As I sit writing this in the library attached to my Sixth Form, I see a sweep of the ages, an eclectic mix of generations, all combined together in one establishment for the love of books. Surrounded by Oxford Dictionaries, Wilde, Shakespeare, Pepys and even Michael Palin, I see children flitting around searching for books for their summer reading, and the elderly pottering about looking for works they remember from their childhood, or a light novel to take on holiday with them. It is a truly remarkable environment, but in term time the library is never as busy as this, children’s laughter and heated discussions on Shakespeare’s use of the Old Man in Macbeth are replaced when school is in session by the whirring of the air-conditioning units.
Yes, Sixth Formers often spend time here studying, away from the hustle and bustle of the Study Room or the Social Area, but it’s not the same; it’s students with their heads in textbooks scanning pages of their Philosophy works for Freud’s analysis of dreams, or Geographers searching for the section on potential energy in the process of erosion. Regardless of the Sixth Form presence, there are no other students from the school here. Out of 1970 students, not a single KS3 or KS4 student is present. So why in schools with libraries attached, the few who maintain such a facility, isn’t a wider, more liberal use of the library being encouraged?
Is it a lack of time in lessons? Is it an inconvenience for teachers? Is it that students cannot be trusted to work independently or in small groups when in the library with overwhelming quantities of books?
Surely an independent search through the full works of the library would allow for the broadening of students’ horizons, for the expansion of a child’s literary knowledge?
So it seems. The problem is that many libraries no longer have the capacity to serve a school as well as the general public. Similarly, those that do are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet, and many find it difficult to maintain the levels of service that they provide. In some cases, the provision of audio books, DVDs and educational magazines have all had to give way for the need to cater for conventional studies – more space, new furniture, different literature. Leaving libraries looking sparse and more like the study room in a Sixth Form.
So how can an increase in school libraries be encouraged? Government grants? That seems unlikely in a time of trying to save money spent on the public sector. Charity work? It would seem improper for the government allow charities to fund public sector services.
As such, I think incorporating these services into school budgets seems the most feasible option. Programmes like Accelerated Reader and Lexia allow for students to read whilst being tested on the literature that they are reading, progressing up the levels from their very first day in Year 7. The levels that students have to climb become progressively more difficult, ultimately leading to improved grammar and basic writing skills, as well as encouraging a love of reading.
If we encourage students to read today, we set the stone rolling for the future, and those who will return to potter about, “looking for works they remember from their childhood”.
By Tom Chidwick