Woodfield and Stanley, Blackwells, Chivers, Foyles and Oxford University Press.

During the war, although TSL (The School Librarian; the SLA journal) was reduced in quantity and quality (affected by the shortage of paper and the editors being commissioned for active service) it continued. Articles appeared about German schools, pre and post Nazi regime, written by a German refugee. In other articles, calls were made for surplus books to be sent to schools which had been bombed. One article from an English Master in a Gloucestershire grammar school, which was evacuated to Cardiganshire, spoke of having to condense the library he was responsible for into a smaller space, but managed it successfully. This English Master was Ian Serraillier, the author of the wonderful The Silver Sword.

The Weekend Course came later, but quickly became an important networking and training focus when it started in the 1960s. Initially bi-annually, it was then replaced by an annual Weekend Course from 1990. Some of the issues tackled are those which still concern library staff today – pupils reading below their chronological age, cutbacks, ways to engage members. The main difference being the terminology used and the fact we are far less judgmental on these issues, as the wording in those early programmes is quite brutal!

Staff at the SLA have been very loyal and have obviously enjoyed their time here, staying for quite a while – our current Finance Officer has been in post nearly 30 years. In 85 years, the SLA has had just 6 CEOs since the 1950s (all women), two of whom received Honours for their services to education.

There’s plenty more to be uncovered in the history of the SLA, and we’ll continue to add to the celebration page over the course of the year.


To kickstart our 85th year, we are running our biggest ever book giveaway in partnership with a whole host of generous publishers. Huge thanks to:

  • b Small
  • Barrington Stoke
  • Bloomsbury
  • Cicada Books
  • Fine Feather Press
  • Firefly
  • Flying Eye
  • Gecko Press
  • Hachette
  • Knights Of
  • Neon Squid
  • Nobrow
  • Pegasus
  • PI Kids
  • Quarto group
  • Ransom
  • Simon and Schuster
  • Sunbird Books
  • UCLAN Publishing
  • Walker

Together we’re delivering a giveaway where two lucky schools (one primary, one secondary) have the chance to WIN 85 brand new books for their students. 

Click here to enter by telling us the best thing about the School Library Association. 

The competition is open to SLA members only and closes 9am on Tuesday 25th January – so get your entry in quick! 

There are also 15 runners up prizes of smaller reading group sets. Winners will be contacted by email by the end of the week. Good luck!