CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Librarians reduce the impact of poverty and inequality

Category: Inspiration for the Nation 2016

Guest Blog by Kay Sillars, Unison Scotland, as part of the ‘Scotland’s Libraries: Inspiration for the Nation’ Campaign. 

School Libraries are under serious threat authorities are cutting posts and reducing opening hours. Local government is facing severe budget cuts and on top of the overall cuts within the education budget the ring-fencing of teachers’ posts means that the jobs of other staff working in schools are disproportionately at risk. Not only does cutting posts like librarians, educational psychologists and classroom assistant deny pupils specialist help it also loads more work on to teachers preventing them from doing the job they do best.

Librarians have professional skills that support a range of learning and so reduce the impact of poverty and inequality of children’s learning. This is not just about an interest in literature, vital though that is, it’s about research skills and understanding and organising information. Their role in promoting literacy is important but the role is much wider and increasingly so because of the internet.

The role of librarians has been transformed by the internet. Search engines like Google mean that most school pupils have no shortage of sources of information. A much more important skill now is understanding and evaluating the sources and the information contained in them. School librarians are therefore needed more than ever to teach pupils how to do this.

the amount of information available to us at the click of a mouse… can be both liberating and asphyxiating[1]

While there are more accessible sources of information available than ever before, the internet is also a source of propaganda, half truths, lies disinformation and genuine mistakes.

“making sense of all of this- knowing how to discriminate the good, the reliable, trustworthy or useful information from the bad- is therefore of tremendous importance”[2]

Supporting young people to understand and undertake information gathering and research is a considerable and growing part of a librarian role. Young people spend a great deal of time on the internet. It is a vital tool for research and revision. The Demos report quoted above found that young people are not “internet savvy”. They are unable to find the information they start to search for, they often trust the first thing they find. They are not fact checking or looking for alternative sources. They struggle to recognise bias or propaganda. At its most dangerous this type of behaviour makes young people vulnerable to extremists and predators. It impacts on their general understanding of the world, their education and ability to achieve.

The Demos research key finding[3]

  • Around one in four 12-15 year olds make no checks at all when visiting a new website
  • Decisions about quality are based on site design; about one in three believe that if a search engine lists information it must be true
  • Only one third of 9-19year olds have been taught how to judge reliability of online information

School librarians are best placed to lead on supporting young people and teachers to better use the internet to find information.

The Scottish Government has set targets to reduce inequality particularly round educational outcomes for young people. It is young people from the most deprived backgrounds that need school libraries and librarians the most. They are least likely to have access to computers, printers and quiet warm places to do homework, research and general studying. If school (and public) libraries have limited opening hours and do not have qualified staff then young people will have less access to information when it’s closed and less support to find the information even when it’s open. Opening libraries but leaving them unstaffed  is also no guarantee that they will be quiet places where work can be done. Children from less well-off backgrounds are also less likely to be able to get support in information gathering and filtering at home. Their parents are also less likely to be able to afford private tutors. People from less well-off backgrounds will be more disadvantaged by the cuts than their better-off peers even in the same school.

Librarians, in both schools and public libraries, have a vital role to play in fighting poverty and inequality. If we really want a fairer Scotland then we have to invest in library staff.

[1] Truths lies and the internet a report into young people’s digital fluency Bartlett J and Miller C Demos 2011page 3

[2] Truths lies and the internet a report into young people’s digital fluency Bartlett J and Miller C Demos 2011 page 3

[3] Truths lies and the internet a report into young people’s digital fluency Bartlett J and Miller C Demos 2011 page 5

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