The Bookseller – Features – School libraries are trying to close the gap in reading progress lost by lockdowns


Elementary school children lost about two to three months of reading progress during the pandemic, but efforts to help them catch up have been mixed, with some schools establishing libraries for the first time and working with literacy organizations to improve their collections, while others have seen , how librarians were removed as budgets were cut further.

Alison Tarrant, executive director of the School Library Association (SLA), said the pandemic has revealed supply gaps where children who haven’t had access to books at home are even more dependent on schools and public libraries to step up to the plate. In some cases, school principals have been able to invest in new resources, others have seen libraries ‘secretly’ shut down.

“There are cases where school libraries have been closed for three years and there’s other pressures, so heads are like, ‘We haven’t had it for three years, it’s not open at the moment, so we don’t have to announce that. close again.’ It’s about doing things in a less conspicuous way,” she said The Bookseller. Most recently, North Lanarkshire Council announced it was removing school librarians from all 23 of its local secondary schools as part of a cost-cutting measure first proposed before the pandemic. The latest report from the SLA School libraries in lockdown found that there were “significant discrepancies” in funding library holdings. The 2020 Membership Survey found that five responding state secondary schools and four responding academies had no budget at all. The picture of 2021 respondents was worse, reporting no dedicated library budget in a wider variety of settings, with three private/independent schools, six academies, four local government-run schools and one community school. The swings in overall library funding have varied dramatically from as little as £500 to over £20,000.

budget pressure

The report showed that academies saw an overall drop in budgets during the pandemic, while some schools froze budgets, limiting access to online resources and reopening libraries with no major publications published in the past 18 months, and feared that this could have an impact on the reopening. deal with students.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Tarrant insists. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in schools coming forward because they are setting up a school library for the first time or are hiring a school librarian for the first time,” she said. “That’s incredibly positive, and in these circumstances there is a reasonable understanding of the fully functioning school library, one that reads for pleasure but also reads for learning and for information literacy and all those things.

“Many schools really understand that establishing a school library is a long game – it’s not a short-term fix. But the gain is so tremendous and for children who have weathered the pandemic and are heading into Key Stage 4 or Key Stage 2, these are crucial years and they need all the support they can get.”

There have also been renewed efforts from publishers and literacy organizations. Penguin Random House’s Puffin imprint partnered with the National Literacy Trust for its World of Stories program in 2018 to provide free books and training for teachers, amid research showing one in eight elementary schools didn’t have a library, which has risen to one in four schools in the most disadvantaged communities.

In 2021 the publisher produced the Association of elementary school libraries Report prepared by the National Literacy Trust with funding from PRH, highlighting how much reading progress children had lost while schools were closed. “Kids who were almost confident readers before the pandemic have lost some of their reading ability and focus,” said Francesca Dow, MD at Penguin Random House Children’s. “Children without a single book at home were obviously even more affected by not having access to their school library/books at school. We may have forgotten (or failed to realize) that books were often ‘quarantined’ or library rooms closed after schools reopened.”

intensification of

Since the pandemic, funding from Arts Council England has enabled the publisher to expand the programme. “We have doubled the cohort size each year to work with 500 schools for three years and have also partnered with public libraries to strengthen the links between public libraries and schools, which is especially important in the wake of the pandemic,” Dow said.

To date, the World of Stories program has reached 337 schools, 94,250 students and 754 teachers and created new libraries containing 128,300 books.

At The Reading Agency, known for their work on the annual Summer Reading Challenge, there has been a particular focus on helping children re-engage with the joys of learning. In 2021, it piloted 10 local authorities to reach children who most need the benefits of reading and may not be members of a public library or whose families may not currently take them to the library.

The charity worked with schools and community organizations to get children involved in the challenge before the end of the school year and experimented with membership in a universal library, enrolling all elementary-age children in the area.

Debbie Hicks, creative director, said the results were “really impressive” and resulted in 100,000 additional children enrolling in the flagship summer reading programme. “There was a real impact on library membership, there was a real impact on the partnerships that public libraries had built with schools and other community organizations. We are running this pilot again this year, with 30 agencies building on these insights from year one to model a new partnership approach to expand the reach and impact of the Summer Reading Challenge.”

While Tarrant hailed this work as “absolutely fantastic,” she said she would “really welcome additional support for secondary school libraries,” noting that most programs focus on elementary school-age children. “Pedagogically it makes a lot of sense, because the earlier you encourage children to read, the better it is for them educationally and for their life chances. But if there is no secondary school library, it is not easy to continue this reading habit.”

She stressed the need for secondary school libraries to help children build the skills needed for the transition to higher education, such as B. Information literacy such as bibliography and references.


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