Teachwire Logo
NFER - Tests for Years 1-6
NFER - Tests for Years 1-6

What Headteachers Need to Know about School Libraries…from a School Librarian

You may see a library as a luxury, but a successful one is so much more than a depository of books, says Samantha Pope...

  • What Headteachers Need to Know about School Libraries…from a School Librarian

As school budgets are squeezed even tighter, I’m going to ask you to earmark money for something that you, officially, don’t have to spend any money on – your school library.

I can anticipate your immediate response already: schools are expected to do so much already with decreasing amounts of money.

Believe me, I know – I used to be a school governor and I work in a primary school. And, since libraries are not a required facility in schools, it might make more sense to cross them off the list.

After all, often, school libraries can hardly be called that – squashed into corridors or located in a dark corner behind a cloakroom, where battered books fight for space among coats, bags and muddy wellies.

If a library doesn’t look welcoming or attractive, the children won’t want to visit it, so what’s the point in having one, you might ask. And, if most primary classrooms have book corners and bookcases with age- and ability-appropriate titles, is there any need for a separate library to exist at all?

Seen purely in this light, a library becomes more a luxury than a necessity, and employing someone to care for the books is even more ludicrous. Surely a TA with time on their hands (is there such a person?) or an eager parent would do the job just as well?

All they have to do, after all, is issue books, make sure they come back, and shelve them – and perhaps read a story or two to the younger children, at a push. If that’s all a library is, then why not?

The thing is, a successful library is so much more than a depository of books. It’s a place where the written world can come to life.

Dedicated school librarians (and they don’t have to have a library qualification to be effective) try to engage families and carers and the wider community to instil a love of reading.

We help staff with reading materials to support classroom education and create interesting and entertaining challenges in reading and writing.

We might work with children who are either reluctant readers or who struggle to achieve their age-appropriate reading levels.

We liaise with local bookshops and libraries, keeping in touch with authors and illustrators, arranging school visits and sending them photos, letters and tweets.

In short, we bring books to life, in an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. 

In my library, I am fortunate to get to know each and every child in the school through weekly library sessions and ‘library lunchtimes’, where I run activities such as storytime and arts and crafts sessions based on the books and poetry we’re reading.

It’s clear from the queues waiting for the library to open that the children see the space as a place of creativity and calm, with cushions, teddies and colourful displays alongside the books, magazines and newspapers.

Individual children even come to the library in lessons if they are becoming anxious, emotional or overwhelmed. Quite simply, the library is, as our headteacher describes it to colleagues in local schools, a ‘haven’.

This environment is vital at a time where, according to recent surveys, one in ten children and young adults suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and conduct disorders.

Schools are being asked to deal with these issues as well as everything else. Librarians aren’t necessarily trained psychotherapists or counsellors, but if they can at least offer a vulnerable child a refuge a few times a week, then this can help ease the burden on teachers, who have 29 other children to care for.

Seen in this light, surely the argument for libraries, and for a dedicated person in charge of them, can only add value to a school – and in more ways than the immediately obvious ones.

Book lover, reading helper, agony aunt, researcher – perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is this: can you afford not to have a librarian?

From Samantha

Samantha Pope is librarian at St Michael’s CE Primary in Oxford. Find out more at childtasticbooks.com and on Twitter at @childtastic.

Sign up here for your free Brilliant Teacher Box Set

Make sure your menus are healthy, tasty and offer great value for money with expert guidance from nutritionist Nigel Denby.

Find out more here >