School libraries – a crucial resource

An urgent national priority

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott

Sir, – Responding to a parliamentary question last week on the cost of restoring the school libraries fund, Minister for Education and Skills Norma Foley quoted an extraordinarily prohibitive figure, and cited a curious list of expenses.

The Minister declared that providing a librarian in each school would cost an estimated €212 million, citing “physical space, fixtures and fittings, IT facilities, librarian assistants, stock (physical and digital), national co-ordinator, professional development, etc.”

We were perplexed to hear the Minister factoring in the provision of library assistants. School libraries are generally run by one qualified librarian, but empower a team of library assistants from the student body. This is a superb opportunity for students to gain experience of customer service, computer software and project management, and it is entirely free.

Her reference to professional development is equally mystifying. Librarians generally pay for their own professional development, completing a degree, diploma or master’s degree, and pursuing further training under the auspices of various professional bodies at their own expense.

READ MORE

The Minster’s response looks a lot like a figleaf to cover long-standing inaction. Instead of working towards a realistic cost-effective solution, she presents a pie-in-the-sky figure to rationalise continued neglect of this crucial aspect of our education system.

We in the School Libraries Group of the Library Association of Ireland reiterate our realistic and concrete demand; the Minister must, at long last, fulfil the Department of Education’s 2005 commitment to extend the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project to all Deis schools. Recent Joint Oireachtas Committee reports have identified this as “an urgent national priority”. The groundbreaking benefits that school libraries confer upon students from deprived backgrounds are available in only 30 out of 235 Deis schools.

The Minister need not worry – the library assistants will step up! – Yours, etc,

ANDREA DILLON,

Secretary,

School Libraries Group of the Library Association of Ireland,

Dublin 2.