How to

Budget tips to try

Anne Thompson, chair of the School Library Association Surrey branch, provides some tips for transforming your school library on a limited budget.  

Although the United Kingdom has for many years viewed school libraries as a recognised part of school life they are not a statutory requirement. This has resulted in school library provision being patchy and varied in quality across the country.  

Unfortunately, without direct funding from the government, school libraries, if they exist at all, can often be an underused resource when in fact they should be a central part of the education strategy and in particular of any Reading for Pleasure initiative.  

 In an ideal world all schools, including primary schools, would have a thriving school library and a librarian to manage it. The Great School Libraries campaign, coordinated by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the School Library Association, is working hard to ensure that this happens in the near future.  

 But we cannot ignore that in the meantime there are many schools, primary in particular, in which teachers understand the need for a library and are trying to create one without a full-time librarian to run it.  

If, as a newly installed primary Reading Leader or teaching assistant with responsibility for the library, you are presented with a dingy corner, containing a small selection of outdated books, and told that the ‘library’ is your responsibility, how can you transform this into the ‘heart of the school’ with limited resources and time? 

Transforming your school library 

Audit your book stock: The first step is to assess your stock and discard any unsuitable books. Although it is tempting to keep all the books, regardless of their age, condition or relevance, this will not create a welcoming and useful school library. Reading for Pleasure is only possible if children have reading material that will tempt them.  

Look for ways to boost funding: Funding for school libraries is an ever-growing problem resulting in primary school librarians and teachers having to draw support from wherever possible. There are grants available from organisations such as the Siobhan Down Trust and the Foyle Foundation

Book fairs can also be a good way to obtain free books using commission from sales. Scholastic Book Fairs are probably one of the most well-known but it is worth checking to see if there is a smaller, local book fair organiser who may be able to cater to your school’s more individual needs.  

Use your Schools Library Service: If you are lucky enough to have a local Schools Library Service and have sufficient budget, this is a fabulous resource. In addition to offering book boxes on loan, the SLS also provides the expertise of professional librarians to guide and assist on all aspects of library management and promotion. 

Make the library stock enticing: It is always a good idea to include the children in book selection and make it possible for them to recommend book titles via a suggestion box or similar is helpful. Also library stock does not have to be restricted to books. If possible try to have a wide range of reading materials, including magazines, comics, and newspapers for children, for example The Phoenix, First News, WRD Magazine, Aquila and The Week Junior. If you are looking for suggestions for new books to purchase for the library there are many sources of information and one of my favourites is Books for Keeps

Make the most of existing expertise: The Primary School Library Guidelines website is an extremely helpful source of information. It has guidance on everything from policy writing and budgets to information skills and involving parents in Reading for Pleasure initiatives. The School Library Association’s publications are fantastic and will guide you through all aspects of running a library. Membership of the SLA is helpful for all involved in school libraries in any capacity. Even as a non-member, the SLA website includes an open-access section on support for primary school libraries, which is a useful starting point.  

School libraries at the heart of the community 

It is important that the library is viewed as a shared resource and a centre that can be used and enjoyed by the entire school community. Involving all staff and parents too in the development of the school library will foster the feeling of the library as a space which belongs to all. Whether the library is a brand new space, a revitalised area or a well used and established resource it is helpful to promote it as a welcoming place where other activities, not only quiet reading, occur.  

Offering alternatives such as chess, board games and lunchtime clubs, such as craft sessions or Lego, linked to books all give the library a broader appeal and then children may progress to reading for pleasure gradually through the familiar and friendly atmosphere. Book clubs are a lovely way of encouraging book chat and wider reading among pupils and the Reading Agency’s Chatterbooks has some fabulous ideas and resources.  

The primary school library should be a happy, inviting place for not only the children but also staff and parents too. You could try opening up the library before school and invite parents/carers to sessions where they read and talk about books over coffee. Providing preschool books for parents with younger children will help them attend as well; perhaps borrow from the local library or SLS if you can’t buy any.  

If early mornings are difficult, after-school sessions may work, allowing the parents a place to browse and learn about new children’s books before or after pick-up time. Story times for younger siblings at these sessions can have the dual purpose of raising the profile of the library and the latest books and also the opportunity to model reading aloud to anyone who is new to it or unsure.  

Keeping parents informed about book related events, new books, teachers’ favourites and reading initiatives via the school newsletter is another way in which you can engender an interest in reading for pleasure.  

This may all sound time consuming and perhaps a little daunting, particularly if you do not have a school librarian but every small step will make a difference and can be built upon. The important thing is to know where to go for guidance and help and to involve as many people within the school as possible in creating a library which can be a vibrant hub and promoter of Reading for Pleasure within the community.