No one can deny the importance of reading from a young age. Countless studies have shown that children who read frequently enjoy numerous benefits, from better academic performance to a greater understanding of different cultures. There is even evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background. This love of reading is nurtured by the school library and should be celebrated and supported, particularly in light of library closures and library funding cuts over recent years.
Libraries in Decline
The US has seen a dramatic loss of both school and public libraries over the past decade and the UK is following in close suit; almost 8000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in a six year period along with hundreds of library closures across the country. The Edvocate reported US survey findings that students who attended schools with libraries staffed by certified librarians scored better on reading and writing tests than students in schools without library resources. Despite their huge benefits to the education system, libraries are often deeply under-appreciated and the decline in libraries has accumulated, with reduced opening hours, reduced funding and reduced staff. When schools are faced with harsh funding cuts, libraries are one of the first to suffer.
School libraries are an important driver in pushing encouragement of reading across school, not just during the 10 mins of silent reading at the beginning of English lessons. Libraries are the hub for driving appreciation of reading in its students. A great school library will host reading challenges, competitions and author visits while our lovely librarians can push whole school initiatives like ‘Drop Everything and Read’ and organise events like World Book Day. A school library is a centre for encouraging reading, an important ability to inspire in young people.
Library Funding Cuts Hit Disadvantaged Students the Hardest
Sadly, as with most school budget cuts, those who are most affected by library funding cuts are disadvantaged students. It’s the students who don’t have access to a wealth of books at home or whose home life isn’t a calm environment to complete homework. It’s the students who need the library to access a computer and Wi-Fi. The student whose family doesn’t own a printer. The school library is a safe, calm space for students to go, work and reflect. For students going through tumultuous personal lives, a library can be a sanctuary in comparison to the crowds and noise around school at lunchtimes. Aside from the well-researched benefits of reading from a young age, there are so many other aspects of school libraries that are of enormous benefit to so many children and young people.
With many libraries being renamed ‘learning resource centres’, we have seen a shift in the services provided by the humble school library. Changing the focus of what the library encompasses, however, should not mean losing a focus on the books themselves. The Guardian has reported that, in recent years, with libraries becoming more digitally focussed, “teachers have reported that their school libraries are closing and the remaining books, after many have been thrown away, are being transferred to classrooms or corridors, where there is no space for quiet study or reading.”
Libraries and Student Wellbeing
One argument in criticism of libraries is that they are no longer necessary in an age of digital resources and advanced technology. But this is simply not the case, libraries can evolve and have the capacity to be incredibly versatile spaces, from autism-friendly zones to hosting wellbeing initiatives like yoga and mindfulness sessions. The school library is also the forefront of information resources for many students, from up-to-date careers and university information to health and wellbeing materials. It is in the library that many students will find books, advice and support materials on sensitive issues that they may not feel comfortable talking about at home, including mental health, an issue on alarming rise in schools.
The Guardian have reported that library funding cuts have massively harmed mental health services, in which young people no longer have the advice they need at their fingertips, including advice on anxiety, stress, exams and bullying. A library is arguably a far safer information store than the mass of forums found online. The Shelf Help Scheme is one way in which libraries are providing this support, pointing teenagers towards books that can help them understand their mental health, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
As much as reading in general is beneficial to young minds, our school libraries are far more than a room full of books. They are an adaptable and important space that provides opportunities, information and calm. Our school libraries are a great support and respite to many students and they need our help more than ever.