Borders council chiefs brought to book again over school library cutbacks

Clair Ramage at Hawick High School.
Clair Ramage at Hawick High School.

Council chiefs in the Borders have been brought to book yet again for replacing paid school librarians with pupils and volunteers.

The amount of money that move is saving Scottish Borders Council has also been dismissed as not being worth the adverse effect it’s allegedly having on some children’s education.

The council is currently running a pilot project at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso high schools involving pupils and volunteers working alongside or, in some cases, in lieu of librarians.

If that trial is deemed to be a success, the local authority would then look to introduce the money-saving measure at the region’s other six secondary schools.

Some councillors believe the negative impact they claim that move is having on youngsters’ literacy skills is too high a price to pay for the first-year savings of £35,000 it is expected to deliver, however, and Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage is among them.

At the latest full meeting of the council, on Thursday, September 26, Ms Ramage, a vocal critic of the initiative, asked: “What are the monetary savings made from removing librarians from Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso high schools, and what is the cost of buying and fitting the self-service equipment for the staffless libraries?”

East Berwickshire councillor Carol Hamilton, the authority’s executive member for children and young people, told her: “As reported in June, the saving from the three schools is £78,203, although the capital spend on library equipment and software in 2018-19 was £42,843.

“This is a one-off cost and allows for the learning resource spaces at all three schools to be open and accessible for extended hours beyond the school day.

“It is also noteworthy that the pre-installed Live Borders library app is on pupils’ iPads and allows young people to request materials from public libraries 24 hours a day, and these are delivered to the school.”

Ms Ramage, a former teacher, continued: “It’s been highlighted very clearly how important librarians are.

“The proposed saving of £78,000 by removing librarians from their posts is just a drop in the ocean, but it puts at risk the educational outcomes of our students.

“Through the school library improvement fund, school libraries have received £580,000 from Scottish Government to create innovative and creative projects, and a further £450,000 funding round is currently open for bids.

“It is interesting that a large amount of funding has been awarded to projects focused on health and wellbeing, demonstrating how school libraries are perceived to be nurturing spaces for children.

“One local secondary school librarian has run a very successful accelerated reading programme. In the first eight weeks of the programme, many students improved their reading age by a full year.

“Yet again, I ask when will we receive a final decision on libraries, and do you not agree that the educational impact of losing librarians on our students is too much to accept?”

Ms Hamilton replied: “Our libraries are not staffless. They are used by pupils and teachers alike.

“Officers are exploring joint working with Live Borders, so work is being done in the background to provide a learning resource provision for all high schools.

“The resource centres are open more now for young people to use than they were before.”