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Submission to School Library Commission

The SLA was pleased to send a written submission to the School Library Commission which has been facilitated by the MLA and NLT. The text of the submission is available below. The Commission reported in June 2010.



The School Library Association (SLA) is an independent registered charity founded in 1937 and operating as a company limited by guarantee. The SLA has a wide membership amongst schools and school librarians within the country and also internationally.

We believe that every pupil is entitled to effective school library provision. The SLA is committed to supporting everyone involved with school libraries, promoting high quality reading and learning opportunities for all. This is achieved by providing

  • Advisory and information services
  • Lively, practical publications
  • The School Librarian, our quarterly journal
  • Relevant and focused INSET
  • A network of branches for local support
  • Advocacy for school libraries and School Library Services
  • A significant voice at regional and national level

The SLA is pleased to offer this submission as a contribution to the discussion and has been involved in various partnership activities in the past, working with CILIP and particularly its special interest groups School Libraries Group and Youth Libraries Group and through the Youth and School Libraries Joint Committee to address some of the issues and challenges associated with school library provision.

This document is, in the main, a direct comment on the Commission's Lines of Enquiry - as set out below - but we have also included a possible brief future scenario for development over the next ten years as well as references to some of the most recent research alluded to in responses below.


1. It is generally agreed that children need to read widely, enjoy reading and to be able to find the information they require from a range of sources, evaluate it critically and synthesise their findings. In the context of the commission's work, are there any other outcomes for children and young people, their families and parents and the wider community that we need to consider?

Libraries are central to education and self-improvement. Developments in the curriculum have increased the need for a quality school library in every school run by a skilled, enthusiastic and appropriately trained practitioner. School libraries are unique in their ability to support teaching and learning, equipping all children and young people with a set of transferable skills that will allow them to fulfil their full potential in the economy, society and community.

  • Becoming familiar with information resources and services in a variety of media gives children and young people the confidence and motivation to enjoy using other information services throughout their lives, providing a solid basis for life-long learning and intellectual freedom.
  • Appropriate scaffolding in the library environment by trained staff supports young people in the acquisition of the skills and knowledge which will help them to become independent learners.
  • Libraries run by a dynamic and well trained librarian can play a vital role in the mental and emotional development and well being of young people through the promotion of a wide range of reading material and the matching of the appropriate resource to the needs of the child at that particular moment. Wide reading can also promote the understanding of their own culture and the cultural heritage of others.
  • Support and encouragement from an enthusiastic and knowledgeable librarian to try a wide range of reading material leads to highly developed language and communication skills an essential outcome for success in economic and social aspects of modern life.
  • Wider reading, discussion of reading and the associated confidence and skills this gives ties in well with the acknowledged need for greater communication skills for the 21st century.
  • Community cohesion and active citizenship are supported by a well run school library working in partnership with others.
2. What are the adult skills, attitudes and knowledge required to help children achieve these outcomes?

School library staff require a unique set of professional skills that come from training and continued professional development and an enthusiasm for continuously improving their own knowledge, understanding and skills. The optimum model is a teacher-librarian with qualifications in both teaching and librarianship (as evidenced in USA and Australia; this model is being adopted in other developing European Countries too). Trained librarians have many skills and knowledge including the following and should be regarded as a highly professional colleague by staff with the library seen as the heart of the school:

