A school library is an equaliser, argues ex-school-librarian Anna James, now working for The Bookseller as books & media editor:
In my school library I worked with so many different teenagers; Year 11 girls who had never read for pleasure before finding books that represented their school experience, with one particular convert refusing to let her friend watch "Made in Chelsea" until after an impromptu book club.
I worked with groups of struggling Year 7 students who were re-engaged with books by having Wonder read aloud to them. There were the Year 10 girls who joined in with the sixth form Man Booker prize shadowing club, the Carnegie shadowing group and the queues of students lining up to get books signed by Patrick Ness or Henry Winkler. There was a never-ending stream of students who found solace and comfort in the library, not to mention somewhere to play Dungeons & Dragons.
They also have small budgets and are often reliant on SLSs to maintain collections that can support their schools. SLSs are an invaluable resource, organizing training and advocacy, as well as resources. They are an irreplaceable loss, especially for primary schools where budgets are even smaller, or non-existent, and frequently without a dedicated librarian. The closure of SLSs limits the number of children that can be helped and inspired by libraries.
SLSs are dependent on funding from their council, and councils are currently being forced to make unrealistic financial cuts to their arts and culture provisions by the government. A government that refuses to make school libraries statutory and repeatedly demonstrates the lack of value it places on the arts.
School libraries open minds, eyes and hearts but they need the support of their schools, councils and fundamentally the government. When school libraries are gone, due to ‘unavoidable’ cuts, we will realise what we have lost. Without a school library, and librarian, where will children go to explore, question, learn and wonder?
Libraries are an equaliser and I believe a child who has had access to a properly staffed and equipped school library is less likely to need access to a prison library.