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Linking School Libraries and Literacy

An exploration of the National Literacy Trust (UK)

2011-02-18

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© National Literacy Trust

The summary report “Linking School Libraries and Literacy - Young people’s reading habits and attitudes to their school library, and an exploration of the relationship between school library use and school attainment” by Christina Clark (released in September 2010) explores what young people in the United Kingdom think about school libraries – do they use them? If so, why? If not, why not? The results of a survey, which involved 17,089 British students from 112 schools, were analyzed.
We publish the text of the report below. The full study, including 8 tables and annotations, is available in pdf format at: www.literacytrust.org.uk

Key findings
This paper presents additional information from our 2009 survey of young people’s reading and writing – for more information see our forthcoming report Clark and Douglas (2010) Young People’s Reading and Writing: An in-depth study focusing on enjoyment, behaviour, attitudes and attainment.

To support the School Library Commission’s evidence base, this paper explores what young people think about school libraries – do they use them? If yes, why? If not, why not? It also outlines how school library usage differs according to background demographics and reading attainment, and how it relates to wider enjoyment of reading, attitudes towards reading and reading frequency.

  • The majority of young people (68.7%) said that they use the school library. However, 28.1% said that they do not use their school library and 3.2% indicated that they do not have one.
  • There was a very strong relationship between reading attainment and school library use, with young people who read below the expected level for their age being almost twice more likely to say that they are not a school library user. Conversely, those who read at or above the expected level were nearly three times more likely to say that they are school library users.
  • Compared to young people who do not use the school library, school library users were more likely to say that they enjoy reading and to rate themselves as good readers. Young people who use the school library also tended to hold more positive attitudes towards reading than young people who do not use it. Of the two-thirds of young people (68.7%) who use the school library, girls use the school library more than boys. School library use declines rapidly with age, with more KS2 pupils saying that they use the school library than their older counterparts. There were also differences in school library use by ethnic background. Young people from Asian backgrounds use the school library more than young people from White, Mixed or Black backgrounds. Socioeconomic background, as assessed by free school meal uptake was not an important correlate of school library use in the present study, indicating that school libraries are not disproportionately attracting pupils from more affluent backgrounds.
  • The majority of young people who use the school library use it because it has books that interest them, it is a friendly space and because they think it will help them do better at school.
  • Most of the 28% of young people who do not use the school library do not use it because it does not have books that interest them, their friends do not go and because they do not think it will make them do better at school.
  • Of those who do not have a school library (3.2%), over half said that they would use one if they had one. In particular, they would use one if it had books that interested them, if it had computers and if their friends went too.

This report has shown that most young people use the school library. They use it because it gives them easy access to books, because it is a friendly space and because they believe that the school library, and by default reading, will help them do better at school. We have also shown that their school library use is related to their ethnic background, age and gender.

It also shows a link between school library use and increased reading enjoyment, higher selfassessments of reading ability as well as more positive attitudes towards reading.

Most interestingly, there is a clear link between attainment and school library usage. Young people with a reading age above the expected level for their age are twice as likely to be school library users as their peers with a reading level below that expected for their age. The link is not necessarily causal, but it suggests that school libraries have a vital role to play in the reading patterns of those pupils who have higher literacy levels.

How children and young people perceive the school library, what they use it for and their views on the way in which it could be improved have all been critical to the Commission’s debates and have played a significant role in informing its recommendations. For the full report of the commission see:…

Introduction to this paper
Following two reviews into the governance and provision of public libraries¹, attention has increasingly shifted towards school library provision. Yet, the conversation has too often simply been a call for universal provision and for school libraries to be made statutory, rather than a considered examination of the qualitative issues that define the effectiveness of school library provision.

To address these issues the National Literacy Trust and the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council launched the School Library Commission in January 2010. The commission took evidence from librarians, school staff and others with an interest in the outcomes of school libraries.

As the major users and beneficiaries of school libraries the views of children and young people formed an essential part of the consultation. Qualitative data was collected in both this study and a focus group, while this survey was carried out to find out the views of a greater number of pupils, and importantly how views of school libraries are affected by age, gender and other factors.

