Sunday, 12 January 2014

Why school libraries should support NLD14

I wrote this last January in support of National Libraries Day 2013. UK school librarians and their students organised a successful Guinness World Record attempt of "the most people writing a story at multiple locations" which generated a lot of media interest and raised the profile of libraries. This year we are organising a Big Library Takeover whereby we hope to take the library out to as many departments as possible using this as an opportunity to promote NLD14. What I wrote then remains equally valid now ...


Most people associate National Libraries Day with public libraries and, being on a Saturday, the majority of schools will be closed so you may wonder why school libraries should get involved. Nonetheless, according to the website http://www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk/ it is “a culmination of a week’s worth of celebrations in school, college, university, workplace and public libraries across the UK” which encompasses almost every sort of library. But there’s a wider issue here why school libraries should participate.

The library profession across many sectors is facing a crisis, with libraries being closed, hours being cut and professional staff being replaced by volunteers. There has been public outcry about this but there have also been comments such as why do we need libraries when people can read books online, books are dead because everyone is going to have an eBook reader and people can get books from a charity shop if they don’t have a local library or can’t afford them. These comments show the lack of understanding that many people have as to what a library is and what it does. Those that work in them know that they are more than just a room full of books – from the small local public library that provides a focal point for the community to the school library that offers a safe haven for vulnerable children but the only way we are going to get more support is by educating people about what we do … and that means taking every opportunity to participate in events that publicize libraries. Of any sort!

For many children, their only access to reading material is via their school library. If we can encourage those children to become readers and users of libraries at school then they are more inclined to use their public library both whilst they are still students and when they become adults. Going to a library for books to read, for information, for research will be automatic to them and if their local library (or any other type of library they use) is threatened with closure, they are more likely to protest because they’ll know, firsthand, the value and benefits of a library. However, school libraries are not statutory and many are under threat so taking part in National Libraries Day is a chance to promote and raise awareness of them.

Many school librarians use their public and other libraries. Despite wide access to books and other material, I regularly browse my local library and always discover something new. I use it professionally, for my own research, as well as collaborating with staff on a range of projects from encouraging Year 7 to participate in the Summer Reading Challenge to taking my Year 9 HPQ students on a visit for extended research. I have also used other libraries outside school, such as arranging a visit for A level students to the local university library to assist them with investigations for their coursework and encouraging others to visit the Women’s Library (now sadly no longer in existence) and the BFI library. By working collaboratively, we can all expand the services we provide and sustain each other.

In the words of John Donne “No man is an island, entire of itself” and thus no library or librarian operates in isolation. If we all stand together, regardless of what sort of library we work in, we become stronger and our collective voice is louder because we are a more cohesive  group, rather than an assortment of unrelated, random libraries.

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