Today the SecEd ran an article on the Campaign for the Book which included comments by Hilary Moriarty, national director of the Boarding Schools Association, which have enraged librarians. Her comments included "you really don't need the books... and a severe librarian in residence... if ever there was a time to say something has become redundant, surely now is the time for school libraries?". I've emailed a response to the editor of the SecEd about this appalling piece, below:

Dear Mr Henshaw,

I was appalled by the views expressed by Hilary Moriarty, and Ray Tarleton, in your article Campaign for the Book, Should libraries be filled with books? A profession divided on 25th February. I also attach a letter from one of my students; on showing a group of students the article, they were equally appalled.

Mr Tarleton is right when he says we are on the verge of a revolution, but it wrong to suggest, as Ms Moriarty does, that everything you could ever want is online. The internet, as used by students, represents only a fraction of the totality of information. Most  online information is beyond the reach of students in the “deep” or “invisible” web, which is estimated to be 500 times as big as the visible web (1). Most of this hidden information is of higher quality than that indexed by Google or similar search engines; academic, professional or industry information that you either have to pay for, or cannot be indexed by the technology used by Google, and therefore will not appear as a search result. Libraries have a hugely important role in making this information accessible, by paying for, and promoting, online databases and educating staff and students on effective research skills. Recent high profile research has identified considerable problems with the information literacy skills of young people (2) and the potentially disastrous effects this could have on their education, employability, and even health (3). In my experience of students aged 14-19, their ability to find information online is extremely poor, and they are leaving schools without the skills they will need in higher education or employment. Librarians are the expert navigators of our information society and have a huge role to play in equipping future generations to cope with the increasingly diverse methods of information retrieval, and empowering them with the critical skills of assessing and evaluating the information they find. This has long been recognised by Universities, who have outstanding libraries. The introduction of enquiry-based learning, the Extended Project Qualification, the International Baccalaureate and Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills in schools demonstrate a recognition that these skills are vital for future generations to succeed in a knowledge economy. Libraries and librarians are the backbone of such initiatives.

If we get rid of school libraries and librarians we impoverish the educational experience of young people on many levels. We would be discarding opportunities to utilise information experts to educate young people with vital, transferable skills and therefore impact on their future life chances. Research has demonstrated that schools with good libraries achieve higher results than those without (4), and that reading for pleasure is a better indicator of success than wealth or social class (5). The benefits of reading for pleasure are innumerable; readers are thinkers, creators, leaders. Technology is vital but reading is too; in my many years of being a librarian I have seen books change lives. Such potential should never be discarded in favour of the latest technological trend. Books and technology are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

Might I suggest that those whose view of libraries matches that of Ms Moriarty, take the time to investigate the excellent work done by the best school libraries and librarians. Libraries are all about learning, and librarians are often at the cutting edge of new technology and the driving force behind educational improvement. Those that wish to discard us are blinkered by a stereotype that disappeared decades ago, or have unfortunately only experienced libraries stifled by years of neglect and lack of investment, a situation which creates a vicious cycle of negativity. The comments expressed by Ms Moriarty, and to a lesser extent by Mr Tarleton, reflect a reductionist, uninformed view that threatens to destabilise the excellent work that is being done around the country. That the benefits of this work are not the right of all children to receive is nothing less than a national disgrace.

We stand at a critical point, which the Campaign for the Book bravely confronts. If we lose the experience and expertise of librarians and the wealth of experiences and resources the library offers, we throw away more than a few dusty unread books; we throw away our ability to enjoy, embrace and participate in our culture, in effect, to create a positive future. No school libraries and no librarians, equates to a dumbing down of our society and a betrayal of our children. Let’s not. We can turn this around.

(1)    Devine, Jack and Francine Egger-Sider, Going Beyond Google: The invisible web in learning and teaching, London: Facet Publishing, 2009, pp. 4

(2)    UCL, Information behaviour of the researcher of the future: A ciber briefing paper, 2008

(3)    Students brains ‘rewired’ by the internet, The Daily Telegraph, 11th February 2010

(4)    Williams,Dorothy et al, Impact of School Library Services on Achievement and Learning, The Robert Gordon University 2001

(5)    Raising the quality of educational performance at school (OECD)