Now, as I have argued, the school library is integral to the educational process, but only if it is understood in a certain way. Understanding this is vital, if not to our success, then to our survival. The reason for this is that our concern, as librarians, lies first and foremost with this educational process, and then with our role in this process. Ruth Davies expresses this idea powerfully:
Today’s school library is a source and a force for educational excellence, and today’s school librarian “is a teacher whose subject is learning itself” (quoting Douglas Knight).
This idea no longer animates us.
However, writing this while looking back on 85 years of the School Library Association reminds us that history is the consequence of ideas.
Richard Colebourn, in his personal survey of the first 50 years of the SLA, makes the point that from the outset “the Association…was clearly envisioned as an organisation of, and for, educationalists”. Cecil Stott, joint honorary secretary, underscored this view in his report for the inaugural meeting in January 1937, that while efficiency and technique were important, they were only so “as a preliminary to the far more important use of the library as an instrument of education”. It is worth noting that the “educational use” and “educational function” of the school library remain Association priorities, at least in Colebourn’s survey, into the 1970s.
Yet, by 1986, Norman Beswick, who Colebourn references in the highest regard, laments the passing of this idea – that the school library is a source and a force for educational excellence because the school librarian is a teacher whose subject is learning itself. And yet, this idea remains at the heart of the revised Manifesto (2022), which, in turn, revitalises the School Library Guidelines (2015) and is reflected in Global Action on School Libraries: Models of Inquiry (2022).
Perhaps heightened reflection on 85 years of service to our local profession combined with greater engagement with our global profession will help us to recover an idea from our past that will prove vital to our future?