Posted by: bluesyemre | March 24, 2022

#SchoolLibraries in a squeeze

Think you lack space for a school library? You might be surprised, say Alison Tarrant and Daniel Fenwick.

The 2019 Great School Libraries campaign found that 1 in 8 schools don’t have a school library, and the 2020 Softlink/School Library Association survey found that access to 60% of respondents’ school libraries was restricted.

The Primary School Library Commission from the National Literacy Trust further highlighted the impact that these restrictions had on children’s access to books over the pandemic. 

The body of research setting out the positive impacts of regular reading during childhood is clear, making the current situation troubling. But what makes a good school library and, given the restrictions, what can schools do?

Supporting teaching and learning

A good school library supports personal, academic and reading development.

The books within it are up-to-date and representative, acting both as a mirror and a window. There is a mix of fiction, information books, magazines, graphic novels and newspapers. 

Books are not dusty or crammed onto shelves, but presented with care and visual appeal – like sweets in an old-style sweet shop, to borrow Cressida Cowell’s analogy.

Pupil voice is central, both actual, in book-related discussions, and metaphorically, in having a say about the layout of the space, the stock and the activities which are run. 

Good libraries have someone running them who is the engine of the school’s reading culture.

If you don’t currently have a school library, don’t be put off. Here are some ideas:

  • Start small and grow. Anything is better than nothing, and once you start to see the impact you can create the understanding for more. Start with a few bookcases and go from there.
  • Find space and be brutal. What is more important than embedding a love of reading? What about an outdoor space? Ideally somewhere central, but anywhere is a starting point.
  • Apply to an organisation such as the Foyle Foundation for support, or ask local businesses if they can help.
  • Appoint a librarian. Once someone has this role (and time for it) spaces will be found, books will start to multiply, and funding will be secured.
  • Focus on the reading culture. Encourage children to want to seek out their library or bookshop. Ask your local School Library Service or the School Library Association for advice.

Plywood and foam

Take the case of St Wilfred’s RC Primary. The school already had a relatively well-stocked library, but in a space that also served as an ICT suite and central corridor.

It was just a transitory place to drop-off and collect books, not a destination where children could sit back and enjoy reading.

Books are an integral part of the school, supported by high quality reading and phonics teaching. However, after successive lockdowns, the school’s reading data revealed some sobering truths. 

It showed that the reading age of fluent, motivated readers barely changed during lockdown. Children who were less fluent readers, however, developed significant gaps, particularly those in younger classes where phonics lessons were missed.

One of the school’s priorities needed to be fostering a love of reading across the school. 

If pupils picked up a book of their own accord, rather than being pestered by a teacher, then teachers found children were more likely to make progress, reducing the likelihood of future interventions. 

A decision was taken to create a new area that would serve as cosy reading space. The school’s caretaker paneled out the edges of the ICT desk with plywood, adding safety foam to the staircase above to create a ‘Reading Nook’, which was filled it with beanbags, warm lighting and an audiobook player.

It was transformed from a neglected space into a tranquil haven which pupils looked forward to using. 

Each class also has a scheduled time to use the library, making sure that they used it to relax and read in a calm and peaceful environment.

Teachers use it to talk about different types of reading materials, and children share books they’ve enjoyed and make recommendations. 

A lot of work has gone into the transformation and upkeep of St Wilfred’s library, which is primarily down to the motivated HLTA and Library Coordinator, Mrs Blewitt, who trains pupil librarians, promotes specific books and removes old, outdated texts.

The library works because everyone – from governors to pupils – has engaged in the process, and staff have listened and acted on it. 

Start small

There is no one right way to start, but creating a school library worth aiming for.

Children growing up at the moment are more in need of access to reading without distraction, more in need of finding their passions rather than relying on social media, and more in need of learning to browse to find books and information, than ever before.

These are skills which will set them on a positive path for life. However you do it, get advice, and do your school library your way.

Alison Tarrant, CEO, School Library Association and Daniel Fenwick, Deputy Headteacher, St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School

https://www.theheadteacher.com/school-procurement/building-maintenance/school-libraries-in-a-squeeze


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