If anyone has any doubts that the place of reading in education and society more generally is under attack, read on.
Some months ago, I ran a twilight session for teachers and librarians in Chesterfield. During the course I stressed the importance of reading for pleasure and focused on the key role school libraries play as engines of learning. I quoted the UNESCO findings and a recent report from the United States which identified reading for pleasure as the single most significant guarantor of academic success.Â Imagine my dismay when I discovered soon afterwards that one of those attending, school librarian at the Meadows Community School Clare Broadbelt was to be made redundant and her library closed.
The reason? The school budget in 2008/9 predicted an expenditure of Â£3,753,396 compared with an expected income of Â£3,680,487. Here is the thinking behind the closure in full:
“This represents a reduction of one full time librarian. This reflects reduced student numbers, decreasing use of the traditional library facility and a move towards the relocation and redistribution of non-fiction and fiction resources in the light of new developments in Virtual Learning Environment and interactive learning. The post of librarian will therefore no longer be required from January 2009.”
Forget the blather about virtual and interactive learning. This is cost-cutting pure and simple. If youngsters don’t have an enthusiastic librarian at hand to direct them towards the latest cool reads, reading for pleasure tails off. Replacing the habit of reading a good book with Googling and copy and paste essays is retrograde. The best libraries in the UK do not reject new technology, nor do they think it can replace the book wholesale. They achieve a managed symbiosis of both and book borrowings rise as a result. But there is a new wave of virtual philistinism. The Meadows case is a prime example. A committed and talented school librarian is sacrificed due to budget problems to which she has in no way contributed.
Mrs Broadbelt attended a consultation meeting on September 9th. This is what Chair of Governors Ellie Reynolds wrote after meeting Mrs Broadbelt and her union representative:
“”We reviewed the Ofsted publication that Colin Murphy, your representative, gave to us at the meeting. After reviewing this we feel that we are not removing a library from the school but changing the way it operates so that curriculum leaders will manage the resources from the internet. This is a model being adopted by many other schools and moves towards the best practice that is adopted in further and higher education institutions.
“In terms of fiction material, we will maintain a reading centre in the school for use during break times and after school clubs but do not feel that this needs a qualified librarian to run it.”
This approach is wrong in so many ways. It is not good practice to rely solely on the Internet for study. There are regular complaints that too many students are plagiarising sources and are not thinking for themselves. Try researching on the Internet. You can find sources and brief introductions but the first thing that happens if you try to go more deeply into the subject is, guess what, a recommendation to look up a book. I have written about fifty books in the last twenty years. Not once was the Internet sufficient to aid my research, useful a tool as it is to get started.
As for the idea that there will be a ‘reading centre’ open during break times, how can that substitute for a librarian? Who will run it? What expertise do they have? Will they know what’s on the Carnegie shortlist? Will they be able to direct pupils to the latest happening reads? How accountable will they be? Every good school I visit as an author has a thriving library and an enthusiastic librarian running it. Dispensing with such inspirational resources can only further demoralise a school with falling rolls.
Nothing in Mrs Reynolds letter is considered, intellectually rigorous or pedagogically justifiable. It is a fig leaf for cuts pushed through by the Head teacher Lynn Asquith and the only rationale is the budget not educational standards.
I duly wrote to Mrs Asquith to protest at her decision. As yet I have had no reply. I have however had several letters and emails from students at the school utterly dismayed at the decision to close the library.
On October 1st BBC Radio Sheffield interviewed me about the situation. I explained why a thriving library is central to the life of any good school and challenged Mrs Asquith to a public debate on the issues: “any time, any place, anywhere.” Mrs Asquith did not go on air, instead sending a prepared statement which was vague and evasive in tone. I have yet to receive a reply to my call for a debate.
Send letters of protest to:
Lynn Asquith, Head teacher, The Meadows Community School, High Street, Old Whittington, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S41 9LG.
Ellie Reynolds, Chair of Governors (at the same address)
The Derbyshire Times: firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter to the Head teacher and Chair of Governors at Meadows School.
Â Letter to the Derbyshire Times