February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

UK School Libraries Suffer Deep Budget Cuts, Report Says

School librarians across the Atlantic are feeling the squeeze, too. A recent study by the U.K.’s School Library Association shows that budgets there have taken a hit, with 34 percent of media specialists reporting smaller budgets this year compared to 2011. Meanwhile, only 18 percent say they’ve seen an increase since last year.

Overall, 48 percent of respondents say their budgets have remain unchanged, which the survey says, constitutes a cut if inflation is factored in. Over the course of three years, 38 percent of school librarians reported they had less money, 32 percent said they had more, and 30 percent said their budgets remained unchanged since 2009, says “School Libraries in 2012,” which surveyed 1,000 school librarians from April to May 2012.

But, the report says, comments by respondents show the “real hardship these bald statistics hide,” with one librarian stating, “In 8 years the budget has gone from £3,500 to £750 ($5,500 to $1,178). Last year I was allocated £500 ($785) but argued that it just could not be done and I had already spent more than that in the first month! I eventually received £800 ($1,256) but have had to be very creative about where and on what the money is spent. I’m holding it together but it is a struggle.”

The comments also gave a sense of how grim the situation in U.K. school libraries has become. “I am leaving after 26 years,” reports another librarian. “I doubt if I shall be replaced by a qualified librarian in the Main School Library.” And another stating, “I have too little paid time, to do too much work, with too little resources, especially money.”

While the report states that research in the U.S., Canada, and Australia show that effective school libraries managed by qualified librarians help boost student achievement on standardized tests, budget cuts are a serious obstacle to school libraries achieving these goals.

“As a general rule the larger schools have the larger budgets, but one school surveyed with more than 2,000 pupils only has £2 ($3.15) per pupil to spend, and one academy of more than 1,500 pupils only spends 31p (49 cents) per pupil on library budget, while another spends 62p (97 cents),” the report says. Booktrust, a U.K. lliteracy charity, recommends that secondary schools spend £14 ($22) per pupil on books.

“The results of this survey seem to indicate that there is less and less of a high quality service being provided for our students,” the report concludes. “Without the skills and pleasures that reading and researching can give us we will have a cohort of students lacking essential life and work skills.”

As a result, the U.K. School Library Association recommends that the government support trained school librarians in secondary schools as a “first step towards trained librarians in all schools” and the exploration of “co-location and facility sharing options” between public and school libraries.

“The results of this survey seem to indicate that there is less and less of a high quality service being provided for our students,” says Tricia Adams, director of the School Library Association. “Without the skills and pleasures that reading and researching can give us, we will have a cohort of students lacking even more of the life and work skills that are appropriate for today’s 21st century world of work.”

On a positive note, some respondents said they were being valued as a major contributor to the success in their schools.

“The [school library] acts as the hub of the school for learning activities,” wrote one librarian. “It is a valuable and valued space both by students and teaching colleagues alike.”

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.