School libraries in the UK

Despite acknowledging their value, the UK government has not made school libraries a statutory service.

The UK Government believes that  "all children deserve to be taught a rich curriculum which encourages extensive reading of books and other kinds of texts, both in and out of school and school libraries complement public libraries in providing this." 

Imrie, M. (2017). Library Advocacy: Correspondence with the Department for Education. [online] Teen Librarian. Available at:  Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

Further "the national curriculum states that teachers are expected to encourage pupils to develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information. Within the national curriculum, the programmes of study for English have been developed to make clear the importance of reading for pleasure." [ibid]

However, the government still maintains that "It is for individual schools to decide how best to provide and maintain a library service for their pupils, including whether to employ a qualified librarian." [ibid]

Sadly in Great Britain of the 21st Century School Libraries have no right to exist.

The reason for this is that school libraries are not a statutory service protected by government unlike prison libraries and public libraries; although for the latter, statutory protection has meant very little over the years.

When it comes to total expenditure, school libraries are not cheap. Although collections of books and other resources are built up over time, they still represent a large capital outlay. However, in the hands of a trained and experienced librarian, school libraries more than repay the investment.

Sadly when schools are required to trim their expenditure because of funding cuts, it is often the school librarian that is the first to go. Once the librarian has gone, it falls to teaching staff, teaching assistants or parent volunteers to maintain the library. Library-led lessons, such as information literacy, identifying fake news and how to avoid plagiarism may often go untaught.

School librarians communicate and support each other online and in person through official organisations such as the School Library Association (SLA), CILIP’s School Libraries Group (SLG) as well as independent entities including the School Librarian Network (SLN) and other local organisations. 

Staffed school libraries have been proven time and time again to improve academic attainment, leading to higher test or exam scores. Working in conjunction with school departments to improve curricular and learning outcomes leads to higher quality work, increased knowledge and reading development. As well as these concrete examples, school libraries also contribute towards positive attitudes towards learning, higher self-esteem and a wider take-up of reading for pleasure.

School Libraries have existed for almost as long as the concept of education and will last in state schools for as long as there are head teachers that recognise the value they create. In Public (Private) Schools libraries are slightly more secure, but there too they are not immune from budget cuts.


Imrie, M. (2017). Library Advocacy: Correspondence with the Department for Education. [online] Teen Librarian. Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017]. (2017). Impact of School Libraries on Learning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

Matthew Imrie is Librarian at Farringtons School in Kent, UK.