Fresh criticism for school libraries scheme

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Scottish Borders Council has faced criticism over the level of savings it achieved by replacing librarians with schoolchildren and volunteers.

The council is currently running a pilot scheme at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso High Schools, which has seen pupils and volunteers working alongside, and in some cases in lieu of, librarians.

If it is deemed successful, the local authority would then look to introduce that money-saving measure at the region’s other six secondary schools.

At a full meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday September 26, Hawick councillor and long-time vocal critic of the scheme Clair Ramage asked: “What are the monetary savings made from removing librarians from Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso high schools? 

“And what is the cost of buying and fitting the self-service equipment for the staff-less libraries?”

East Berwickshire councillor Carol Hamilton, who acts as the executive member for children and young people, told the chamber: “As reported in June, the saving from the three schools is £78,203, although the capital spend on library equipment and software in 2018/19 was £42,843, this is a one-off cost and allows for the learning resource spaces at all three schools to be open and accessible for extended hours beyond the school day.

“It is also noteworthy that the pre-installed Live Borders library app is on the iPads, and allows young people to request materials from public libraries 24 hours a day and these are delivered to the school.”

To which councillor Ramage replied: “It’s been highlighted very clearly how important librarians are within the publication, ‘Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools’.

“The proposed saving of £78,000, by removing librarians from their posts, is just a drop in the ocean, but it puts at risk the educational outcomes of our students.

“Through the school library improvement fund, school libraries have received £580,000 from Scottish Government to create innovative and creative projects and a further £450,000 funding round is currently open for bids.

“It is interesting that a large amount of funding has been awarded to projects focused on health and wellbeing, demonstrating how school libraries are perceived to be nurturing spaces for children.

“One local secondary school librarian has run a very successful accelerated reading programme. In the first eight weeks of the programme many students improved their reading age by a full year.

“Yet again I ask when will we receive a final on libraries, and do you not agree that the educational impact of losing librarians on our students is too much to accept?”

Councillor Hamilton added: Our libraries are not staffless. They are used by pupils and teachers alike.

“Officers are exploring joint working with Live Borders, so work is being done in the background to provide a learning resource provision for all high schools.

“The chief officer met with learning resource staff in mid-August to update them and I’d like to say that the resource centres are open more now, for young people to use, than they were before.”