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The Future of School Libraries

What Challenges Are School Libraries Facing?

As a result of COVID-19 safety measures, the physical space of the school library has in many cases been annexed as a classroom or ‘bubble’ for a particular year group or staff. This has deeply affected the function of the library, with access to physical materials becoming restricted even further.

Has the decreased use and visibility of both the library and library staff led to the prevalence of a misjudged belief that a librarian’s value is directly linked to the library’s space and use thereof, and so no use of the space means the librarian has limited value?

There is also a danger the space will never be fully returned to the library as the narrative moves towards “utilising the space more effectively”.

Add to the mix the increased stress, time pressures and budget restrictions that school leaders inevitably face, and the opportunity for meaningful discussions on the future of the library is lessened. Decisions, which appear detrimental to the provision of an effective library service, will undoubtedly feel harsh and poorly thought through.

Do School Leaders Question the Value of School Libraries?

Why would school leaders feel reducing library space, cutting library staff hours or slashing the library budget, for example, are at all justified?

Could it be library teams have done too good a job, quietly going about their duties and providing high-quality library management services? Almost inevitably, but perhaps this approach is no longer enough.

Could it also be that the powerful potential school libraries hold only becomes apparent to decision makers when they choose to see it, and a ‘visual leap’ is necessary for the true value to become apparent?

Either way, it’s almost certain that these types of decisions cause a great deal of pain to those who must make them, and the resulting consequences are likely considered to be the lesser of any number of evils in what are extremely difficult times.

In all walks of life, a lot of emphasis is put on ‘growth’, personal growth, business growth, market growth, etc. In his recent book, “The power of giving away power”, Matthew Barzun suggests this is a misnomer, that it is not possible to grow. Rather, like a farmer, you plant, and you tend, and growth happens as a consequence.

How many school librarians are also farmers? Where the planting and tending is curating their collections, cataloguing their stock, advising their readers, supporting their teachers and providing a safe space for all.

Perhaps it is also fair to say that the majority of us do not pay too much heed to the planting and tending process until there are no carrots in the shop.

Our Experience with School Library Revivals

At PSP Asset Protection, we have been asked to consult at a number of schools that, for one reason or another, had taken the decision in the past to close the library or drastically reduce the library provision. In every single case there was a real vibrancy and excitement in the revival project and the powerful potential of the library – the ‘visual leap’ had been taken!

The potential may not have always been realised but the spark of energy and a determination to make something big and special was always present. Anecdotally, the libraries that went on to fulfil their potential engaged and connected with others, who would be stakeholders, and built the library success in collaboration.

From a standing start, it may actually be easier to convince others about the value and support a school library provides and how a well planted and tended library can grow to reach and impact all areas of the school.

Will School Library Spaces Be Forever Changed?

All schools, school libraries and the wider society will face unknown challenges as life transitions through the various stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the point that life (hopefully) returns to some form of normality.

Whilst it may be true that not all library spaces will return to normal, it is a time where, through connection and collaboration, the importance of the library can be realised by all.

“The love of libraries, like most loves, must be learned.” – Alberto Manguel