Book smart: Why every primary pupil needs a library

Children who read do better in school yet, amazingly, many primaries have closed their libraries and replaced them with ICT suites

Many primary school pupils don't have the use of a library in Britain, which is why the School Library Association is on the warpath. It has just published the Primary School Library Charter to show headteachers and governors how they can afford a proper school library – an attractive space set aside for books with a designated member of staff in charge – and why they should have one.

The association wants to create a climate of reading; they want children to be taught how to sift information and to use their judgement about it, and they want libraries to have links with families.

Tim Brighouse, associate professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, always checks out the library when he visits a school. "A primary school library should be exciting and welcoming, a place for children to delight in stories and a sign that the school is making its environment fit for learning," he says.

School libraries are not compulsory and there are no official figures on the number of primary schools that have libraries compared with secondaries, but the association has anecdotal evidence of libraries closing, dwindling budgets for resources and staff who are not connected with the school's teaching team.

Schools that replace their libraries with ICT suites feature in librarians' horror stories. But Hill West Primary School in Sutton Coldfield did the opposite last year when it found new homes in classrooms for most of the computers. Its librarian Lucy Bakewell, the current School Librarian of the Year, turned it into the place every child in the school wants to be.

"Where do children feel most comfortable and relaxed?" she asks. "It's their bedrooms. The library has to be their space, like an extension of their bedrooms. I couldn't spend a lot on furniture, so I went mad in IKEA." She found a frog-shaped hanging rack for magazines, a pot-bellied pelican for a suggestion box and – in the pet department – a bright, blue-covered cat bed for returned books.

One sign on the door says: "Come and read a book". Another sign says, "Look in a book", reminding children that print reference works can be quicker and more reliable than a search engine when trying to find out what whales eat, for example, although the library has kept five PCs.

"We are teaching the value of new technology alongside old," says Bakewell. "Of course, we need both, but children need to know what questions to ask about the information put in front of them."

Bakewell works at Hill West for three-and-a-half days a week, half in the library and half as a Year 5 classroom assistant. Her classroom role means that she is well-placed to put together resources for the school's creative curriculum topics (this term it's Sound and Space for Year 5). "There are great benefits to her also being in class and understanding what is being taught," says headteacher Beth Clarke, who appointed Bakewell as librarian when she arrived at the school in 2004.

"I had been in an inner-city school in Birmingham with low family literacy and a lot of children who didn't speak English at home. I arrived at Hill West with the philosophy that it is really worth investing in books and a good library space. I knew Lucy would make a fantastic librarian because she is so excited about books and reading.

"We decided to use reading to improve children's writing, and we have had results. Five years ago we had 70 children getting to level 4 or above in English; now that figure is in the high 90s."

Although Bakewell spends at least one unpaid extra afternoon a week in the library, she is unable to open out of lesson times. The library is clearly at the heart of school life, yet children can usually only visit in groups with their teachers. "We haven't got the budget to have someone there before or after school and at lunch time, though we would love to," says Clarke. "We make it a priority to open it as much as we can for parents' events."

Bakewell wants to make the most of the close relationship with parents that sets primaries apart from secondaries. "If you can make the most of the school's connection with families, you are encouraging reading at home as well, and your job is nearly done," she says.

"I am passionate about getting children excited about books when they're as young as possible, at a time when books and stories seem magical to them and their imaginations are expanding and they are forming language skills. I am staggered when people don't see how important that is."

She is planning an evening workshop with reception children's parents to create storysacks (bags containing toys and activities related to a book) on a nursery rhyme theme related to the Rhyming Challenge set up by Bookstart, the national early years reading programme.

Further up the school, Lucy is dedicated to finding the right book for every child. She runs two Boys into Books groups for nine and 10-year-olds who need extra encouragement to read. A reluctant reader herself at primary school, Lucy understands the despair of children confronted with adults' well-meaning book choices.

"I was a tomboy and into Dr Who and The Beano, and the girls' books at the time didn't grab me. They were all about boarding schools and fairies. My sister was a big reader and my mum was determined to find me a book that I liked. When I was 10 she gave me Rebecca's World by Terry Nation, who wrote for Dr Who: I was so thrilled that a book had Daleks in it. To turn a child on to reading for life, you need to know about all the books that are available and also take that level of personal interest, which teachers don't always have time to do. That's the most important part of the job."

The School Library Association is preparing to give evidence to the School Libraries Commission which will report in June. Expect a mighty roar from the primary corner.

Download the Primary School Library Charter from or order single print copies from

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power