To help build the evidence base for the School Library Commission, the survey outlined in this paper explores the following:

  • Do young people use the school library? How does school library use differ according to background demographics?
  • Why do those who use the school library use it, and why do those who do not use it not use it? How does this differ according to background demographics?
  • Is school library use associated with young people’s enjoyment of reading, attitudes towards reading and reading behaviour?

In a subsample of young people for whom we have reading attainment data (N = 4,405), we also wanted to explore:

  • The link between school library use and young people’s reading attainment.


Sample characteristics
17,089 pupils from 112 schools participated in our online survey between 16 November and 4 December 2009. The questionnaire consisted of 32 questions exploring young people’s background, reading and writing behaviour, perceived ability and attitudes. In addition, the survey contained a few questions that explored school library use which is the focus of the present paper.

There was an almost equal gender split in the sample: boys = 51.2% (N = 8,752) and girls =48.8% (N = 8,337). Table 1 shows that the majority of pupils were 11 and 12 years old. To investigate the impact of age, three broad categories were identified according to Key Stages – KS2, KS3 and KS4. The KS2 category (22%, N = 3,704) refers to pupils aged 7 to 11, KS3 (63%, N = 10,842) refers to pupils aged 11 to 14, while KS4 (15%, N = 2,543) applies to pupils aged 14 to 16.

The percentage of pupils who receive free school meals (FSM), which is frequently used in educational research as a crude indicator of socioeconomic background, was 19.3%, with 24.7% of KS2, 18% of KS3 and 15.2% of KS4 pupils receiving free school meals. The percentages of FSM uptake in this study are higher than the national average for primary and secondary pupils (17% and 14%, respectively; DCSF, 2009b).

When asked how they would describe their ethnic background, most pupils said that they were White British (70.2%, N = 10,955). The second and third most frequent ethnic categories in this sample were Asian/Asian British Indian (4.0%, N = 623) and White Other (3.6%, N = 559). See Table 2 for a full breakdown of ethnic background.

School library use
The majority of young people (68.7%) said that they use the school library. However, 28.1% said that they do not use their school library and 3.2% indicated that they do not have one.

Girls were marginally but significantly more likely to use the school library compared with boys (70.8% vs. 66.5%, respectively). School library use declined rapidly and significantly with age, with 81.7% of KS2, 70.0% of KS3 and 44.6% of KS4 pupils saying that they use their school library. There were no significant socioeconomic differences in school library use, with 69.6% of FSM pupils using one compared with an equivalent 68.5% of non-FSM pupils. However, there were significant differences in school library use by ethnic background, with 80.7% of Asian compared with 69.3% of Mixed, 67.7% of White and 67.1% of Black young people saying that they use one.

Why do young people who use the school library do so?
Those who indicated that they use the school library were then asked to indicate the reasons for using one. Table 3 shows that the most common reasons why young people use the school library are because it has books that interest them (56%), it is a friendly space (50%) and because they think it helps them do better at school (47%).

Girls were significantly more likely than boys to say that they use the school library because it has books that interest them and because it has clubs and groups, such as book groups. By contrast, a significantly greater proportion of boys than girls said that they use the school library because it has materials other than books and because it has computers.

There were also significant age differences in why young people use the school library, with a greater proportion of KS2 than their older counterparts saying that they use the school library because it has books that interest them and because they saw how good it was when they were shown around. By contrast, a greater proportion of KS3 and KS4 than KS2 pupils said that they use the school library because it has materials other than books, it has computers and because their friends go. A greater proportion of KS3 than KS2 and KS4 pupils also said that they use the school library because it is a friendly space and because it has clubs and groups.

There were no statistically significant differences in the reasons given by socioeconomic background.

There were significant differences by ethnic background in the degree to which young people said that they use the school library because it has interesting reading materials, it has materials other than books, it is a friendly space, it has computers, because their friends go and because it helps them do better at school. More specifically, young people from Asian backgrounds were more likely than young people from other ethnic backgrounds to say that they use the school library because it has interesting reading materials, it has materials other than books and because it makes them better at school. More young people from White and Asian than from the other two ethnic backgrounds said that they use the school library because it is a friendly space. Young people from White backgrounds were least likely to say that they use the schools library because it has computers but they were more likely than young people from the other ethnic backgrounds to say that they use the school library because their friends go.

