MLA’s despair at slow death of the school libraries in Northern Ireland
A former teacher who is now an MLA has said that a survey highlighting the lack of school libraries in Northern Ireland is "not surprising".
Rosemary Barton said she knows of a number of schools that have either closed their libraries or significantly reduced the service available.
The Ulster Unionist MLA was responding to a survey in which almost half the primary and post-primary schools surveyed said they do not have a library or dedicated library space.
Northern Ireland lags well behind schools in England and Wales, where 90% and 67% of schools respectively have libraries - as opposed to just 57% here.
A total of 1,750 schools across the three regions took part in the questionnaire commissioned by the Great School Libraries campaign.
The campaign aims to ensure that all children have access to a decent school library.
The findings showed that schools with higher numbers of children taking free school meals are more than twice as likely not to have a library.
Primary schools are also less likely to have a dedicated space than secondary schools and, in many cases, libraries are being used as classrooms or meeting rooms.
Campaigners warn there is an "inequality of access and opportunity" that needs to be dealt with so all children can benefit from a library.
"Many schools no longer have a librarian that is dedicated to working in the school library and assisting pupils with their research and coursework," said Mrs Barton.
"Much of this work in the library is left to teachers within the school to assist or indeed for pupils to be left to deal with themselves.
"As more services move online, those without the means or skills to access the internet are at increasing risk of isolation and reduced opportunities.
"This is even more relevant in Northern Ireland where in many areas high speed internet access falls well behind most communities in mainland GB."
She added: "Good access to school library services helps overcome barriers by providing opportunities to young people they would otherwise not have had and improves their life-skills."
Cath Skipper, a librarian at Campbell College in Belfast, said one of the key aims of its library service is to "prepare our pupils effectively for life after school through teaching them the information skills, such as plagiarism avoidance and referencing, they will need to succeed".
"Permanently staffed school libraries play a huge pastoral role, and our pupils describe the library here as being like a second home," she said.
"Our pupils really value having welcoming space to work, read, or play board games in during their free time, as well as knowing that there is always someone here who can help find information, listen, or provide advice."