Bestselling picture book author Julia Donaldson has said the UK government is letting children down by closing libraries in schools.
Speaking to the Times newspaper in Edinburgh, where she and her husband Malcolm have launched a Fringe Festival children’s show, Donaldson said it is “awful” that so many school librarians are losing their jobs. “We simply don’t have libraries at all now in a lot of our primary schools and we are getting rid of librarians in secondary schools as well — yet we complain about our poor literacy levels.”
Donaldson said we are the “nation of children’s literature” but “successive governments simply don’t value that tradition any more”.
She compared the UK to Australia and the US and said schools in New South Wales were “appalled” when she told them on tour that schools in Britain often don’t have libraries.
“A school librarian, if she sees someone who seems not to be interested in books, might find one that they can latch on to, and then they might become a reader,” she said. “Too often, in schools today, they are making them job-shares. Sometimes volunteers can be good, and sometimes schools are doing enterprising things like turning a cloakroom, or even a double-decker bus, into a library — but very rarely these days do primary schools have a trained librarian.”
In the UK, there is no legal requirement for schools to provide a library facility, a situation branded “crazy” last year by Barbara Band, president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).
Band said many school library services are closing. “It all comes down to individual headteachers and where they want to spend their budget,” she said. “I know one school librarian who was made redundant, who later found out the school uses lunch supervisors to keep the shelves tidy.”
In June, children’s laureate Chris Riddell promised to champion the role of libraries, saying it is “bizarre” that schools libraries are not a statutory requirement.