Scotland's education minister is being urged to intervene in a bid to protect vital school librarian posts which are under threat due to a series of proposed local authority cuts.

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS), the professional body for librarians, has written to Shirley-Anne Somerville after at least four local authorities proposing to “delete” all school librarian posts in their council area.

The body argues it would mean the loss of entire profession in some areas and would be detrimental to pupil’s education and is urging the Scottish Government to provide some statutory or ring-fenced protection for school librarians.

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Sean McNamara, head of CILIPS, said they were seeking support and Scottish Government intervention in the current situation facing school libraries and librarians in Scotland.

North Lanarkshire is proposing to scrap all school library posts and removing library spaces in some schools; while Inverclyde is proposing to replace all school librarian posts with assistants from the public library service. East Renfrewshire is proposing to scrap all school library posts, and Midlothian who had previously proposed to remove all school library posts have temporarily postponed the decision.

Mr McNamara said: “The situation is becoming stark with the threatened or recently implemented cuts. These proposals, with more like them expected due to budgetary challenges, would lead to the entire profession of school librarianship being wiped out in some areas.

“This would be unlikely to return and would significantly affect the quality of education offered to pupils as well as efforts nationally to improve literacy rates and attainment. These cuts follow over 10 years of service reductions that have already left some authorities with no librarians and many with one between two or more schools.

“An extensive body of evidence highlights the contribution of school librarians to improved exam scores and achievement, and their role in creating a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment where all pupils have equitable access to curriculum related learning resources.”

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Mr McNamara added school librarians were instrumental in supporting pupils during the pandemic and contend that all pupils should have access to a school librarian who can support them through the intersection of formal and informal learning.

“Librarians, embedded in the infrastructure of the school, understand the education system and can manage resources to support the curriculum, literacy and developing reading,” Mr McNamara added. “Independent schools all maintain relatively well-staffed and funded school libraries and pupils who attend state funded schools should not have to be disadvantaged. In 2017, we met with the then Education Secretary John Swinney to highlight the threat to school library services at the time, including the removal of all school library posts in Argyll and Bute alongside significant cuts elsewhere. We were pleased that this led to the establishment of The National Strategy for School Libraries, Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools, and the impactful School Library Improvement Fund.

“We were also delighted that this saw fewer and less severe cuts to services, recognising what the strategy makes clear: that school librarians are trained and skilled members of school staff, and what they provide cannot be adequately replaced by using teachers, pupils, or public library staff to support school library services.”

An East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “All savings proposals put forward at this stage are options, and councillors will not set the final budget until 1 March 2023.” 

An East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “All savings proposals put forward at this stage are options, and councillors will not set the final budget until 1 March 2023.”  
Midlothian Council spokesman said a number of libraries share a building with schools and, following feedback on the original savings proposals, it recognises any changes to one service will impact on the other. They said school libraries are now part of a wider review of all library services and there are no plans to remove any staff or services from within the school or community library services.”

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “School libraries play a key role for young people by providing access to educational resources, supporting learning and helping close the poverty-related attainment gap.

“The national strategy for school libraries in Scotland supports the continuous improvement of school library services and the professional development of school librarians.

“We are aware of concerns around school libraries in some parts of the country, and we will continue to work with local authorities on solutions.

“As confirmed in our Budget, the Scottish Government will provide local authorities with an additional £793 million to support councils during this difficult financial period.”

Inverclyde and North Lanarkshire councils were contacted for comment.