A campaign to gather comprehensive data about school libraries will give library professionals the evidence they need to advocate for school library provision, the agents behind the initiative have told The Bookseller.
Earlier this year the School Library Association (SLA) and CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) launched the Great School Libraries Campaign to push for every child to have access to a good school library. As part of the campaign, they formed the School Library Data Group, which over the next three years will conduct a survey into school library provision across the country.
Alison Tarrant, director of the SLA, is chairing the campaign. She said that no one currently knows how many schools have libraries, or how well run those libraries are. “I was speaking to an author who thinks about 30% of schools she visits have libraries but the schools she visits will be invested in literature and literacy so perhaps the real figure is lower. We don’t actually know,” Tarrant said. “Hard data is so important.”
Over a period of three years an independent researcher, paid for by a grant from the Foyle Foundation, will carry out a major survey of school libraries, measuring the level of provision in schools and tracking any changes. The campaigners are also asking schools to compile a case study every time their libraries have a positive impact on pupils.
During the first year the group will talk to schools and librarians, and then in years two and three take their findings to decision-makers, specifically Ofsted and the Department for Education.
Nick Poole, c.e.o. of CILIP, said the group wants to show the government the lack of consistency in school library provision and to celebrate what libraries can do. “In today’s education sector, we need to give teachers and head teachers a really compelling case to invest,” he said. “My dream would be to be able to give them evidence of the impact of a school librarian on the school’s Ofsted performance and its value-add for learners.
“A lot of people have got quite a fixed idea about libraries when they were children and they haven’t really noticed the revolution in school libraries that happened over the past 20 years. This is why Great School Libraries is looking at celebrating the astonishing range of ways in which school librarians enhance and extend curriculum teaching and create a better school experience for their pupils.”
Tarrant said the campaign has three aims: to secure funding for school libraries, to create a national framework for them (there is currently no guidance for schools about how they should run their libraries), and to ensure that libraries are included within the Ofsted assessment framework. The campaigners are not asking for the government to make libraries a statutory requirement in schools, she said, because they don’t want the government to make that rule without providing funding, but they want to encourage a “greater understanding of why libraries are important”.
“We also want there to be a definition of what a school library is,” she said. “Is it three shelves in a corridor? No. The definition we are using for the campaign is that a school library should be a room, beyond a classroom, that has a collection of resources to assist with children’s curriculum and wider learning needs.”
The campaign is sponsored by school libraries supplier Peters and m.d. Ray Dyer sees a gulf between schools that invest in books and those that do not. “Some schools struggle but some are willing to invest a lot—thou- sands of pounds. Reading touches everything a child does at school, so it would be fantastic if we could level that.”