Borders council chiefs defend school library plans

Councillor Clair Ramage outside Hawick High School.
Councillor Clair Ramage outside Hawick High School.

Council chiefs are defending plans to replace paid librarians with schoolchildren.

Several librarians across the Borders lost their jobs last year, with less senior staff taking over from them, and now staff at Galashiels Academy, Peebles High School and Kelso High School have been told to expect to see pupils and volunteers working alongside them.

Scottish Borders Council is planning to introduce that money-saving measure at the region’s other six secondary schools too.

However, council leaders were criticised by opposition councillors at last Thursday’s full council meeting, and they asked what consultations, if any, had taken place about the controversial move.

East Berwickshire councillor and executive member for children and young people Carol Hamilton replied: “There is no cut to library service. All libraries are remaining open, and it will actually lead to more school libraries becoming more inclusive to pupils, and open longer.

“In the 2016-17 budget, it was agreed that there was to be a review of library services, and savings were attached.

“This was based upon feedback from young people pushing for more modernised and digitally-available learning.

“The recent secondary schools estate and year of young people consultations with pupil reinforced that young people wish for social space in their schools.

“They were very clear that libraries need to change. They want learning spaces that have a cafe-style ethos, with digitally-enabled resources. They want libraries and social space to be more pupil-owned.

“The council, in this pilot, is listening to the young people and responding. No libraries are closing.”

However, Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage, a former teacher at the town’s high school, hit back: “I’d first of all like to say I’ve been approached by librarians who have in fact lost their jobs.

“Again, economically-challenged employees are being targeted. They provide a vital service, giving support to the more vulnerable in our schools and help pupils investigate and research many subjects.

“They work during the day, and through break and lunch times, to give our pupils extra help.

“Our libraries need to encompass the digital age, I agree, but it wasn’t that long ago that we had to employ librarians with degrees.

“What you’re planning to do is to put volunteers to work in the libraries, alongside pupils, and maybe using teacher support, which is already stretched to the limit.

“Do you not agree there is still a place in our schools to be managed by a qualified librarian?”

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, another ex-teacher, has also voiced concerns and has written to council leader Shona Haslam to express her disquiet.

She said: “Many parents have been in touch with me concerned about this misguided experiment”

“As a former English teacher myself, I am well aware of what a vital resource school librarians are and the wealth of expertise they bring to the role.

“They are not simply putting books away. They offer experienced advice to pupils and teachers on materials, teach how libraries, how cataloguing systems work and support the pupils using the resources.

“I have no issue with pupils helping to run the libraries alongside staff to learn more about how they work, but absolutely not as a replacement for professional librarians.

“Will the pupils running the library also be expected to manage discipline and to support those pupils needing extra guidance? Is this secure under the new data protection regulations?

“There is also, and not least, the cavalier treatment of the librarians themselves.

“In the grand scheme of Scottish Borders Council’s budget, the potential savings made by this are insubstantial, and the plans will be seriously detrimental to pupils’ learning.

“I have written to Mrs Haslam to make clear my strong opposition to this and that this daft scheme should be ditched now.”

A council spokesperson said: “A pilot scheme is being implemented in three school libraries with a different model of operation.

“There will be no redundancies as a result of this, and the pilot will be reviewed before the end of 2018.

“As part of the budget-setting process, it was agreed to maintain school libraries. However, within that, there is a requirement to recognise the changing way in which pupils study and access information, including digital solutions.

“There are also opportunities for senior pupils to gain qualifications and training in leadership and other areas through taking on roles in school libraries and supporting their peers.

“This is operating successfully elsewhere and is also being explored as part of the pilot scheme.”