By Pamela Tulloch

THE library is the beating heart of the school community. School librarians are fountains of knowledge, and during the pandemic, many of them went above and beyond to ensure children who were learning from home still had access to books – welcoming email requests and posting or hand-delivering titles to students.

It is not unusual to see students of all ages congregating in the library, and it’s one of the only places in the school setting where young people aren’t filtered into year groups. It is a safe space for them to mix and spend time discovering worlds through the pages of a book, or use laptops and tablets to access trusted information. It is vital to ensure our school libraries offer a rich and diverse range of reading materials which reflect different people, places and ideas. This diversity will help teach our children from a young age more about difference, inclusion, acceptance and kindness.

The importance of our school libraries is recognised by the Scottish Government, which created a School Library Improvement Fund (SLIF) in 2017. The fund has awarded £1.3m to school library projects to date, and this year’s funding awards have just been announced, with a strong focus on tackling racism and discrimination.

Scotland is a wonderfully diverse nation, and this diversity should be reflected in the bookshelves of our school libraries' bookshelves. Everyone who uses the library should be able to see themselves represented in the literature, and often this is not the case. To tackle this, just less than £200,000 of SLIF funding has been awarded to schools across Scotland.

One such project is “Read Woke Primaries”, a partnership between Prestwick Academy Library and Ayr Academy Library. Pupils from P1 to S1 at both schools will learn about social justice and human rights through a curated range of contemporary fiction, written by and about people from minority groups. Likewise, Bonnybridge Primary School is enhancing the diversity of its reading material and aiming to reflect different family cultures in the local community and support those in the school who speak English as a second language.

These are both excellent examples of how libraries and reading can expose children and young people to important social themes in an understandable and engaging way. By raising themes through reading for pleasure, and through school projects and learning material, we encourage important conversations. We also see evidence of how these library projects can involve the wider community, helping to build understanding and cohesion.

Tackling discrimination and racism is a key challenge in Scotland. And while it’s not going to be solved by simply putting more books on the shelf, we can use these resources to start important conversations with our children and young people about diversity and inclusion. By encouraging them to read and discuss books based on cultures unlike their own, we are opening the door to a fairer, more accepting country.

Pamela Tulloch is Chief Executive, Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC)