ND: Written 5th November – published once I checked the quotes were correct

En route to work this morning, I was listening to Radio Scotland. One discussion featured The Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change which will be based at Glasgow University. The Centre is a thinktank specifically aimed at fixing the attainment gap between children from better off and poorer families as mentioned by the 2007 OECD report:

One major challenge facing Scottish schools is to reduce the achievement gap that opens up about Primary 5 and
continues to widen throughout the junior secondary years (S1 to S4). Children from poorer communities and low socio-economic status homes are more likely than others to under-achieve, while the gap associated with poverty and deprivation in local government areas appears to be very wide.

OECD, Reviews of National Policies for Education – Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland, Executive Summary

During the discussion I was struck by the Professor Christopher Chapman’s comments :

Now more than ever is a critical time for education policy. We need to develop new, collaborative ways of working within and between schools that will allow us to share and develop ideas and best practice. But this cannot be done in isolation. Schools must be linked to a whole range of other agencies and the Robert Owen Centre will encourage dialogue and a rethinking of roles, relationships and responsibilities within the system.

I wondered if ‘other agencies’ was going to include libraries, or if their role in education and attainment was going to be overlooked.

Five minutes later, there was a discussion about the proposed closure of libraries in Moray. The Leader of Moray Council, Councillor Allan Wright, spoke first, saying:

Let’s face the fact that we’re in the 21st century, and we have a whole range of modern technology. We have electronic readers, we have broadband, we have heaps of ways of getting that

Well, replied presenter, Louise White, broadband isn’t everywhere. Many people can only access the internet through the libraries. Not true, he said,

The Highlands and Islands are getting fast broadband rolled out across the area. In Moray it will cover 90% of Moray, and we as a council, are ready to help local groups outwith the map that gets the 90% to help them to do their own thing.

It’s not clear whether this broadband will be available to people’s houses, whether there will be assistance with computer purchases, maintenance or upgrading, or with broadband bills, or whether the community would have to stump up for that itself.

And will there will be someone on hand to train folks how to use the thing, like, er, a library would.

The juxtaposition of the two discussions was intriguing. On the one hand, we have a population of young people from poorer backgrounds that we know are failing to achieve and attain. On the other, we have evidence that young people who read for pleasure achieve more than those who don’t, and are healthier and even better at Maths as a result! Undeniably, libraries, whether public or school, have a role to play. Moray Council have bills to pay, but closing down the libraries is a knee-jerk reaction, and not looking at the role that libraries actually play.

Because e-readers are not the answer and neither is broadband. The expense, the lack of information and the lack of quality control are major issues.

Take just one of those issues. I can’t just buy whatever books I want. Like everyone else, I budget, and if I can’t afford something new, then I don’t buy it. That doesn’t mean I throw away every book that’s already there!

Meanwhile I can still buy books on a time-share basis, using the library as an intermediary. I pay taxes that employ trained people to select decent material for all tastes, and prepare it for my and everyone’s else’s use. In return for sharing with everyone else, I have access to a massive collection of information and stories, and professional advice that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, or even be aware of.

And that’s just me. My family all read, but we have very different tastes. I prefer non-fiction nowadays (not much available on e-readers) but read a huge amount of teen fiction in a professional capacity. My daughter is just learning what she likes, and to do that, she needs access to a wide range of titles. My mother is an avid reader, or rather listener, since she prefers audio books these days. The librarians help her to access the titles she’s looking for.

I could go on, and on, but I won’t.

Perhaps the most telling point of the discussion was this:

Louise White: Libraries are different, aren’t they? They’re sacred. They’re part of our community.

Councillor Wright: They’re not sacred in my book.

Well, as any Librarian will tell you, you should really consult more than one book to confirm your information. Maybe the good Councillor should check out his library?

Save our Libraries Moray

Transcription of discussion with pauses removed