STAFF BLOG: Why school libraries are more important than ever

Many school libraries face cuts or closure, with some even viewing books as obsolete. But in this age of ‘fake news’, SALLY DRING argues that the job of a school librarian is more important than ever and explains why, at Ripon Grammar School, our thriving library remains as cherished as ever

MANY people are unaware that it is not a statutory requirement for schools to have a library although, interestingly, it is for a prison. As a consequence, the job description varies enormously from one institution to another, and even in schools where there is a librarian they can be depressingly, frustratingly undervalued and underused.

In this age of ‘fake news’, I passionately believe there has never been a greater need for librarians who can teach the techniques necessary to find the right information and that these skills need to be embedded across the curriculum.

When talking about teaching and learning, most people don’t immediately think of librarians. But in a school where the librarian or learning resource centre manager is valued and properly made use of, we can teach important information literacy skills, as well as demonstrating the value of reading, both for pleasure and well-being and for developing qualities such as empathy and understanding.

My role is wonderfully varied and the library as a place serves many purposes. At any given time you might find sixth form students working hard in their free periods, a subject lesson in full swing, making use of books, magazines and computers, or a debate, quiz or competition taking place. Break and lunch times can see more than 50 students from all year groups doing homework, revising, taking part in our well-being craft sessions or quietly reading and relaxing.

On an average day I can move from advising a sixth form student on referencing for their Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), through providing relevant resources for a subject teacher’s lesson or mending the photocopier to supporting first form students who have come to the library to read in their English lesson. I could be delivering a research project and teaching the relevant skills to a third form class, providing a safe place for an individual who needs some space to deal with a problem, helping a student to find useful information online, supervising large groups of students of different ages and so much more. Every day is different.

Librarians are in the privileged position of being able to work with teachers across all subjects and students of all ages, observing the inner workings of a school from a slight distance, which is both interesting and informative. It is the ideal way to spot opportunities for co-curricular activities or events, pulling together different subject departments who may be tackling similar topics.

Amid increasing concern about the frightening rise of the incentivisation of misinformation, which I’ve already alluded to, many schools forget that they already have an expert in-house who can help our students negotiate the huge volume of information out there.

One thing is clear, there is no such thing as a ‘digital native’. It is a common misconception that today’s students are experts in using the latest technology to find the information they need. Certainly they can press the right buttons and ‘find’ something, but they are not so skilled at evaluating what they find, assimilating information from different sources or using that information with academic honesty. And why should they be? These are skills that need to be learned like any others.

The librarian’s role has always included the teaching of information literacy – finding, assessing, evaluating, using and referencing information. Through selecting, cataloguing and organising relevant resources they help to guide users to what they need. In the days of information in print form only, a school library would house specially selected titles relevant to and at the right level for their students.

A pupil would not be deposited in the vast chambers of the British Library and expected to find the right book – why then do we expect them to be able to navigate their way through the vast reams of information, both trustworthy and otherwise, that they will find online?

*September 2018 saw the launch of the Great School Libraries campaign to ensure that every child has access to a great school library.This campaign is supported by CILIP: The Library and Information Association and is a joint venture by the School Library Association (SLA) and CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG). To sign up and show your support go to the campaign website here: