New look – school library services

I was just asked to consider how many school library services are merging with public library services and it made me reflect on the last 15 years and how much ping-ponging about there’s been for the sector. In the early part of the year, there were a lot of concerns about the posts of school librarians but this is more about squeezing every last fiver out of council budgets and also bringing like-services logically together to strengthen support.

School library provision is very different in Scotland, mainly due to reorganisation of local government and period of sustained growth and investment in the mid-70s. The Wheatley Commission, which made recommendations for local government reorganisation structures in 1974 resulted in the transfer of responsibilities for education services to regional Council, whilst public libraries were made the responsibilities of District Councils.

There was a period of rapid growth which saw the development or consolidation of Education resource Services and up to 93% of Scottish secondary schools had a professional school librarian, growing from 229 in 1985 50 over 400 in Scotland.

Local government reorganisation in 1996 saw the introduction of unitary authorities, bringing together the responsibility for the delivery of school and public library services, although not always in the same department. The COSLA School Library Standards development was initiated at this point by the Scottish Library and Information Council to highlight the contribution of school library services and alleviate pressure for mergers. Since that point, there has been pressure on school library services, and many of the support functions are now delivered differently through partnership or mergers with public library services. This is still happening but school librarians’ posts have been largely unaffected until this financial year.

Around 90% of Scottish secondary schools have a professional, chartered more often than not, school librarian in post.

The last year has seen a lot of changes, happening very rapidly. We have no examples of any business models where schools fund the service by ‘buying in’ services although one successfully sells value-added services to primary schools. Five local authorities have some integrated service provision where there are multiple joint school/public libraries; they also have stand-alone public libraries too. In rural Aberdeenshire the service structure is highly developed with Network Librarians based in schools and with a responsibility for a cluster of public libraries and this has worked very effectively.

Another two local authorities have some shared staffing/buildings they’re not as well-developed. Glasgow and Highland are the first 2 Trusts to bring in school librarians and this is very recent so it’s not clear how this will change service delivery but a positive move to explore new models.


In some case integrated management means that the public library service has a greater service involvement, others it’s just support for stock or training. Some public libraries have avoided taking on schools as they haven’t the resource to support them and no money came across when ERSs were deleted. Others are more likely to increase co-operation following the restructuring within Education Directorates; this may ultimately lead to mergers. Finally it’s worth mentioning that after years of gradual coming together, Trusts are in some cases busting services apart, with the schools library services remaining with Education Directorates and the public services go with arts/culture to Trusts.

What we do know is the value of school librarians and the impact they can have on learning. The Curriculum for Excellence offers libraries a great opportunity to change lives by supporting the development of successful learners and confident individuals. And, given challenges facing Scotland to achieve functional literacy amongst its population, new ways of working which help to continue to fund school librarians are very welcome.

Rhona Arthur
Assistant Director

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One Response

  1. […] is needed. Even more controversially, perhaps it is time for a discussion as to whether the new arrangements in some Scottish school libraries will actually lead to better services for students, or whether […]

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