Most of us have fond memories of our school libraries, remembering them as colorful places with overly friendly librarians. It may be hard to believe, but school libraries are in almost as much danger of closing due to lack of funds as public libraries, even in the era of digital subscription content providers and Bring Your Own Device compatibility.
An article today for The Bookseller highlighted one school library system in the UK, North Yorkshire County, that will be closing its school library service effective March of 2015. The reason? Lack of use on the part of schools. Sadly, the closure of this subscription-based service that schools could opt to pay into will mean loss of qualified resource personnel to assist the schools, collections and titles that the schools could borrow, and even a 20% discount to some bookshops that children from member schools were entitled to, among other services.
This school library service marks the fifth one that has closed across the UK in recent years.
An interesting conundrum is taking place where libraries are concerned and it now appears to be affecting school libraries in an important way. In the US, studies have shown that less than half of survey respondents reported having visited a library or used its online portal in the last year, yet nearly all respondents stated that libraries were vital to their communities. It seems that citizens want libraries to exist, but much like in the case of North Yorkshire County’s schools, they don’t plan to use them. What is seen as a cause for the greater good isn’t fulfilling a need in the majority of stakeholders’ lives.
One key issue that school systems face in the US is the political segregation of individual school systems. Having an area wide school library service would actually be a tremendous benefit. With some counties having as many as five or six different school systems in that county alone, each system having its own numbers of individual schools, having the option to subscribe to the privilege to borrow books from a centralized–even privately owned–library service makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, it’s not a behavior that school systems are used to engaging in. It is far more common to take an “every man for himself” approach to supplies and funding, leading to a serious amount of wasted funds.
With the acceptance of digital content services like OverDrive, hopefully schools will abandon the notion that they do not share resources, even within their geographic locations, and school library services will continue to grow.