All children deserve great school libraries

A school librarian is a reading professional, there to support the child, to guide them through the world of books and to help them gain the skills required to function through the education system and into adulthood. Every child deserves to have people in their school with the right skills for the job, says Dawn Finch.

For a school librarian it’s never just been about stamping books, it’s about understanding and nurturing a child and their reading. It’s about guiding them so that they can successfully navigate the maze of books, and emerge triumphant and in charge with a skill that will vastly improve the quality of their life.

This is so much more than a shelf full of branded and levelled books, and it’s not simply about struggling to reach the end of a prescriptive reading scheme. It’s about becoming a lifelong reader and having something in your life that will change it for the better. It’s about tackling fake news and identifying facts. It’s about gaining the skills required to function in confusing environment of the 21st century. It’s about knowing where to find the information that will help them to successfully navigate the education system, and adulthood. That’s what school librarians do, and they do it because it’s their passion and it’s important to them and it’s what they are trained to do. Surely every child deserves to have that person in their life? 

The professional with the right skills for the job

A school librarian is a reading professional who is there to support the child and to guide them through the world of books, until they find such a sense of belonging that reading is an intrinsic part of their life. Pupils with higher literacy levels achieve higher results across the curriculum and achieve more in life. To reach this point most pupils will require support at some stage, and this is something that can only be done by a reading professional.

Surely every child deserves to have people in their school with the right skills for the job? You wouldn’t expect anything less from their teachers, so why would you expect less from the person who is giving them core skills for life? Need some more proof?  Why not read the evidence for yourself:

  • Try this survey from Australia that shows the impact school libraries and librarians have on children’s literacy
  • Or maybe look at what was said in the House of Lords?
  • Or just some common sense from a writer who knows a thing or two about reading - Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency is well worth a viewing.

Ofsted's inspection framework requires that every class should have a professional in front of it, and that we should have “high expectations, no excuses.” Why would this not be the same in the library? If you have a professional to teach the children essential subjects such as Maths and English, why not have the same high expectations for reading?

Why would schools assume that children deserve a professional swimming teacher, but not a professional reading teacher? This seems largely due to the fact that senior leadership teams and head teachers often have little or no understanding of what a school librarian actually does. Increasingly the school librarian is being downgraded or eliminated altogether despite extensive evidence about the positive impact a professional librarian has on the reading development of pupils.

But of course it’s not just about education, it’s also about finding your place in the world. School is often a daunting environment for many young people, and there is nothing else in the school that can tackle things like loneliness and social isolation in the same way. Organised schemes and programmes don’t suit every young person, some just need a place to be – a place to belong.  I often say that the school library is absolutely essential in the process of supporting mental health and well-being of our young people. Not everyone gets through the education system unscathed, and for those who need a bit of quiet now and then, or a sympathetic ear, or a book about something that is upsetting them – they have the library. No library, no librarian, no support. 

Great School Libraries Campaign

All of this is background to the launch of a new joint CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) School Library Group and the School Library Association. SLA and SLG are working together on the campaign which will use research and evidence, public campaigning and lobbying to build towards greater national recognition and support for school libraries.

All children growing up today deserve the same opportunities to read, learn and fulfil their potential. Great school libraries are a vital part of improving outcomes for children. They do this in a range of different ways and through building a library habit which can support them throughout their education and beyond.

The SLA and CILIP SLG have come together with CILIP to launch this joint 3-year evidence-based campaign with the following aims and objectives: 

• Recognition of School Libraries/Librarians in Ofsted Inspection Framework
• Creation of a School Library Strategy for England
• Specific investment into School Library development

The campaign was launched on June 6th 2018 and we are now gathering both evidence and support. If you can help, or would like more information on the campaign, please sign up here 

We would also ask you to share your knowledge and stories of school libraries widely, and when on social media please use #GreatSchoolLibraries

Dawn Finch is a children’s writer and librarian and a CILIP Trustee.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash