Celebrating the transformative power of school libraries

How important are school libraries to children and young people? Victoria Dilly, manager of our Love our Libraries programme, believes they are crucial for children’s social, emotional and academic development.

Having been a school librarian for over 10 years before joining the National Literacy Trust, I was thrilled to represent the charity at the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Awards 2018 on Friday 16 March at the Houses of Parliament.

The award, now in its fourth year, is a joint venture between CILIP School Libraries Group and the School Library Association to celebrate the incredible pupils who go above and beyond to support their school library.

The eight finalists — chosen by an illustrious panel of authors and representatives from the worlds of school libraries and children’s publishing — were joined at the parliamentary event by the school librarians who had nominated them, members of their school leadership teams, their families and over 20 children’s authors.

The eight finalists for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Awards 2018 (CREDIT: CILIP)

In a wonderful moment, children’s authors including Andy Seed, Piers Torday and Chris Priestly — whose very books the finalists stock on the shelves of their school libraries — read aloud a summary about why each pupil had been nominated by their school librarian and chosen as a finalist. We heard about how becoming a Pupil Library Assistant had helped these children grow in confidence, develop their skills and even go on to inspire others to read and use their school library.

Carnegie Medal winning author Tanya Landman then announced the winner. As Maia Hipwood’s name was read out, her school librarian at Howard of Effingham School in Surrey gave a loud cheer and burst into tears of happiness. It was such a touching moment and made me think of all the young people I have worked with over the years, who volunteered in the library and enriched my job in so many ways.

There are too many to mention them all, but one girl in particular stands out in my mind. She suffered from overwhelming shyness but loved reading and being in the library. After just one term volunteering as a library assistant, she was virtually transformed, with a new found confidence which even saw her jump at the chance to talk to parents about the school library during an open evening.

When pupils take on a role within their school library, the experience can be transformative — as many of the authors corroborated when they shared their memories of what their school libraries meant to them. School libraries were described as a safe haven; a place where pupils can escape to, where they can discover new worlds and stories, and where books are free.

The achievements of these young people felt all the more remarkable against the back drop of growing funding pressures on schools, a sharp decline in the number of school librarians and wider cuts to public library services.

The role of school libraries is more crucial than ever and the finalists got a unique opportunity to share this sentiment with the Prime Minister. Each finalist was asked to write a letter to the Prime Minister explaining what their school library meant to them, as part of a wider portfolio that was judged for the award. After the event, the finalists hand delivered their letters to 10 Downing Street, accompanied by authors Tanya Landman and Steve Cole.

The eight finalists delivering their letters to the Prime Minister to Number 10 Downing Street, accompanied by authors Tanya Landman and Steve Cole (CREDIT: CILIP)

If you are working in a library and are fortunate enough to have pupil librarians, then do consider nominating them for the 2019 award when entries open in September. It’s a real celebration, not just of their achievements in the library, but also as young people giving their time, developing their skills and overcoming personal challenges.

Good school libraries are powerhouses of reading and learning. Our research shows that they help raise pupils’ literacy levels, improve access to knowledge, improve self-esteem and stimulate a love of reading — all of which give children the building blocks they need to succeed at school and beyond.

If, like me, you’re feeling inspired, then the National Literacy Trust has a wealth of resources and online training to help you transform your school library — or even create one! In the words of novelist and filmmaker, Nora Ephron, “reading is everything,”