Why are school libraries important?

Back in April, internationally bestselling author-illustrator and Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell called for the vital funding of school libraries. But why?

As highlighted in Cressida’s open letter to the UK government – of which the SLA are proud to be signatories – there is a wealth of research to suggest that reading plays a pivotal part in a child’s future success. But, without a sufficient school library, how are children expected to discover the life-changing magic of reading? Especially for children whose parents or carers cannot afford to provide books at home, something that has become all the more apparent since the pandemic hit, libraries are the only way for many children to get their hands on books and start reading for pleasure. Access to books is so often a luxury when it should be a right, and school libraries are the best way to reverse this escalating inequality.

Schools are a vital hub of learning and opportunity that should offer everyone within their walls – both pupils and staff alike – the opportunity to thrive. School libraries are crucial to achieving this through the important reading and learning opportunities they’re home to.

At the SLA, one of our core beliefs is that the educational, emotional and developmental benefits of a school library deserve to be felt by all, and so our work focuses on supporting all staff so that all pupils can enjoy the benefits of a thriving school library.

How does the SLA help?

There are many ways that our membership helps school libraries fulfil their greatest potential, such as through providing training and resources for school library staff. Our online training is particularly popular, allowing participants the flexibility to work at their own pace and around their own schedules. Our webinars, day courses and other events throughout the year tailor to varying levels of career progression, covering both library specific training and training that is more widely applicable within the school sector. We also run fun and informal ‘Meet the Creator’ events each month, giving people the opportunity to learn about new children’s books from different authors and illustrators as well as network with like-minded individuals through a shared love of reading.

We’re always keeping up to date with the latest information and trends to bring you the most relevant resources and guidance to best support you and your work. Our resources include newsletters, blog posts, publications and our quarterly journal, covering everything from reading recommendations and reviews to tips on how to transform your school library space and advice for supporting vulnerable students. Our advice line is available for any member of school staff, offering personalised guidance when required, and our mentoring service will match you with someone in a similar context who will be able to provide ongoing support.

The power of reading

Reading for Information

Perhaps the most obvious power of reading is to provide information. It’s the first step in unlocking your capacity for learning and, in a school setting, it’s imperative in allowing children to access the breadth of the curriculum.

Information books find themselves more often shunned by children than fiction, with a common misconception being that they’re boring or difficult to read. Actually, publishers have refocused their energy to ensure this isn’t the case, making information books some of the most beautiful books around. They’re an important tool for nurturing curiosity and extending knowledge, which is why we’re particularly proud of our Information Book Award (IBA). This award encourages staff and children to use information books, introducing them to a world of inspiring and, often, visually striking facts. Our recently announced 2021 shortlist showcases some of the best information books of the year, and we’ve even released accompanying, free resources for each book that can be easily implemented in a school library or classroom to help you unlock the full potential of these terrific titles.

Reading for Pleasure

Whilst reading is a powerful tool for learning, it’s also so much more. Decades of research shows that a reader for pleasure is more likely to be happier, healthier, to do better at school and to vote – all irrespective of their background. In particular, research from the National Literacy Trust has found that children who engage with reading for pleasure are three times more likely to have high levels of mental wellbeing than those who do not. Especially with everything going on in the world at the moment, there are profound concerns about our young people and it’s important to encourage everyone to think about the small steps they can take to allow all children to experience the benefits of reading for pleasure.

Our publications are a great place to start, and cover everything from general practices to encouraging engagement with genres that often find themselves more neglected.

Recently, we’ve partnered with renowned storyteller Alec Williams to create Get Everyone Reading, a free download available to absolutely everyone that will help encourage a love of reading. It’ll guide you through the different elements which create a positive reading culture, as well as briefly exploring why reading for pleasure is so beneficial. The guide is complete with two appendices that include an inspiring ‘Ideas Bank’ and a comprehensive list of reading celebrations throughout the year, so you can discover more ways to make reading for pleasure a continued presence in your school or home.

Reading Science for Pleasure is another SLA guide that focuses more specifically on encouraging engagement with science books. It’s home to a wealth of tried and tested ideas designed to help young readers uncover the wonders and adventures held within science information books. These books have the power not only to extend young readers' knowledge, but also to excite their interest and imagination, feeding their curiosity and valuably broadening their reading horizons.

The SLA community

It will come as no surprise that our members are at the heart of everything we do. Particularly over the past 18 months, school library staff have experienced great isolation and uncertainty amidst the various challenges of the pandemic, and so the most important thing we can provide for our members is a reminder that they’re never alone. Seeing how the community has banded together in response to these unprecedented challenges has been heart-warming and reaffirmed what we already knew: that school library staff are an incredibly dedicated, hard-working and inspiring group of people.

We like to celebrate our school library community and the incredible things it’s home to, which is why we’re proud to run a series of new and improved awards that showcase the invaluable work that happens in school libraries across the country. So if you have something – or someone – worth celebrating, let us know!

Now, as the SLA progresses into its 85th year, we hope we can reach and inspire even more people, as well as continuing to support school library staff as they strive to provide access to vital resources, encourage a love of reading and generally make a huge difference to so many lives every day.

The SLA is a UK focused charity which supports everyone involved in school libraries. We believe that every pupil is entitled to effective school library provision and the educational, emotional and developmental benefits that come with it. The SLA is committed to supporting, promoting and sustaining high quality reading, teaching and learning opportunities for all in a diverse and changing world.

To learn more about joining our community, visit our website, follow us on Twitter or get in touch with info@sla.org.uk.

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