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Why School Libraries Matter (Hint: It's Not Just About the Books)

Jeff Norton

Author/Founder of Awesome

On the day of the mass lobby of parliament for school libraries, author and commentator Jeff Norton reflects on the important role school libraries play in nurturing future talent and economic prosperity.

School is a tough place. The social hierarchy of any schoolyard is complex, unforgiving, and ever changing. Kids need a safe space to explore who they are, be themselves, and discover that they’re not alone.  School libraries are the safe harbour in the storm of adolescence.

It’s too easy to suggest that school libraries are a relic of the analogue world.  Books are a small, but important part of the value that school libraries offer. But the safe space that libraries create, a place of study, reflection, and exploration, is the true gift of school libraries.

To think about school libraries only as repository of books is to think of churches as storage units for stained glass.  The school library is the one place on school property where anyone can seek refuge. It’s a welcoming, comforting place to escape the bullying (physical, but more often emotional), daily social upheaval, and cliques of the school years.

The school library is a type of demilitarized zone in the war for daily schoolyard survival. It’s the one place where students who are serious about intellectual exploration can feel accepted and unashamed about wanting to excel. It’s the one place where loners, geeks, and misfits can escape to through fiction or fuel their interests with non-fiction.

Why do we need to protect these people? Look at the world’s most valuable companies and take note of who’s in charge. It’s the kids who took shelter in the library, the geeks and nerds, who are re-programming our future.  The books are important, of course. They are the ultimate tools in self-guided learning, but they are only part of the mix that makes school libraries an essential place to shelter and protect our most promising youth.

School libraries are not just a bunch of rooms filled with books; they are a national network of incubators for future economic potential. The geeks, nerds, and keeners (those were the words in my school days, insert your own here) in high school are our future entrepreneurs, coders, and leaders. Perhaps their budget should come not from the Department of Education, but from Trade & Industry.  These are the places where future world-changers ground themselves, recharging their intellectual curiosity and emotional fortitude to survive another day in the relentless melee of the schoolyard.

Let’s re-frame the discussion on school libraries and treat them for what they are, the very, very, very early start-up incubators for Great Britain’s imagination and initiative –  we only need to take one look at our recent economic performance to accept that we need these incubators more than ever.

Jeff Norton is a London based writer-director and the author of the METAWARS saga from Orchard Books.

Image from The Geek the Library project: a community public awareness campaign aimed at spreading the word about the vital and growing role of libraries, and to raise awareness about the critical funding issues many U.S. public libraries face.


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16 Responses to “Why School Libraries Matter (Hint: It's Not Just About the Books)”

  1. Elizabeth Bentley Says:

    October 29th, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you so much for understanding and advocating so eloquently. The lobby seemed to go well, but we are still at the stage of providing evidence for the government to do anything.

  2. Heart of the School - School Librarians lobby Parliament! Says:

    October 29th, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    […] end today – lets keep up the pressure.  One of the greatest blogs of the day came from Jeff Norton, who completely ‘gets’ what school libraries are about.  With especial thanks to […]


    October 29th, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. it moved many of us, we saw that you completely ‘got’ school libraries and what they are all about. Your analogy of the church and the stained glass windows is particularly fine. Thanks for articulating what many of us feel.

  4. Sue Bastone Says:

    October 29th, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Thank you Jeff, a very erudite article. I know my students would agree with you absolutely on what school libraries offer. Let’s hope Miniisters come to the same conclusion. Positive initial feelings.

  5. Jane Welby Says:

    October 30th, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thank you Jeff. Excellent people like you to speak up for us matter too.

  6. Paula Ward Says:

    October 30th, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Thanks, Jeff. You obviously fully understand why school libraries matter and have expressed it perfectly. Your support is so important and much appreciated. Thanks again.

  7. Sue Murdoch Says:

    October 30th, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Everyone above has expressed my thoughts too. You have truly captured the diversity of everything a school library offers.
    Thank you

  8. Did you know schools don’t have to have libraries? « PJ Young Books Says:

    October 30th, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    […] Embankment Gardens wrote a poem and there has been some great publicity in the Guardian Books and The Literary Platform. Also, apparently, a ‘full response’ from Michael Gove. I won’t hold my breath, […]

  9. Polly Says:

    October 30th, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Jeff, this is such a good piece. Thank you for writing and for being there yesterday – I’m just sorry I couldn’t make it. I have written a blog post and hope that many more people become aware of this – especially MPs – and that the situation changes soon.

  10. Why School Libraries Matter (Hint: It’s Not Just About the Books) | ST. EUGENE SCHOOL LIBRARY Says:

    October 31st, 2012 at 12:14 am

    […] Why School Libraries Matter (Hint: It’s Not Just About the Books). Share this:EmailFacebookPrintMoreTwitterLinkedInPinterestTumblrGoogle +1StumbleUponRedditDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged libraries, school library. Bookmark the permalink. ← Happy Halloween from K4! […]

  11. Genevieve Swan Says:

    October 31st, 2012 at 11:48 am

    This is so true and the analogy with a Church couldn’t be more perfect. Libraries have been my refuge, my delight and the place where I have found my friends.

  12. Senga Says:

    October 31st, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    It is always a revelation to have someone outside of school libraries articulate what we who work there understand implicitly. School libraries around the world are under threat due to the seeming invisibility of the value we offer our communities. As you rightly point out, the books on the shelves are but a small part of the service we provide. And of course, in a similar vein to your stained glass windows analogy, without the right people in the roles, whatever title you tag them with, the physical library wouldn’t be the safe haven and intellectual incubator they are or should aspire to be. School libraries are about people – all people!

  13. René Says:

    November 1st, 2012 at 10:41 am

    “Look at the world’s most valuable companies and take note of who’s in charge. It’s the kids who took shelter in the library, the geeks and nerds, who are re-programming our future.”

    How come that those people in charge do so little to ensure the continuing presence of well-equiped libraries in schools?

  14. Zufluchtsort Schulbibliothek | Basedow1764's Weblog Says:

    November 3rd, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    […] von Jeff Norton, 29. Oktober, 2012, veröffentlicht in: theliteraryplatform […]

  15. Ijeoma Richards Says:

    March 4th, 2013 at 10:22 am

    This article is unbelievably insightful. Any adult who loved books as a child would completely agree. I am writing an article on the impact of school libraries for ‘Now Child Magazine’ based in Lagos Nigeria (a child focused magazine,with special emphasis on education,parenting and mentoring) I chanced upon this article and thought to quote Mr Norton on a few points,but it turns out I love it all! I would love to be able to insert it in the middle of my write up. Do I need special permission or would referncing Mr Norton do?

  16. Imagine Greater | Jeff Norton Says:

    February 11th, 2014 at 9:53 am

    […] who’ve shared that they’d get beaten up for reading books in front of their ‘friends’. Good schools and accessible libraries matter – they are some of the first stepping-stones on the path to productive […]


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