Borders school library pilot project ends up in bad books

Galashiels Academy.
Galashiels Academy.

A pilot project intended to cut the cost of running school libraries has ended up in the bad books of at least one of the three sites trying it out.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of removing librarians from Galashiels Academy, including noise levels, disruption and the risks involved in children being left to police their own peers.

Scottish Borders Council is currently running the pilot scheme at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso’s high schools, drafting in pupils and volunteers to work alongside or instead of paid librarians.

At last week’s full meeting of the council, Galashiels councillor Andy Anderson told the chamber that the project appears not to be having a positive impact at his home-town’s Elm Row academy. 

He asked members of the ruling Conservative-independent coalition: “We are about a year down the line in the pilot of librarian-less school libraries. What lessons have been learned from this from the schools taking part and how is this informing the future of our school libraries?”

East Berwickshire councillor Carol Hamilton, the executive’s member for children and young people, replied: “The pilot in three high schools started in October 2018. An interim evaluation took place in December, with minor changes being implemented in January to address some minor issues.

“A more detailed evaluation was conducted in April 2019, which provided useful feedback from students, staff and parents from all nine high schools. 

“The vast majority of respondents highlighted the importance of having access to a library for reading, digital, research and study. 

“The feedback has been analysed and options for realising the decision of the previous council to identify savings are ongoing. 

“It will also be critical to ensure that future library provision needs to be equitable across the authority.”

Mr Anderson added: “For Galashiels Academy, this has not been a good experience.

“The school has reported to the parent council that the noise levels in the library have at times been disruptive to other library users and to nearby classes, and excessive litter has been left in the library.

“Despite a self-service system that is aimed to be straightforward to operate, books are not finding their way to their correct place in the library once they have been returned. 

“S6 pupils have been tasked throughout the year to keep the library running, but they also have their own studies and other activities that they volunteer for. 

“The former library service provision has in effect been replaced with a service run by pupils, with little or no training, who should not be left to police their peers.

“The perception is that this is merely another cost-cutting exercise by Scottish Borders Council with little or no obvious benefit to the pupils.

“This experience has been similar in Eyemouth, in the member’s own ward, and has been backed up by a detailed letter from the chair of Eyemouth Parent Council sent to her and other councillors. 

“Surely you must agree that it is time to abandon this ill-conceived pilot and get our school libraries back to being fully functional centres for study and learning for the benefit of our pupils?”

Mrs Hamilton acknowledged that there are problems with the scheme at Galashiels Academy, saying: “I am aware of the issues, and we are addressing them.

“There is still a report to come about the libraries, and we’re having to look at each library as each library is different in terms of its layout and the building. 

“Some schools are looking at a different service, so if there is anything further, I’ll come back to you.”