  • Excellent knowledge of research and study skills.
  • Good knowledge of resources in all formats and the ability to evaluate them.
  • Understanding of the education system, its aims, pedagogy and the curriculum
  • Enthusiasm and commitment to create independent learners plus enthusiastic and creative readers
  • Knowledge of the uses of ICT and understanding of the uses of technology in education.
  • Training and skills to lead the library including policy, planning and budgeting.
  • Good communication skills in order to liaise in a positive way with everyone in the school community at any level
  • Understanding of child development and psychological processes.
  • Empathy for children and young people from differing backgrounds and the barriers to achievement they may face.
  • Dynamic and creative in promoting the value of reading and research to the whole school community.
  • Professional model of good learning behaviour and demonstration of how effective learning strategies bring success
3. What experiences do children need in order to achieve these outcomes?
  • Children need to feel safe in the school library and all stakeholders need to view it as ‘the heart of the learning process'. This can only happen if the library is staffed by a skilled practitioner throughout the day and after school hours.
  • A wide range of experiences connected with information skills and reading opportunities within and outside of the library. These skills need to be seen as transferable across the curriculum.
  • Accommodation that allows effective teaching and learning including the promotion of reading.
  • A broad range of structured learning opportunities with clear outcomes available through schemes of work and lesson plans to develop skills across the curriculum where children and young people can work independently and collaboratively, learning to be confident in thinking for themselves. This needs to be delivered via a framework within the curriculum.
  • Range of resources to suit the unique abilities, interests, and preferred learning styles of the children and young people of the school.
  • Library staff, working in partnership with teachers, are able to act as guides in helping students achieve their full potential through resources and activities irrespective of gender, ability, ethnic background and age.
  • A clear connection between reading for pleasure and achievement in education has been shown in various research studies thus reading for pleasure needs an advocate within school.
  • A varied cultural offer within the school - including poetry, art, drama, dance and literature, all can be supported via the library.
  • Good provision of modern technology provided free of charge.
4. What resources do children need in order to achieve these outcomes?
  • Wide range of current high quality resources reflecting our diverse world in a variety of formats - print, image, video and audio. Resources which encompass challenging and familiar texts/formats for all ages and abilities, ethnic background and languages.
  • Effectively managed resources, which are continually evaluated, revised and developed according to the needs of the users and made accessible to the whole school community.
  • A library well equipped with physical resources such as computers, camcorders and digital cameras.
  • Links with multiple external sources of information such as The British Library, universities, public libraries etc.
  • The time and space within the school day (or beyond it) to experience the variety that can be offered.
5. What resources and support are required by parents, teachers and the children's workforce to allow children to reach these outcomes?
  • Library staff need to play an active role in educational policy making and curriculum development with Government support and local leadership.
  • Teachers require training in information literacy in order to update and keep current.
  • Parents need to be included in school initiatives in a meaningful way.
  • Children's services need to share knowledge and resources.
  • Mechanisms need to be in place for feedback from stakeholders to library staff.
  • Library staff need to work in partnership with other stakeholders in supporting children's development as independent learners through learning opportunities in the library.
  • Excellent communication channels to and from all parts of the school with parents, carers etc.
6. How does the school library and school library service support the delivery of outcomes?
  • The SLS has a crucial role in supporting the needs of the individual school library in terms of supplementing resources for particular needs and providing guidance and training for library staff, encouraging and supporting new developments in library resources as well as acting as a co-ordinating body for a cluster of school libraries. The SLS is a cost-effective method of developing the resources and services in the school library.
  • The school library should be the central resource of the school. Working with teachers library staff should evaluate, purchase and organise materials that are appropriate to the curriculum and leisure pursuits of its users.
  • The library provides a safe and supportive environment.
  • Library staff should work with teaching staff from across the school including G & T and SENCO to provide high quality learning experiences.
  • Training opportunities for the wider school community.
7. What other agencies have a role in delivering these outcomes?

The school library needs to work in partnership with others to deliver its objectives:

  • SLS
  • Public Library
  • CYP Department
  • School Improvement partners
  • Family Learning
  • FE & HE institutions
  • Local community groups
  • Education Department
  • National and local agencies such as the National Literacy Trust, the Reading Agency, Connexions etc.
  • SLA
  • Local businesses
  • Local government
8. How could these outcomes be delivered more effectively in the future?
  • Every school has effective library provision.
  • Every school is staffed by dedicated and suitably qualified library staff knowledgeable about children's reading and the teaching of information skills.
  • All school library development is linked to the school development policy. School Improvement Partners working closely supporting the role of the library in the school improvement plan.
  • The school library is adequately funded to respond to the needs of the school community.
  • The school library works in partnership with all members of the school community to ensure that all children have equal access to learning opportunities.
  • The school library seeks out partnerships with outside agencies to provide as comprehensive, cost-effective and seamless a service as possible.
9. How can the school library and schools library service work to deliver these outcomes more effectively in the future? Please consider the following:
  • The opportunities created by developments in the curriculum

As the curriculum broadens and provides more opportunities for creativity in teaching, more personalised learning and a broader cross curriculum topic based approach with an emphasis on developing learning and thinking skills, the school librarian can support the new way of delivering the curriculum by developing a much broader range of sources of information and helping students develop their learning and thinking skills. The schools library services can act as brokers by developing links with different providers in the local community, and nationally, whilst also distributing information or knowledge about where resources can be found to their local school librarians.

  • The partners it should be working with

The school library and SLS should be very flexible and open to many new partnerships, wherever they may come from. They should be looking to develop partnerships on a local level with libraries, businesses, leisure groups, political groups, environmental groups and nationally with the same kinds of partners so they can provide the best range and quality of information for their pupils. Examples include - Area clusters, Gifted & talented network, English Coordinators, Primary and Secondary strategy networks, School Librarian's networks etc.

  • The clusters and networks it should be involved in

Local clusters of schools, the local library services, SLG and SLA branches, local book awards, Carnegie and Greenaway shadowing, Chatterbooks for schools, Reading Champions, Reading Connects etc.

  • How it should fit within the extended school system

The school library both as a space and as a resource can be the focus for joint clubs, joint projects, joint working with other schools and with the wider community. This does mean the library must be well staffed, both in terms of quality and quantity, as well as widely resourced with a recognised network of support from SLSs and partner schools.

  • How it should work within local authority performance and delivery systems

Most school library services are very aware of local authority performance and delivery systems and have to work within the constraints that these impose on them. Similarly most school libraries work within the constraints imposed by individual schools.

Awareness of local authority performance systems can be very beneficial to school librarians especially where their line managers and senior management team are less aware of the role and performance criteria of librarians, but care must be taken when comparing the role with those of local library staff and imposing the same performance indicators without thought and reference to the very different environments (i.e. visits, issues and adult members as PIs would not be appropriate to the wider teaching and learning aspects of the school librarians' role.). Annual reporting and regular evaluation of services including impact evaluation to Governors and Head would seem appropriate.

