The state of school libraries

Many school libraries are too small and some are being turned into classrooms – ATL survey

Many school libraries are too small and do not have enough computers for pupils to use, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Forty per cent of the 485 school staff who responded to ATL’s survey in March said their school library does not have enough space for the number of students who want to use it, with 16% saying library space has been cut since 2010. Sixty-one per cent said their school library lacks enough computers or laptops for all the students who want to use them.

There is no statutory duty for schools in England, Scotland and Wales to have libraries or provide access to school library services, while in Northern Ireland there is a legal requirement to provide school library services although not to provide physical school libraries.

Most staff recognise the value of school libraries. Over 80% of staff said the library is important to their school, with 94% saying school libraries have a positive impact on teaching and learning.

The majority of staff said their schools have a library – 94% of staff said their school has one. But some schools are getting rid of theirs, slashing their library budgets and getting rid of library staff and books. Over a fifth (22%) said their school library budget has been cut by at least 40% since 2010, so it is not surprising that 21% said the budget does not allow their library to encourage pupils to read for enjoyment.

A primary teacher in Surrey said: “We had a library which was poorly used and unstaffed. A whole load of books went into a skip. Now the best books have been moved to a new room – called the learning resource centre – but essentially it’s an ancillary classroom. The bookshelves aren’t maintained so few people use it as a library.”

A member of special needs staff in a primary school in London said: “Our school had an excellent library full of books. Sadly the library was dismantled last year and all the wealth of reading matter got rid of to create more space for group intervention work and other activities.”

A teacher in a primary school in the West Midlands said: “The new head has decided a library is no longer needed so is planning to get rid of it as all reading can be done on iPads.”

A teacher in a primary school in Cornwall said: “Our library has become a wall of shelves in a corridor with two chairs – we used to have a designated room where children could sit and read or research. We needed the space for another classroom.”

A fifth (19%) of respondents said the library staffs’ hours have been cut since 2010, and just over a tenth (11%) said library staff had been made redundant.

A librarian at a secondary school in Berkshire said: “The library is going to be closed and I am going to be made redundant at the end of the current school year in four months’ time.”

A librarian in a secondary school in Home Counties said: “I had a library assistant until the start of this academic year but this post was cut. At the same time, the library budget was slashed by 60%.”

A librarian in an academy in the East Midlands said: “Since becoming an academy I have reduced my hours to save my assistant’s post, so we now job share. Our admin assistant was made redundant. Staffing has been dramatically reduced.”

Nearly a third (32%) of staff said their school does not have a designated librarian to manage the library, just under a quarter (23%) said a teacher or member of support staff looks after the library, and nearly a tenth (9%) said no one looks after it.

Over a quarter (27%) of staff said their school librarian is part-time. Nearly a fifth (18%) said their library does not operate for the full school day.

Seventy-three per cent said the most important function of a school library is to promote and encourage reading for pleasure, and 55% said providing high quality books and electronic resources to support the curriculum. Although, only 46% said their school’s librarian collaborates with teachers in planning and developing the curriculum.

A fifth (22%) of staff said their libraries have become bigger since 2010. Eighty-six per cent said their school libraries encourage reading for pleasure and 75% said their library supports the curriculum.

Rosemary Hurley, a member of the leadership group at a school in Lancashire, said: “We are very lucky because we have moved into a new school and have a new area which we call ‘the Hub’. It is light and airy and is fully inclusive and open to the whole school during the school day.”

Rachel Middleton, a special needs member of staff in Woodland Community Primary School in Lancashire, said: “Our school library is just being set up. The school has allocated a great space and designated resources to ensuring it will become a vital formal and informal learning area. Hopefully this will help our children to discover and develop a love of reading.”

A member of special needs staff at a secondary school in Lancashire said: “We have a fantastic Learning Resource Centre with two members of staff. Our head recognises the value of reading as a tool for improving our students’ ability and general knowledge. Reading is an integral part of our curriculum. Our head librarian goes out of her way to provide extra-curricular activities such as authors’ visits, themed days around books and quizzes.”

A teacher in a primary school in Wiltshire said: “We have just had a relaunch of our library, at a formal opening with a Diocese representative attending. Time, money and new resources invested in a new large space to actively encourage more reading for pleasure and to keep all reading and reference resources in one place.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “We are hearing really mixed stories about the state of school libraries. Some schools have fantastic libraries which encourage children to develop a life-long passion for reading, as well as providing resources to support the curriculum and access to computers. Their librarians encourage children to try new authors and help them learn research and digital literacy skills.

