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Building a Brilliant School Library on a Budget

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: School fundamentals

Topic: World challenges

Year Group: All stages and ages

Synopsis: How SLS can help schools transform their room – or maybe a corridor – of books into a vibrant, welcoming library. Advice from Nina Simon, Redbridge SLS.

Nina Simon

Nina Simon
Redbridge SLS

Librarian’s view:

Over the years I have been into many schools to organise and update their primary school libraries.  All too often the teacher given the responsibility for the library often feels overwhelmed: they don’t have the time, nor do they know where to start. This is where Schools Library Services (SLS) can help. We come into school, take the pressure off busy teachers and work our magic to transform the space into a welcoming library. 

Since I started working at Redbridge SLS, I have been invited into many schools to re-organise their libraries. Some have been in a classroom, but others were in corridors or even a sectioned-off area used as a thoroughfare to the playground. 

It is important to have a designated space for the library]. It should be big enough for 30 children to come in and easily choose their books, sit and read in comfy seating and enjoy library lessons. The area needs suitable shelving and seating, preferably from a specialist library furniture supplier.  SLSs can advise on this, tailored to the school’s needs.

The library will also need a library management system – a software package for issuing  and returning books. Some systems also give an option for children to write reviews on the books they’ve read. Reports can be generated for issue statistics, overdues and to see the most popular titles. 

We also advise schools to appoint a librarian who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the library. Some SLSs offer the services of a trained librarian to come in one or two days a week to maintain the library.

Getting organised

My first job when I go into a school is to weed out all the old, tatty books. Anything that is torn, grubby or falling apart has no place on the shelf. I also recommend removing books that are more than 15-20 years old. When teachers look horrified, I asked them if they would pick up and read these books, many of which do not reflect today’s diverse community.  If they wouldn’t read the book, they can’t expect their students to. I also find that as I’m weeding, teachers bring down more books that they’ve had tucked away in their classrooms.

Once the stock has been weeded, fiction is arranged in alphabetical order according to author’s surname and the first (or first three) letters put on the spine of the book. We generally separate picture books, easy readers, general fiction, graphic novels, dual language, myths and legends, fairy tales and poetry.

Non-fiction is organised in Dewey decimal order. I bring my ‘bible’ along, which lists all the numbers and subjects and leave it with the teacher/librarian. I also colour code the books to make it easier for teachers and pupils because schools can find Dewey quite daunting. I put subject guiding on the shelves in each colour code (for example, Nature, Plants, Animals) and a chart to go up on the wall. 

Space on the shelves means you can have face-on displays, which can instantly grab attention There is a huge sense of satisfaction once the job has been finished. 

Finding books for your school library

Where schools have low or no budget for books there are a few options:

The Foyle School Library Scheme accepts applications from state funded schools in the UK. The scheme recognises that there is no statutory requirement for schools to have a library and that many school libraries are in a poor state through underfunding and underdevelopment. Encouraging children to read widely from an early age will provide a major boost to improving literacy levels, which is a key educational objective. 

Priority is given to primary schools.  Schools can apply for between £2,000 and £10,000.

The World of Stories programme aims to address some of the key challenges facing reading for pleasure in schools. So far, we’ve worked with 225 primary schools, supporting them to transform their libraries and reading spaces into hubs of creativity and imagination. They are currently working in:

  • Black Country
  • East London (Newham and Barking and Dagenham)
  • Essex (Thurrock, Basildon, Harlow and Braintree)
  • North East (Stockton-on-Tees, Gateshead, Redcar and Cleveland)
  • Swindon
  • Blackpool

Scholastic Book Fairs can be a good way of making a bit of money to redeem on books for the library.

At Redbridge we also offer subscribing schools a library loan, where they can borrow 300 books to put in the school library. Other SLSs may offer a book selection service, where schools keep the books permanently, which is part of their subscription.

Peters Booksellers, Browns Books for Schools and other big suppliers offer a discount to schools and for a bit extra you can have the books jacketed, which is well worth doing as this extends a book’s life.

6 Some publishers offer review copies of books, which is also worth exploring.

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