Outdated books and no librarians - schools turn to volunteers as tight budgets risk damaging libraries
PUBLISHED: 16:41 01 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:41 01 December 2017
Archant Norfolk 2014
Schools are turning to the generosity of teachers and parents as tight budgets make staffing and stocking libraries a challenge.
Of the 86 headteachers we surveyed in Norfolk and Waveney, many said keeping stock current, employing a librarian and organising the space proved costly - with several saying parents and teachers topped up libraries themselves.
It comes after a warning to the government from 150 children’s authors - including Norwich-born Philip Pullman - of the “urgent need” to make provision of appropriately staffed school libraries a statutory duty, as is the case with public and prison facilities.
All but one of the schools we surveyed said they have a library - but less than half, 49pc, employ a qualified librarian.
And Marilyn Brocklehurst, who runs the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, in Alby, warned the struggle meant some schools still stocked copies of outdated - and sometimes inappropriate - books.
The former librarian works with schools to invigorate, stock and advise on libraries, and said the county was lucky to still have the Norfolk Education Library Service (NELS), run by the county council.
But she said schools needed more help to staff and stock thriving libraries.
“You go to one school and it’s brilliant, and another where the library is full of empty computer boxes,” she said. “It varies massively. Teachers are struggling, money is tight, but many schools do still think it’s important that children have access to good books.”
She said many schools across the country no longer had librarians, and instead relied on donations.
“People who aren’t librarians have no experience of organising a library and of the stock that’s needed. There is a huge amount that goes into it and what is happening is a big concern.”
In our survey, several headteachers described reading as “integral” to children, but the majority of respondents, when asked about the challenges they face, cited cost.
One said their librarian would be “in the next line of staffing cuts”, while another said: “We are now relying on parents to buy books for the library to keep it well-resourced.”
One headteacher said they bought books from their own money, while another said: “We have no money for new books or a computer system. I have no time to keep the library updated due to other school workload.”
Thirty-six per cent of respondents said they did not employ a librarian, and many others said teaching assistants stepped in.
Brundall Primary School relies on volunteers to help. It has a dedicated library gang of nine parents and one grandparent, who tidy and organise the library and help pupils find books.
Lisa Taylor, a volunteer and governor, said: “It started off with a few parents who noticed the library wasn’t being used, was a bit of a mess and could do with a tidy up.”
She said they recruited the help of NELS to kickstart the work, and later secured a grant of £2,000 from Central England Co-operative to buy new books. She said it had been a “very exciting” project that had rejuvenated the library.
“I completely understand where the authors are coming from,” she said, “but if the money is not there, there needs to be other options - and this is working in Brundall.”
Meanwhile, at Lynn Grove Academy, a much bigger school in Gorleston, there is a two-floor library, boasting 10,000 books, roughly 60 computers, two full-time librarians and 30 pupil librarians, who headteacher Alison Mobbs said provided “substantial” help.
She said: “We call our library the beating heart of the school - it’s open from 8am to 5pm, we run a lot of clubs there, lessons too and we’ve used it to develop a love of reading. It’s a great way to encourage pupils to socialise with other year groups.”
Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queens Hill Primary School, which has two libraries and librarians, said libraries had a significant and all-round impact on children, particularly those who may not have the opportunity to access libraries with their families.
She said: “Budgets are always a concern but we’ve made a decision in our school that having a library and librarian has made such an impact to children’s reading that it is one thing we will cling onto.”
Inappropriate books found
A reluctance to throw away old books is leaving some schools with books which are extremely outdated - and, in some cases, inappropriate.
Mrs Brocklehurst said she has found books in school libraries, not just in Norfolk, which were clearly inappropriate for pupils in today’s society.
They included Jimmy Saville’s book on stranger danger, Looking at Pictures with Rolf Harris, books which included racist language and ones on careers which completely excluded women.
She said: “These are some of the books I’m finding in school libraries today. Teachers do not have the time or experience to evaluate stock - they are incredibly busy and dedicated people who cannot do it all.
“They are also often reluctant to throw things away, but we cannot have books that misinform our children because it means they will not trust books.”
Schools’ creativity to inspire a love of reading
Despite challenges, the majority of our schools are working hard to prioritise reading - and a handful inspire with particularly creative libraries.
At Howard Junior School, in King’s Lynn, their fiction library is not only themed around Harry Potter - designed to look and feel like a castle - but also glow in the dark. Its non-fiction library boasts a spaceship theme, with a porthole for book of the week.
At Dereham Infant School, a vibrantly refurbished double decker bus became the new library in July.
Transformed over six months, it includes space to sit and read, plenty of books and a birds-eye view across the playground.
Elsewhere, Mousehold Infant and Junior School unveiled a new library last March, which came complete with a mural covering one of its walls.
As well as famous characters from children’s fiction, it shows the cherished view from Mousehold across the city.