To school librarians, public libraries, librarian knights, custodians of our culture, you taught me well. I'll never forget you.

Chris Riddell and the Campaign for School Libraries

Libraries are having a hard time of it at the moment. The plight of public libraries is well documented, and it breaks my heart. As much as they may want to, however, the government cannot just close public libraries willy nilly. Thanks to the Public Libraries and Museums act of 1964, Public Libraries are protected by law (for all the good it’s doing them):

It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof.

School libraries are also under threat, but they have no such protection in law. It is down to individual schools how well their libraries are funded, staffed or stocked - or even whether they have a library at all. The Guardian (14th November 2016) reported that SLA director Tricia Adams

estimates that over the last decade it has lost around 1,000 members, as “more and more schools are taking the economic route and saying they haven’t got the money and they’ve got to get rid of their librarian”.

Furthermore, school libraries are not currently required to be included in Ofsted inspections. School librarian and former CILIP president Barbara Band bemoaned this lack of statutory protection and regulation, especially given the importance that Ofsted and the govenment places on literacy.

This inconsistent library provision has led to a situation that current Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell called a “disadvantageous school library lottery" in an open letter he wrote to secretary of state for education Justine Greening (see below).

Dear Justine Greening, I am writing to you as the UK Children’s Laureate and passionate advocate of the role that school libraries and school librarians play in the lives of our children. I have seen personally, in my school visits up and down the country, how they promote reading for pleasure and in doing so, turn pupils into avid readers. I am deeply concerned that this role is not fully appreciated and, worse, is being undermined through lack of economic and intellectual investment. In recent months two major school library services closed in Dorset and Berkshire and year after year the School Library Association loses members as school library provision shrinks through lack of funding. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries has asked your Department to gather statistics on school library provision so that the extent of this problem can be understood - so far, without success. I am asking you to act on their request and then, with the support of OFSTED, to set out clear standards for library provision that will end this disadvantageous school library lottery that limits many children’s life chances. I am asking you to ring-fence funds for this from the education Budget so that every school has a library service it can be proud of: books to borrow and wherever possible a school librarian to help children choose. By taking the lead in England I hope the devolved education authorities throughout the rest of the UK will follow suit. By promoting reading for pleasure, introducing our children to life-changing books and turning them into life-long readers, school libraries are a vital resource that must be nurtured. My fellow Laureates have championed libraries in many different ways and they have generously lent me their support. When every parent knows the name of their child’s favourite book, author and, yes, school librarian and can share and read together with their child the books they bring home, we know literacy standards will soar and we’ll all be richer. Yours sincerely, Chris Riddell
Children's Laureate Chris Riddell's open letter to Justine Greening. There is a transcript available at the fantastic Books For Keeps

Chris has been using his laureateship (2015-2017) to campaign for school libraries, and he has been supported by all eight former Children’s Laureates (see last page of the open letter above). He has been talking to newspapers, radio and TV stations, politicians and anyone who will listen about this situation.

. . . as I visit schools across the UK I find that library provision is wildly inconsistent. While there are great examples of well-funded and staffed libraries, it is obvious many schools are unable to provide what their pupils need: books they can read for pleasure, and ideally a librarian to help them grow as readers.

Chris Riddell, quoted in The Guardian, 14th November, 2016

I am very lucky in my current position. I’m a librarian in school that seems to value its library. There is a semi-decent budget for buying books, there’s a qualified librarian, I have the support of staff at all levels and across departments, and I have a beautiful library, designed by the people behind Brighton's Jubilee Library.

I am also lucky that Chris Riddell is a local. His children attended my school and he is aware of the emphasis the school puts on its library (in fact, he and Paul Stewart opened our library in 2008). Which may be why he brought the BBC around for a visit last month, just before the Christmas break. They interviewed Chris, me and a few students in our library, and you can view the piece here:

BBC South East Today, December 2016

I did also talk (exceptionally eloquently and incisively, of course) about the multi-faceted aspects of being a school librarian, but time constraints and TV editing left most of that on the cutting room’s digital floor.

Chris has been touring schools across the UK to highlight these issues, but it remains to be seen whether anything will change. The government has yet to act on the recommendations of a 2014 report from CILIP and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries, which is why Chris’ campaign is so important.

Contrary to the shushing stereotype, it is vital that we keep making noise about school libraries.

Further reading:

2 thoughts on “Chris Riddell and the Campaign for School Libraries

  1. Excellent blog post, libraries are a must for every school. I am lucky in my school as the librarian I have the total support of my head and leadership team. Being able to support and work with students giving them the best opportunity of being able to read confidently and independently is a life skill they need.

    1. Couldn't agree more, Ruth! The problem is getting that consistency of service for every student. I feel that we, as some of the lucky ones, have a responsibility to spread the word about why what we do matters.

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