Many of us with a passion for literature have fond memories of the school library as a place that nurtured our love of the written word.
This is why I read with disappointment the findings from a recent survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) about library provision in UK schools. Although 94% of respondents said that their school has a library, it is clear from the results that many of these libraries are not able to serve schoolchildren as well as they should. Of those teachers surveyed, 22% said that, since 2010, their school’s library had suffered a cut in funding of at least 40% and, worryingly, 21% believed their budget was insufficient to encourage children to read for pleasure.
On the back of such findings, those in education should be defending school libraries and valuing the contribution they make to our children’s education. I was, therefore, very disappointed to hear that during the Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference this year, a delegate told those attending that their school’s head teacher had decided that “all reading could be done on iPads”. I find it astonishing that a head teacher would hold such a view. A school library is more than a room with books in it, and cannot simply be replaced by an electronic device. The layout of a school library is such that young children are able to learn the vital research skills which will help them progress in their education in the years to come. A child’s first experiences of obtaining knowledge from several different sources to present an argument or answer a question are best practised in a library. A vital part of any school library is the librarian. They are both the gatekeeper of and guide to all the information contained within the pages of a library’s books and their knowledge is invaluable. The complacent idea that librarians can be replaced by technology is one of the reasons why funding cuts to school libraries have been allowed to happen.
Our school libraries must be protected to ensure that future generations of schoolchildren are able to take advantage of the myriad of benefits that reading for pleasure can bring. As the celebrated American newsreader Walter Cronkite once said, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”