Booktrust School Libraries Research
Initiatives such as Bookstart and Booked Up demonstrate Booktrust’s strong
belief in the importance of reading for pleasure. A wealth of research confirms
the many social and academic benefits that result when children read for
enjoyment. Booktrust believes that effective school libraries provide the most
socially inclusive means of giving all children the opportunity to enjoy books.
Yet there is no statutory requirement for schools in England to have a library,
and anecdotal evidence suggests that provision of books in schools is patchy.
With this in mind, Booktrust commissioned a survey of head teachers in state
primary schools and librarians in state secondary schools in England. The
survey was carried out on Booktrust’s behalf by the Institute of Public Finance
Ltd (IPF) and the results were interpreted in further detail by the Library and
Information Statistics Unit, Loughborough University (LISU).
The purpose of the research was to:
Gather information about the availability and provision of books in primary
and secondary schools
Chart the occurrence of various models of library provision in primary
Update and build upon Booktrust’s Schools Spending on Books Survey,
focusing specifically on spending on school library books. The last survey,
carried out in 2002, focused on textbooks.
Booktrust also carried out an additional 152 online surveys of secondary
school librarians via the Association of Senior Children’s and Education
Librarians (ASCEL) and the School Library Association (SLA) to supplement
the random sample of 45 secondary schools (1% of secondary schools in
England) surveyed by IPF.
Recommended spending levels
Booktrust worked with LISU to arrive at a recommended spending figure on
library books per head for primary and secondary schools. Taking into
account CILIP’s (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals)
recommendation of an average stock of 13 books per pupil and 17 books per
pupil for those over the age of 16 and average book prices derived from a
range of sources, Booktrust’s recommended spending figure per head per
academic year is £10 for primary schools and £14 per head for secondary
schools. This figure is based on fiction and non-fiction reading books and
does not include materials such as set texts, textbooks or study guides.
61% of primary schools, and 92% of secondary schools (across both surveys)
reported a total library spend per pupil below these levels.
Secondary schools spend an average of £4.28 per head per year on
Primary schools spend an average of £10.25 per head per year on the
The average number of books per head in primary schools was 13, in
line with CILIP’s recommended figure.
The average number of books per head in secondary school libraries
was just 8 per pupil, compared to CILIP’s recommended figure of 13 for
under-16s and 17 for pupils over the age of 16.
Primary schools that subscribe to Schools Library Services spend an
average of £11.68 per pupil on the library compared to non-
subscribers, which spend an average of just £5.26 per head.
When asked to name the ideal number of library books per head, 29%
of primary schools suggested a figure below CILIP’s actual
recommended figure of 13; some were as low as 5. A further 36% of
respondents were unable to answer the question.
When asked to name the ideal number of library books per head, 76%
of secondary schools suggested a figure ranging from 5-12 or did not
know. CILIP recommends that school libraries hold 13 books per head
for pupils aged 11-16 and 17 books per pupil for those over 16.
72% of primary school respondents stated that if they had a bigger
whole school budget they would spend more on the library. The
majority (63%) said they would spend at least some of any additional
funds on books for loan in preference to other suggested options.
More primary schools in the South West, West Midlands and North
East provided a dedicated library space available to all pupils than
provided book corners in classrooms. In London, the South East, North
West and Yorkshire & the Humber, the reverse was true.
6% of primary schools did not allow books to be loaned from their
library collections. Of those schools which allow loans and record the
number made, 22% make an average of just 2 loans per pupil per term
or less; 26% average between 2 and 4 loans per pupil per term; 25%
average between 4 and 8 loans per pupil per term, and 27% average
more than that.
On average in secondary schools, only 4 loans per pupil were made,
just over one book borrowed per term per pupil.
Those schools with a library policy were more likely to rate the library
as 'very important'; conversely, the more important the library was seen
to be, the more likely the school was to have a library policy.
Just 1% of those who run libraries in primary schools have a
professional qualification. 42% of secondary school libraries are run by
a chartered librarian full-time; 58% of secondary school libraries are
run by staff without a professional library qualification.
One-third of respondents (33%) reported that the person who ran the
primary school library did not have specialist knowledge of children’s
literature. In secondary schools, 22% of respondents had no specialist
knowledge of children’s literature.
Just 44% of primary school libraries were open during break times and
55% during lunch times. 17% of primary school respondents stated that
their library was only open during lesson times. 93% of secondary
school libraries are open during break times.
A significant number of schools stated that the library was used for
non-reading related activity such as time out space (26% primary, 47%
secondary). Other uses to which the library was put included exams,
meetings and a resting place for unwell children.
85% of secondary schools reported that expenditure on the library in
2006-07 was around the same or lower than the previous year. The
figure for primary schools is 81%.
Nearly all primary schools consider the library to be important, but many are
under-utilising it as a resource. Some do not have a dedicated budget for the
library. Many do not keep track of the number of loans being made, so do not
know how much the library is being used. In some cases, pupils are not
permitted to take books out on loan, suggesting that not enough emphasis is
being made on supporting independent access to books and reading in
Although in a majority of cases the nature of the library space is determined
by available space within the schools, some schools seemed unsure of how to
use their dedicated library space as a centre for reading and learning. Where
there is a dedicated library space, pupil access to it is restricted by limited
opening hours, which impinges on their independent reading and borrowing.
Many primary schools do not seem to know how to manage their school
library effectively even if they have the resources available to do so.
In secondary schools, the infrastructure for running an effective library is more
likely to be in place than in primary schools. The library is more likely to be
housed in a dedicated room than in the classroom or the hallway. A higher
percentage of library staff has a qualification and works full-time. The library is
open for a greater number of hours and independent access to the library is
better. However, spending per pupil on library books is lower per head than in
primary schools, there are fewer library books per pupil, and fewer loans
made per head. This is disappointing, given the greater independence of
students at this stage and their need for independent access to books and
Booktrust recommends that all school libraries should be staffed by at
least one person with a professional library qualification and knowledge
of children’s literature.
All schools should make themselves aware of existing guidelines for
stocking and maintaining school libraries
All schools should allocate a specific budget for the library within their
whole school budget
Booktrust recommends that all schools increase their spending on
books to the recommended levels.
Primary schools should receive advice on how to manage and run an
effective school library in order to make the most of their resources,
including monitoring and recording use of the library.
Secondary schools should do more to encourage the use of the library
for reading for pleasure and for independent study.
Primary schools should extend the opening hours of the library,
especially at lunchtimes and break times, as per the recommendations
in the 2006 Ofsted report ‘Good School Libraries: Making a Difference
As far as is possible, the school library should be used exclusively for
activities related to reading and learning; using it for activities such as
exams and time out space can undermine its status in the school.
All schools should produce and implement a library policy and