06 September 2010
There are some things you just don’t want to believe. And one of those is, that – according to press reports – the death knell for the School Library Service has been sounded across the country. With Kent County Council just the latest authority to scrap its superb School Library Service.
I don’t want to believe it, partly because it’s totally crazy that at a time when we are worried about the decline of literacy and reading, we disband the organisation which sends into schools some of the most dynamic, and inspiring people I’ve ever known, and whose breadth of knowledge about books really is second to none.
But I also don’t want to believe it, because the School Library Service believes firmly in reading for pleasure. That may sound like a rather obvious point but actually so much of reading in schools today is summed up by a girl who told me: ‘Oh, I only read books for exams.’ Although the Library Service certainly enriches schools with its expert knowledge of books – it is also – and very importantly, marching to a slightly different beat.
I know this, as I have worked with School Library Services across the country – including fourteen different authorities during the recent ‘Boys into Books’ initiative. And I’ve watched them present books to children (and teachers) in such a lively, exciting way. No wonder there were queues round the book boxes at the end and teachers were jotting down titles. One muttered to me. ‘This has really encouraged me to raise my game about finding books they will like.’
This is not something teachers naturally know, and why should they? They are already over-worked and many schools don’t even have a full-time (or any time) librarian. Without this infusion of knowledge and enthusiasm, books can wither away in a school. The library becomes a place for school conferences and meetings while stacks of old, unloved books hang about on the shelves like an ageing relative in the corner of the room. And the whole area has the air of a tatty second-hand bookshop. No wonder children rarely visit and if they do it’s just to ask if they can use the computers. The school library is closed to readers in all but name.
There’s an old saying in advertising, we’re not just selling sausages we’re selling the sizzle as well. Well, few people sizzle like the School Library Service. I’ve watched their wonderfully, lively interactive book talks, helped judge the competitions they’ve initiated (often with hundreds of entries) and seen the difference they’ve made to the cultural life of so many schools.
They are vital and enriching and dedicated. So, or course, we must get rid of them as quickly as possible.