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High School

The importance of the school library and how to optimize it


Elizabeth Hutchinson and Clare Brumpton look at the key role of libraries in raising standards and improving outcomes across the school.

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Header Teacher Update

Elizabeth Hutchinson is a chartered librarian with 20 years’ experience in school libraries, while Clare Brumpton has worked in school libraries for 25 years and is now responsible for three libraries at the International School of London, an IB school. Both Elizabeth and Clair believe an effective school library can support the whole school.

Schools that understand the role of the school librarian in teaching and learning are ahead of the game; These schools recognize their expertise and their role in the educational process. Librarians can help raise literacy levels by developing a love of reading, while also teaching digital and information literacy.

Strong foundation in early years

In his book Libraries Designed for Kids (Facet Publishing, 2008), Nolan Lushington writes:

‘Defining moments in the intellectual lives of children occur each time they select a book they want to read. Often these moments occur at a children’s library. They may result from a librarian taking an interest in nurturing the natural curiosity of a child. A child’s imagination may be captured by an intriguing display of the front cover of a picture book. The vital element of these moments is that the act of selecting the book involves the child.

Research has found that one-in-eight primary schools still do not have a library. If your school does not already have a central library collection – and National Literacy Trust (NLT) – it is worthwhile investing the time, space and finances to create one.

Successful school years

Schools that have access to a school library and a librarian see an increase in attainment. The NLT’s 2017 review concluded, ‘School libraries have been found to impact general academic attainment, reading and writing skills, plus wider learning skills’. The school librarian ensures that quality resources are put into pupils’ hands, via the curriculum, raising attainment across your school.

Encourage your teachers to collaborate with the school librarian who can provide media and information literacy skills, such as reading for learning, note-taking and critical thinking. The school librarian has the expertise to co-teach and bring further learning skills to the classroom.

Good health and well-being

The well-being of our pupils and teachers is important, now more than ever, and libraries have emerged as not only safe spaces, but also places to learn about health literacy. Encourage your staff and pupils to go to the school library if they feel overwhelmed. Ensure the school library staff have enough budget to create a mental health and well-being collection.

Close the digital divide

School libraries can provide the resources and a framework to improve equality. Librarians are information professionals who can ensure all pupils have access to technology and the ability to advance in the digital world. The library should have the budget to provide resources and support for all pupils.

Equality through diversity and inclusion

School librarians value diversity, creating collections and vital spaces for all pupils. Make sure that your school’s collection is representative of all its users. A librarian with prior knowledge of authors, content of children’s literature, and who knows the school’s pupils can easily conduct an observational audit.

Libraries can help celebrate events across the academic year, with a diversity range of titles and types of books – for example, Pride Month, Black History Month, International Women’s Day, Chinese New Year, etc.

The library is, typically, a safe space, free of judgment, where pupils and staff can request quality and reliable information. It ensures that all students have access to books and resources in the languages ​​they use, at the levels they require, while being age-appropriate.

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