School libraries under threat. The Meadows- a test case.

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.  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 £3,753,396 compared with an expected income of £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.

info@meadows.derbyshire.sch.uk

Ellie Reynolds, Chair of Governors (at the same address)

The Derbyshire Times: editorial@derbyshiretimes.co.uk

 

Letter to the Head teacher and Chair of Governors at Meadows School.

Dear Mrs Asquith and Mrs Reynolds,
I note that you have not replied to my original letter protesting against the decision to make school librarian Clare Broadbelt redundant. I would like to reiterate my concerns as I did recently on BBC Radio Sheffield.
I visit 150 schools a year. Every good secondary school in that sample is distinguished by its intelligent balance of books and new technology. UNESCO, Ofsted and numberous British and American surveys have come to the same conclusion: a good library is at the heart of a good school. I understand that you think a reading room and Virtual Learning can replace a well-stocked library run by an enthusiastic professional. I believe this to be misguided. Reading for pleasure is the single biggest guarantor of academic success. No amount of Googling and copying and pasting can replace the intellectual flexibility developed by reading whole books. Furthermore, a reading room without a librarian who can guide the young readers’ choices is like a car without petrol. Borrowing tends to wither on the vine with a resultant decline in standards in English.
I would like to appeal to you once more to reverse your decision.
Yours faithfully,
Alan Gibbons
Author and organizer of the Campaign for the Book

 Letter to the Derbyshire Times

Dear Editor,
I am writing to protest against the misguided decision by the Meadows School to make its librarian Clare Broadbelt redundant and to close the library.
The library is an engine of learning in any good school. Numerous reports by UNESCO, Ofsted and authoritative bodies in the United States have identified reading for pleasure as the key guarantor of academic success. I am told that the Head teacher Mrs Asquith and the board of governors defend their decision with vague talk of a reading room and Virtual Learning. I’m afraid this is nonsense. I visit 150 schools a year. The best of them achieve a managed symbiosis between books and information technology. This is inevitably organised by an energetic and imaginative school librarian. The Meadows doesn’t need to look for such a person. It has one already in Mrs Broadbelt, who I met some months ago at a training session I was running.
It is time to stop dressing up a crude cost-cutting exercise as some kind of reorganisation and reverse the decision.
Yours faithfully,
Alan Gibbons, author and organizer of the Campaign for the Book

8 thoughts on “School libraries under threat. The Meadows- a test case.

  1. Well said, Alan. This is a very distressing situation but becoming more common (including where I am a TL in Australia, but not at my school), although usually done in a more underhanded way by giving teacher librarians class commitments outside their current duties, cutting budgets, and waiting for them to get fed up and leave. There is such a good body of knowledge about the effectiveness of a well run, professionally staffed school library for improved learning outcomes that there is no excuse for this type of action. Have you got Aidan Chambers working for the cause too? Good luck.

  2. Marita,
    I don’t have Aidan yet. I have met him and I know of his work with the School Library Association. I just don’t have a contact for him. If you do, please contact him. By the way, that goes for anyone reading the blog. If any of you notice that your favourite author hasn’t signed up, do get in touch with them. I simply don’t have every writers email address, one J K Rowling for example!
    If anyone can help spread the word, please do.
    Best wishes,
    Alan Gibbons

  3. This Lynn Asquith (head teacher no less) believes the following on saving money and education:

    “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.”

    “”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”.

    Two terrifying paragraphs of such overwhelming short-sightedness that as a Librarian, parent and educator stops me cold in my tracks. I never thought I’d ever have to explain to anyone, let alone a paid educational professional such as a head teacher why a school library and a qualified Librarian should be at the heart of a schools educational credo. What statistics have you had from your library to prove it’s not being used? How long have you been keeping these statistics? What studies have you based your decision on? You mention “new developments” what are they? Do you not know that web based information has absolutely no quality or editorial standards at all? Do you not know that as a school you have a duty to promote the literacy skills, reading skills and the information retrieval skills your students will need if they are to go on to third level education or have any decent employment prospects? Thest are life skills you are attempting to kill in the name of saving cash.
    What other schools are adopting this model? What studies have been done to show that this “model” improves educational standards? I can guarantee you that NO higher level educational intuitions are considering closing down their libraries. Those that do will fail within one academic year. If you think that education is expensive, wait until you see the vacuum of ignorance your decision costs.

    I would recommend that if what your school needs is to save money then the salary of a Head teacher who believes such fundamentally flawed rubbish should be the first on the chopping block.

  4. Thank- you Alan for starting this worthy campaign. All schools should have a well funded library, and what they are doing to Meadow School in Chesterfield is an absolute disgrace.School libraries play a very important role in schools, they offer a warm welcoming place for both staff and students to work in or just to sit and read quietly, this goes to show as they are a constant hive of activities.
    They not only offer an extensive range of fiction books to loose yourself in, but the fabulous range of non-fiction now available for students to do research from is incredible. All students need to be taught research skills and where better to learn them, but in your school library.
    Claire Broadbelt must be gutted after all the hard work she has put in over the years trying to build up the library, I know how hard this can be.
    I fully support this campaign and wish Claire all the best.

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