Wither the school library?

Once upon a time…the school library was the heart and soul of every school.

To me, it was an island of quiet and calm in a sea of confusion, a place to rest, to dream, to be myself (and by myself), away from the pressures of the classroom and without fear of being bullied or teased.

Importantly, school libraries were (and continue to be) a dedicated space to promote literacy, learning, research skills and creativity.

And in our increasingly busy and technologically-driven world, I think kids need that kind of space more than ever. A place to unplug and unwind.

This ideal of the school library is beautifully portrayed by a collection of 1960’s posters discovered by Canadian library technician Joelle Enokson. She found the posters hidden away in a school cupboard many years ago, and this summer she posted them on her flickr page. You can check out the entire collection here. Very quickly, Ms. Enokson and her posters became an international sensation, featured widely in the media including the New Yorker.

The posters have garnered interest for their vintage design and for reminding of us of a simpler time (pre-computer). It’s easy to forget, but there was a time when libraries were the only place in town to access books and information for free. But that was then, this is now.

Today, school libraries struggle to compete with the lure of the computer. They struggle with smaller and smaller budgets, while parents fundraise to buy books. In Canada, some schools are closing their libraries altogether with a greater focus on digital media and learning. Librarians are being let go, a trend that (as reported by People for Education) could affect children’s ability to think critically about information. Most parents wouldn’t want to part with their child’s gym or playground. So why should they part with their library?

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology has the potential to improve and enhance our children’s education. (And ironically, as this Edmonton Journal article points out, it is technology that allowed Ms. Enokson to share the posters with the world). But that should not be at the expense of the unique experience offered by the school library, nor the expertise of the school librarian. Children need to learn research skills and they need access to a thoughtfully curated collection–not just unfettered access to the some of the dangerous drivel you find on-line.

I am happy to report that we continue to have great school libraries (and librarians) in our community. My daughter is often seen “skipping” into the school library to pick out a book, do a craft or read with her “reading buddy”. Like her mom, she seems to see it as a special place to carve out her own space, her own identity, her own dreams, within a very busy, very structured school environment. Let’s hope every kid gets that chance.

Do you have any memories of your school library? Are school libraries thriving or withering in your part of the world?

And what is the future of the school library? Will it survive? Should it survive? What will it look like?


  1. Unfortunately we’re in the same position in the UK, with many schools either not having a library for their pupils or having one that is just not really used. My daughter’s school has quite a few lovely books in theirs but the room is rather run-down and is based between two busy corridors, with no doors separating it from the hustle and bustle. It’s not much used except for one-to-one tuition. I remember my school library in Canada – a huge room with a dedicated librarian and assistant where I would spend my breaks. I really hope we don’t lose libraries, either at school or in the community (ours are under threat here too).

    • Sad! I’m not sure what the answer is…the new ‘media hubs’ are great, but don’t give kids a break from screen time. Or maybe I’m just a luddite! (hmmm…I think I feel a new blog post coming on!)

      • I agree with you! We can be luddites together. Perhaps libraries can combine with youth centres, as a place where children and young people can get together and do constructive things…

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