Union targets school library plans

The council is currently running a school library pilot scheme at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso High Schools.
The council is currently running a school library pilot scheme at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso High Schools.

Scottish Borders Council’s new school library pilot has been the subject of a week-long protest by union organisers.

The council is currently running a pilot scheme at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso High Schools, which has seen pupils and volunteers working alongside, and in some cases in lieu of, librarians.

Several librarians lost their jobs last year, with less senior staff taking over from them, and professional bodies representing Scotland’s librarians, politicians, unions, parents groups and education officials have lined up to criticise the scheme.

However, the council has stayed the course and self-service checkouts have begun to appear in school libraries as part of a pilot project, which may lead to a roll out across all of the region’s schools.

Representatives from Unison, the second largest trade union in the UK, have visited each of the region’s high schools and canvassed parents and pupils on their opinions on the scheme.

Union organiser Kaymarie Hughes, of Unison’s Scottish Borders public services branch, said: “Scottish Borders Council claim that they have carried out a survey of school pupils and are running the pilots based on those findings.

“Neither Unison or members of the public have seen these findings, so we went out to the high schools to find out for ourselves.”

“It is abundantly clear to us that not one single person supports the council’s pilot. More than 400 pupils, parents and concerned members of the community have written messages on our campaign postcards about the importance of librarians and almost 1000 people have signed our online petition demanding that the pilot should be dropped.

“The supportive comments we have received, particularly from the pupils, have been tremendous.”    

The council contends that the libraries pilot scheme is a result of budget cuts imposed on the council, that libraries will not be staff-free zones, and that the project is a result of pupil consultation.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage, who was previously a teacher and has campaigned against the school library proposals, said: “I attended the Unison postcard signing at Hawick High School on Friday morning.

“It highlighted, for me, exactly why I have been standing up at full council meetings to object to the idea of staffless libraries being run by sixth year pupils or volunteers.

“Schools should be supportive places of learning across various abilities. Over 400 pupils wrote their opinions on to the Unison postcards: all of them positively supporting librarians and the help that they give to them.

“Vibrant libraries, thriving schools is a national strategy put together by the Scottish Library & Information Council, COSLA, and the Scottish Government.

“This highlights exactly why we need to retain our librarians in our schools. For the current administration to go against these proposals is to put our pupils across the Borders at a disadvantage.”

Unison is also running an online petition against their scheme, which has so far attracted 827 signatures.