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School Libraries

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Article Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. The context: regulation and funding
  3. What does the school librarian do?
  4. Resources
  5. Summary
  6. References

The context: regulation and funding

The benefits of school libraries is acknowledged at the highest level: the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) produced a report, ratified and published by UNESCO (2000), which recognized the role of school libraries in promoting literacy.

However, whether or not a useful service is offered has a lot to do with the immediate policy and legal framework within which that service operates, which is mostly at national level.  (In some countries, such as Australia, funding may be at state or territory level.) National policy varies considerably from country to country.

Writing in 2003, Elisam Magara and Joyce Bukirwa Nyumba  bemoan the lack of legislative framework for school libraries in Uganda. There are a number of different initiatives, but these are not coordinated at national level, increasing possibility of duplication and patchy provision.

Whilst some schools do maintain libraries, few have qualified librarians, and sometimes the library’s offering is just a collection of books. Where a trained person is employed, the terms of their employment are not clearly defined, resulting in job insecurity and poor motivation.

Lack of legislative framework is not the sole preserve of poorer countries. There is no legislation requiring schools to have a library in the UK. Responding to a report from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), one blogger claimed that making school libraries and librarians statutory would much improve their ability to make a difference to learning (Flying Start, 2010).

Right at the other end of the scale, the Republic of South Korea has legislation in place which defines the role of the school library as supporting teaching and learning, as well as the way in which it should operate (Lee, 2011).

In the US, the Department of Education administers a programme, , which provides up-to-date library materials and ensures that libraries have qualified staff. includes key provision to help school libraries.

Funding

The legislative framework, and support at government level, clearly has an impact on funding.

In the US, the Report on the State of America’s Libraries from the American Library Association (2011) claimed that the 2010 economic downturn had left most school libraries unscathed – except in high poverty areas, which saw cuts of 25 per cent as opposed to 9.4 per cent norm. (Although the LSL programme does provide some grants to "high poverty" schools.)

In the UK, the CILIP survey revealed that nearly a third of school libraries had experienced cuts.  Again, schools in the poorer areas, and ones with smaller budgets, were particularly badly affected (Streatfield et al. 2010).

For funding to be appropriate, it is important that legislation be linked with a specific vision of what the school library should be.  In countries such as Uganda and Nigeria, for example, there is great interest in achieving universal primary education, and in libraries as part of that.

However, with most of the help coming from NGOs, there is no overall coordination, and projects may only cover certain areas, have clearly defined but limited objectives, or be downright unsuitable.

In Uganda, the East African Book Development Project supports reading camps in schools, and also aims to establish school libraries in rural and slum areas (Magara and Nyumba, 2004).

In Malawi, surplus Western books are shipped over to form the basis of school libraries. Such books may be unsuitable for the local context (Anderson and Matthews, 2010).