The penultimate post in the current series on the importance of school libraries is by Matt Imrie, from Farringtons School in Kent. Matt quite rightly points out that school librarians help make tomorrows reader today by encouraging and developing a love of reading in pupils.
Literacy is the single most essential life skill and the importance of a good education in enabling social mobility cannot be over-emphasised. One of the ways the government can encourage this is to fund school libraries.
The Importance of School Libraries
Often overlooked by campaigners and just about everybody not actively involved in schools and education, it is easy to underestimate the importance of School Libraries and their contribution to learning, literacy and reading for pleasure.
In recent years (since the advent of austerity) many former Public Librarians unwilling to leave the work they love have found alternate employment as School Librarians. The irony that a non-statutory service is marginally safer for employment than a statutory service is not lost on many. It is akin to jumping out of a collapsing building and landing on a field composed largely of quicksand, but even with uncertain futures School Librarians do press forward with their duties.
Building the Reader of Tomorrow Today
School Libraries often work in intangibles, ‘reading for pleasure’ is one such example – impossible to measure but easy to identify. I do not think there is a school librarian alive that has not seen the look in a reader’s face when they find the book/magazine/comic/fan-fic that makes their love for reading come alive. Nurturing this tender and fragile love can be done at home and in public libraries but for children with parents that do not read or take them to the local library and in areas where the local library has closed, it is usually their School Library that first opens their eyes to reading as a pleasurable activity.
Once children get too old for the Summer Reading Challenge and they enter their teens, their library use often tapers off and for many it stops entirely. For these students it is often the School Library that remains their only regular access to books, information and professional assistance in using them.
School Libraries have a captive audience, and unlike public and university libraries, many of the students that come in for reading and library lessons do not want to be there. Integrating a class consisting of students that want to be there, others that may be ambivalent and some that indulge in active disruption is a skill that School Librarians learn fairly quickly. Turning the latter two groups into the former is an activity that takes time and individual attention; this is something that School Librarians are well-equipped to do as they see the same students regularly and can work on breaking down the barriers that troubled students have towards reading and learning.
Once the School Librarian gets to know their students they are able to recommend books that cater to their individual tastes and for those that struggle with reading many school libraries use programmes such as Accelerated Reader to help them improve their reading levels.
Returning to the Summer Reading Scheme briefly, in the run up to the end of the summer term, Children’s Librarians often visit schools to promote the SRC. These visits are usually organised with the School Librarian as the initial point of contact. If the library service is unable to provide a librarian to visit a school then usually posters and joining forms are sent to the School Librarian to distribute to the classes old (or young) enough to participate.
Most School Librarians offer regular Library Lessons to equip students with information literacy skills that work on a cross-curricular level. From introducing research skills (finding and using information as well as citing sources) to identifying fake news, making use of reliable online resources, becoming aware of and avoiding plagiarism and enabling students to use the library catalogue and Dewey Decimal System to find the books they are looking for and locating the information required within the book in as short a space of time as possible. Included with these skills are critical thinking, improved social skills from teamwork to taking responsibility for completing ones work and more.
It is best to embed these skills early and this is where School Librarians that work with primary school students can get involved with making sure that their students do not fall into the trap of seeing the internet in general and Wikipedia in particular as the be-all and end-all of research.
These skills not only enable them to do homework for school but also prepares them for college or university where they will often not have a librarian on hand to help them locate everything they need. These skills are also usable in public libraries, as school librarians and teachers often recommend that their students broaden their access to resources by making use of their local library where possible.