Glasgow City Council has scrapped its lending library for schools and plans to sell off the resources to educational institutions across the city, our sister title the Herald can reveal.

The School Library Outreach (SLO) service, located in the city’s Mitchell Library, was shut down at the end of the 2022/23 school year and will not reopen.

Parents say the loss of the “essential” service has left them “shocked and saddened”. Teachers, librarians and Scottish Book Trust also criticised the decision and raised concerns about the impact on pupils from deprived backgrounds.  

The news comes as the Scottish Government announced a new initiative called ‘Read Write Count with the First Minister’, which aims to provide books and learning materials to children across the country. 

The SLO provided lending and advisory services to Glasgow’s primary schools, additional support needs schools, and early years establishments, reports our sister title The Herald.

Schools and nurseries were able to borrow from a vast collection of reading materials, request a visit from a librarian, seek advice and support to improve their own libraries, and get help to ‘build a reading culture’ amongst pupils. Orders were delivered directly to schools and collected again at the end of the lending period.  

Materials seen by our sister title The Herald show that the SLO ‘menu’ included an extensive range of reading support materials organised around more than thirty themes, with different materials available for all stages from age 3 to the end of primary 7. Examples of these themes include alternative fairy tales, diverse voices, classics, myths and legends, nursery rhymes, science fiction, Scottish authors, and paired reading.  

Schools and nurseries could also choose materials by a specific author such as Theresa Breslin, Roald Dahl, Judith Kerr, Michael Morpurgo, and Jacqueline Wilson. They could also borrow specific sets of texts including favourites like Coraline, Goodnight Mr Tom and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and choose from a selection of hundreds of ‘story sacks’, multisensory stories and ‘big books’ for whole-class reading.  

In addition to this, the SLO supported schools with pupils for whom English is not their first language. Sets of dual-language books covering more than 56 languages from around the world could be provided, with up to twenty copies available at any one time.  

Alongside reading resources, the SLO offered schools and nurseries the opportunity to borrow from its extensive collection of non-fiction ‘topic boxes’. The most recent catalogue, prepared in April 2023, offered a choice of more than 200 topics.  

Glasgow Times: The Mitchell Library. Photo: Nick Ponty

Glasgow's Mitchell Library

Schools could ‘recreate a dig site’ using the Archaeological Dig topic box, build a STEM project around a series of construction kits, learn about the Egyptians with the help of an ‘artefacts box’, or help pupils understand World War 2 through the use of an ‘evacuee’s suitcase’ containing a gas mask and ration cards.  

Communication was issued on August 30  confirming that the SLO’s “lending and advisory service will no longer be available for schools to utilise.”  

In the letter to headteachers, the council says that “Glasgow Libraries will be providing opportunities for educational establishments to purchase the collections formerly available through the School Library Outreach services.” Some schools may be prioritised for this based on deprivation levels and their proximity to a local library, will further communication to be sent out “throughout the month of September.”  

Our sister title The Herald can confirm that no Equality Impact Assessment was carried out in relation to the closure of the SLO. The council believes that this was not required and argues that children will still have access to a broad range of resources such as library visits and online support sessions. 

Leanne McGuire, Chair of Glasgow City Parents Group, warned that the closure will have a serious negative impact on schools, families and young people: "Glasgow City Parents Group is both shocked and saddened to hear that the Schools Library Outreach (SLO) service has ceased operations. 

"The service provided essential support, widening the access to books, toys and much more across early years, primary and additional support for learning establishments. The service wasn't only about borrowing books, the service provided advice about age-appropriate reading titles and specific themes like equalities and inclusion.  

“As we know, school budgets are being squeezed and the SLO service was a great, cost-effective way that schools and nurseries could fill the gap in their resources, without compromising on the quality. They were able to open up a wide world of book titles to children through borrowing them.

“Not all Glasgow families have easy access to a local library and the SLO service is a great way to introduce children to new titles and topics, and encourage reading for enjoyment. The service provided valuable advice to schools and nurseries about setting up their own library, providing many online resources like checklists and frameworks.

“We are sure many establishments will miss this service and the wealth of knowledge the librarians brought with them. Given the challenges in recent years with literacy levels, we feel this decision may be a little shortsighted."  

Marc Lambert, CEO of Scottish Book Trust, said: “A loss of access to books such as this can have a devastating impact on schools and their learners. Access to high quality, up-to-date books is a necessity for the learning and development of young minds, boosting not only literacy and language skills, but also confidence, critical-thinking and empathy. Without this, children are missing out.”  

Glasgow Times: The top ten borrowed library books in Scotland in 2014/15 were all crime and thrillers

The Glasgow branch of Scotland’s largest teaching union has also hit out at the decision to scrap the SLO programme. A spokesperson for the group said that a “vital” resource has been “suddenly and unexpectedly” lost.

“The EIS strongly condemns today’s decision to implement a budget cut which will see our Glasgow Primary, ASN and Eary Years schools deprived of a huge wealth of resources.

“The service provided a rich variety of resources far and beyond what schools could access to enrich their teaching and learning.

“This will bite particularly deeply where there are groups of pupils with varying multiple deprivation and there seems to be no assessment before this decision was taken as to the impact of this cut on these young people.

“With this pressing point to the forefront, we further condemn the proposal that schools dig into already stretched budgets to buy these previously free resources, which are currently being recovered by GCC.”

The council’s decision has been further criticised by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), whose spokesperson told The Herald that they are “disappointed to hear that the vital school library outreach service will no longer be available to Glasgow's young people”.

“This essential service helped support learning, literacy and information skills for many children, mostly in primary and ASL schools. Regrettably, these establishments will usually not have direct access to a school librarian, so this service provided an irreplaceable link to life-changing libraries, librarians and their resources.

“We are pleased to see educational library visits will continue in some form but for schools to be asked to purchase resources at a time when budgets are stretched may only further entrench inequalities in the city as well as reducing access to resources that support reading, something that is proven to provide significant benefits for young people of all ages.”

A Council spokeswoman said: “The change to service delivery has been communicated to schools with the opportunity for them to buy topic boxes that they will be able to keep in school and the potential to even swap across the learning community.”

The Scottish Government did not respond to a request for comment.