Poll on school libraries - Results

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Do you think that school libraries are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a digital age? Or is the need for school libraries and the services provided by librarians even greater now than before?

The school library is a place where pupils can follow up lessons and conduct research on topics of their own choosing, with the help of qualified staff (librarian, teacher librarian, etc.). There, pupils are also encouraged to read for pleasure. The school library can support self-directed learning away from formal classroom teaching, and can be an alternative route to knowledge and skills by providing space dedicated to study and learning resources in the form of print and digital resources.

Many school libraries are evolving into multimedia resource centres, with computers, access to online resources, and digital media. However, with unlimited access to information on the Internet, even this role is being challenged.

Some schools use their library to improve learning outcomes and promote inclusion and equity, through innovative learning approaches. In the context of the ‘whole school approach,’ the library can be the meeting point for the whole school community, students, teachers, as well as families or stakeholders.

The poll on school libraries was open on the School Education Gateway and gathered a total of 1479 responses.

Results (N=1479)

1. Select all that apply to your school or a school you know:

  • The school has a school library.
  • The school collaborates with the local public library.
  • The school’s library services have decreased in the past years.
  • The school library now focuses more on digital content than books.
  • The school has a librarian solely responsible for the library.
  • Most students use the school library regularly.
  • I use the library at least once a week for my work.
  • New books are purchased for the school library at least once a year.

Graph1: Library poll

95% of the 1,479 respondents report that their school (or one they know of) has a library, although almost one in five (19 percent) report that the range of school library services available has decreased in recent years.

In 59% of respondents’ schools, there is a librarian who is responsible only for the school library. School libraries remain largely analogue, focusing on printed books, with only seven percent agreeing that the focus is now more on digital content, whether digitised versions of books and journals or digital-only resources.

Libraries are well used and re-stocked: 58% say that most students use the library regularly and 35% of respondents themselves use the library at least once a week for their work. 73% say that new books are bought at least once a year.

2. In your opinion, what are school libraries’ main tasks? Select up to three options:

  • Provide books and printed learning materials
  • Raise literacy and attainment levels
  • Provide a quiet study area
  • Provide guidance from qualified school library staff to help pupils in their studies
  • Give free access to Internet and digital tools and resources
  • Provide teachers with teaching resources and materials
  • Be a meeting point for all the school staff, students and parents
  • Help pupils become critical users of information and lifelong learners
  • Promote informal learning by organising after-school activities like reading or coding clubs
  • Encourage reading for pleasure

Graph1: Library poll

The most commonly-held views concerning the main tasks of school libraries is to encourage reading for pleasure (61%, which could include reading digital content for pleasure); help pupils become critical users of information and lifelong learners (56%); and to provide books and printed materials (37%).

Less common is the view that libraries can be a meeting point for staff, students and parents (only 9%), promoting informal learning in after-school activities (12%) and, unlike many public libraries, providing free access to internal and digital tools and resources (14%).

The school library is seen as a place where students may receive individual guidance to help their studies – seen as a main task by 30 percent of respondents – while only 18 percent see the library as a quiet study area, maybe an indication of its evolving role as an active partner not only in learning but also in teaching, 24% considering that providing teachers with resources is a main task. The guidance and resources provided are likely to include support for media literacy and the provision of digital materials.

3. How much do you agree with the following statements about school libraries?

  1. Nowadays school libraries are less relevant than in the past.
  2. Nowadays a school library needs to offer more than just books to be a useful part of the school.
  3. It is state-of-the-art school libraries that are effective in developing learners’ key competences .
  4. School libraries play a key role in promoting inclusion and equity.
  5. School budgets are better used for subject teachers and classroom resources rather than libraries.
  6. Being a school librarian does not require a special qualification.
  7. School libraries in my country are not adequately funded.

Graph1: Library poll

Responses show strong support for the school library, with 83% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that libraries are less relevant than in the past, and 88% agreeing or strongly agreeing that they play a key role in promoting inclusion and equity – this might include for students with special educational needs and disabilities and newly arrived migrants.

Better financial support is also suggested as needed: 85% agreeing or strongly agreeing that school libraries are not adequately funded in their country, and a similar percentage (82%) disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the suggestion that spending should be directed towards subject teachers and classroom resources rather than to libraries.

90% agreed or strongly agreed that a school library needs to offer more than ‘just books’ to be a useful part of the school, and 76% that state-of-the-art school libraries are effective in developing learners’ key competences (leaving open the definition of ‘state of the art’). These figures suggest that the school library has the potential to play a role in the broader aims of the school.

The statement attracting the least support was that being a school librarian does not require a special qualification – only 9% agreeing or strongly agreeing with it – potentially in recognition of specific skills that are developed by these members of staff.

Taking the results from school librarians only (N=782) for this question, their opinions are not so different from those of the respondents as a whole. They show, not surprisingly, on Q1 stronger disagreement than all respondents, stronger agreement on Q2, less agreement on Q3, more agreement on Q4, less agreement on Q5 and Q6 and identical agreement on Q7.

Graph1: Library poll

4. What is your role?

  1. Teacher – early years education
  2. Teacher – primary education
  3. Teacher – secondary education
  4. Head teacher
  5. School librarian
  6. Education policy maker
  7. Researcher
  8. Parent
  9. Other educational professional/stakeholder

Graph1: Library poll

This survey attracted a significant number school librarians, who comprise just over half (53%) of respondents. Teachers made up 23% of those responding, and seven percent were head teachers.

CONCLUSION

This poll attracted the highest number of respondents to date: 1,479 of whom just over half were school librarians. It is interesting to note that the views of the school librarians were closely aligned to those of the full range of respondents. Almost all respondents said their school or a school they know of has a library, although one in five said that funding for it had been cut recently. In more than half the schools a school librarian is in charge of the library (rather than a teacher carrying out this role in addition to teaching, for example).

The survey results show that school libraries are well used, even more by students than adults, but are perceived to be places for study rather than social spaces and places focusing on reading for pleasure, more than providing internet access and digital resources. Most respondents consider that a key function of the school library is to help young people become critical users of information and lifelong learners.

Whether school libraries are digital or analogue, there is strong support for their continued existence and funding, and for their being staffed by qualified information professionals.

Overall, there seems to be a tension between some aspirations (being a state of the art space for fostering inclusion and developing competences for example) and others (e.g. a quiet space for reading for pleasure). Further discussion of this tension and how it might be resolved could be a useful ongoing dialogue, exploring how the school library could be much more developed as a meeting space for the larger school community (including parents).