“But we are also hearing alarming stories of schools cutting library hours and staff, or turning their libraries into classrooms and binning their books. This is particularly worrying because reading for pleasure develops children’s literacy, educational attainment and ultimately their chances in life. Getting rid of school libraries also risks increasing inequalities and further disadvantaging the most deprived children who are less likely to have access to books or computers at home and will have less access to public libraries since so many are closing.

“We would like school inspections to include comments on the quality of library services and access to them.”

ENDS

ATL had responses from 485 members working in state-funded schools in England, Wales Northern Ireland and Scotland between 3 and 14 March 2016.

Key stats:

Does your school library have enough space for students who want to use it? 456 responses.
Yes
50.65%
No
41.22%
Don’t know
8.11%

If you have a designated library space, has the amount of space changed since 2010? 456 responses.
Yes – got smaller
16.44%
Yes – got bigger
22.14%
No
53.07%
Don’t know
8.33%

Does your school library have enough computers or laptops for students who want to use them? 456 responses.
Yes
28.94%
No
61.40%
Don’t know
9.64%

Do you have a designated library space in your school? 485 responses.
Yes
94.02%
No
5.97%
Don’t know
0%

Has your school library budget suffered a significant – at least 40% – cut since 2010? 456 responses
Yes
22.36%
No
25.21%
Don’t know
52.41%

Does your library budget allow the service to support reading for enjoyment? 456 responses.
Yes
53.72%
No
21.05%
Don’t know
25.21%

Since 2010, have any of your school library staff had their library hours cut? 200 responses.
Yes
19.07%
No
51.49%
Don’t know
29.42%

Since 2010, have any of your school library staff been made redundant? 367 responses.
Yes
10.50%
No
71.50%
Don’t know
18%

Does your school have a designated librarian? 456 responses.
Yes – a trained and designated librarian
49.34%
Yes – an untrained person who looks after the library
15.13%
No – a teacher who also looks after the library
10.07%
No- a member of support staff who also looks after the library
13.37%
No – no one looks after the library
8.99%
Don’t know
2.41%

Does your school librarian work full-time or part-time as the librarian? 294 responses.
Full-time
69.04%
Part-time
26.53%
Don’t know
4.42%

Does your school library operate for the full school day? 456 responses.
Yes
78.72%
No
18.42%
Don’t know
2.85%

How important is the library to your school? 456 responses.
Very important
40.57%
Important
41%
Neither important nor unimportant
10.96%
Not very important
4.82%
Not at all important
1.31%
Don’t know
1.31%

To what extent do you agree with the following statement: ‘School libraries have a positive impact on teaching and learning’? 485 responses.
Strongly agree
67.42%
Agree
26.80%
Neither agree nor disagree
4.12%
Disagree
1.03%
Strongly disagree
0.61%

What do you think are the two most important functions of a school library? 485 responses.
Providing a suitable environment for group and independent research
20.82%
Providing high quality and wide ranging books and electronic resources to support the curriculum
55.05%
Providing access to cultural events
1.23%
Providing reading materials to support students’ needs – emotional, leisure, etc
31.95%
Take a lead role in teaching information literacy, research and enquiry skills
23.91%
Promote and encourage reading for pleasure
72.98%
Host homework clubs and reading groups
6.18%
Other
1.03%

Does your librarian or a member of staff looking after the library team collaborate with teaching staff in the planning, development and delivery of the curriculum? 404 responses.
Yes
45.79%
No
37.87%
Don’t know
16.33%

What is your school library used for? Please mark all that apply. 456 responses.
Independent study
59.86%
Providing books and electronic resources to support the curriculum
75.21%
Providing access to cultural events
23.46%
Providing a safe space for children during or after school hours
61.18%
Encouraging reading for pleasure
85.52%
Hosting reading clubs
35.08%
Hosting reading groups
51.75%
Teaching information literacy, research and enquiry skills
50.43
Providing reading materials to support students’ needs – emotional, leisure, etc
72.36%
Supporting slow readers for eg through an accelerated reading programme
37.50%
Supporting reading for pupils with special educational needs
43.42%
Providing access to computers
57.89%
Other
18.85%

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