School Library Services are usually able to access the favourable discounts and centralised buying that local authorities are able to negotiate with suppliers and this can have a big impact on the cost of resources and value for money they are able to offer.

  • How it could become more cost effective and efficient

Schools could use their SLSs much more for their resources - both for purchase and loan. The provision of regional or sub regional SLS services could probably offer a more consistent and cost effective service across all schools than is currently the case.

  • What the relationship should be between the school library, the school library service and the public library network

Each needs to be aware of what the other organisations offer and what their remit is. There should be a cooperative and supportive relationship centred on the needs of the children and young people in their communities. Public library services and SLSs could strengthen their partnerships and actively promote each others services consistently. There will always be a need for both school and public libraries as there are many citizens who do not avail themselves, and thus their families, of the public library offer.

  • What the relationship should be between the school library, the school library service and organisations working with children and young people

Mutually supportive and sharing a range of information within the boundaries of data protection law. Each aware of the services offered by the other organisations and when and where to refer young people according to their needs

  • What the relationship should be between the school library and school leadership in terms of target setting and monitoring to deliver the school's priorities.

Ofsted guidelines clearly state need for Librarian and senior management to work together; the support of the head teacher has been shown to be vital.

  • What are the comparative challenges of establishing and popularising school libraries in areas with different socio economic and ethnic groupings

All local communities are distinct and have their own unique challenges and problems. Librarians should be aware of their own demographic and have a good understanding of their customer profile and be flexible in adapting to their changing needs - it's a vital part of the job.

  • Can other agencies and services add value through partnerships with schools libraries or deliver these outcomes themselves?

Independent learning would be very difficult without the involvement of the school library and school librarian as local public libraries do not have the time or the access to pupils to build up an individual scaffold for each child at a pace suited to their own individual development

Reading outcomes can be delivered through public libraries more easily but they will always work best where there is a strong relationship built over time with mutual understanding.

What do you think needs to happen to create a sustainable and valued school library and school library service in the next ten years?

A recognition by the present and any future governments of the vital role that good libraries can play in the life of our young people and a commitment to providing and funding the very best libraries in our schools and local communities and the very best staff in those libraries.

Ensure that the new School report card for parents has a section reporting on how the school supports reading and the information needs of its pupils.


Possible Brief Scenarios for School Library Developments

It is acknowledged there is not the resource, centrally or in schools, nor the workforce available to have fully qualified librarians in every school in the country immediately - but there are several opportunities that could improve the situation and ensure all pupils have better access to school libraries than is currently the case.

The following are a series of suggested simple models (with examples where available) which could be used in their entirety, or in combination to improve provision relatively quickly and with a strong emphasis on value for money.


Work in close co-operation with their SLS to have professional librarian cover for a day a week - especially important in the early development of learners and readers. See Tower Hamlets SLS model - http://www.towerhamlets-sls.org.uk/

Encourage schools to work in locality groups to share the costs of staff across the area - thus a Secondary school librarian could work as team leader across the staffed secondary school library and the primary feeders nearest to it

Primary school cluster to share a librarian between them - sharing resources and offering different perspectives on activities in each site. May be difficult in very rural situations and demands a highly motivated, mobile and adaptable librarian.


Qualified librarian as head of department equivalent in every school, with appropriate assistant support available to have the library open before, during and after school hours as a resource for the school and community.

Economies may be possible where the site is appropriate for a joint use library (e.g. new builds with local housing and no current public library, rural areas with no conveniently situated public library.) There are many examples of joint use libraries in existence - see http://www.ebase.bcu.ac.uk/dualuse/database.php


The closure of SLSs due to financial viability issues needs to be tackled. The pool of expertise, resources and training facilities needs to be safeguarded for the support of school libraries. The development of a model to cover the whole country, of amalgamated or closely allied SLSs, would provide service where SLSs have previously closed and strengthen the service that SLSs can offer. They have a huge role in the ongoing CPD of librarians in schools as well as the ‘weight' to negotiate discounts with book and IT suppliers across the whole of their schools' populations. They can also act as supply agency for school librarians to small schools unable to support a permanent qualified librarian - especially in primary schools. CPD and other training could include subjects like pedagogy, National Curriculum developments, guided inquiry learning, new IT developments and their impact on education etc. This is an already proven value for money option for training school librarians.


Dugdale, George and Clark, Christina. (2008) - Literacy Changes Lives. National Literacy Trust

Greenwood, Helen, Creaser, Claire and Maynard, Sally (2008) - Successful primary school libraries: Case studies of good practice. Report to Booktrust Loughborough. LISU

Klinger, D.A.; Lee, E.A.;Stephenson, G.; Deluca, C.; Luu, K.; (2009) Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario. Ontario School Library Association

Ofsted. (2006) - Good School Libraries: Making a difference to learning. HMI 2624

Twist, L., Schagen, I. and Hodgson, C. (2007). Readers and Reading: National Report for England 2006. Slough: NFER

Williams, D., Coles, L., & Wavell, C. (2002). Impact of School Library Services on attainment and learning in primary schools. Report prepared for DfES and Resource: the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries


March 2010