Why do those who do not use the school library not use it?
When the 28% of young people who do not use the school library were asked to indicate the possible reasons why they do not use one, most young people said that they do not use one because it does not have books that interest them (32%), because their friends do not go (29%) and because they do not think that it will make them do better at school (11%; see Table 4). There was only one statistically significant gender difference in why they do not use the school library. Significantly more girls than boys said that they do not use the school library because their friends do not go.

There were also several age differences in the degree to which young people said that they do not use the school library because it does not have books that interest them, it does not have enough computers, their friends do not go, it is more a space for younger pupils, no-one had taken them and because they do not think it will make them do better at school9. More specifically, KS3 and KS4 pupils were more likely than KS2 ones to say that they do not use the school library because it does not have books that interest them and because it does not have enough computers. Overall, more KS4 pupils than KS3 and KS2 pupils said that they do not use the school library because their friends do not go, because it is more of a space for younger pupils and because they do not think it will help them do better at school. Young pupils were more likely to say that they do not use one because no one had taken them there and shown them around.

There were several significant socioeconomic differences in why young people do not use the school library. Young people who do not receive FSMs were more likely than those who do to say that they do not use the school library because it does not have enough computers, their friends do not go and because it is more of a space for younger pupils.

Finally, there were also significant differences by ethnic background and the degree to which young people said that they do not use the school library because it does not have books that interest them, it does not have enough computers, because their friends do not go and because it is more of a space for younger pupils. Young people from Asian followed by White backgrounds were more likely than young people from Mixed or Black backgrounds to say that they do not use the school library because it does not have books that interest them. White and Mixed background pupils also said that they do not use the school library because it does not have enough computers. Overall, young people from White backgrounds were also more likely than young people from other backgrounds to say that they use one because their friends do not go and because it is more a space for young pupils.

Why would young people who do not have a school library use one?
When those who had indicated that they do not have a school library (3.2%) were asked whether they would use one if they had one, the majority of those young people said that they would (54.2%). 15% said that they would not use one, while 31% were not sure.

The most common reasons why those who do not have a school library would use one was if it had books that interested them, it had computers and if their friends used it too (see Table 5).

There were no statistically significant gender differences in why young people who do not have a school library would use one. KS2 pupils embraced the idea of school library use more readily than their older counterparts. KS2 pupils were significantly more likely than KS3 and KS4 pupils to say that a number of reasons would make them use a school library, including if it had books that interested them, they could choose materials for it, it had materials other than books, it was a friendly and comfy space, their friends went there too, it had clubs and groups, someone would take them there and show them around and if they thought that it would help them do better at school.

There were no statistically significant socioeconomic differences in what would make young people who do not have a school library use one.

However, there were statistically significant differences in the degree to which young people from different ethnic backgrounds embraced the different reasons that might make them use a school library. In particular, more young people from White backgrounds than young people from the other three ethnic backgrounds said that they would use a school library if it had books that interested them, they could choose the materials, it had materials other than books, it was a friendly and comfy space, it had computers, their friends went there too, and if they thought that it would make them do better at school.

The link between school library use and reading
A comparison of young people who use the school library with those who do not reveals some interesting relationships. Table 6 shows that nearly 8 in 10 school library users consider themselves to be a reader compared with only 5 in 10 non school library users.

School library users are also twice as likely as non school library users to say that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot, or to be reading outside of class every day. By contrast, non school library users were almost twice as likely to rate themselves as not very good readers compared with young people who use the school library. Young people who use the school library tend to hold more positive attitudes towards reading than young people who do not use it (see Table 7). Nearly three times as many young people who do not use the school library agree with the statement that reading is boring than do school library users. Similarly, non school library users are also twice as likely to agree with the statements that they only read in class and that they only read because they have to than are young people who use the school library.

By contrast, school library users are more likely than non school library users to agree with the statement that reading helps them to find the information that they need or want.

Generally, reading is seen to be important to succeed in life by both those who use the school library and those who do not. However, young people who use the school library are more likely to believe that reading is either very important or important to succeed in life (92.9%) compared with young people who do not use the school library (82.6%).

Reading attainment and school library use
There was a very strong relationship between reading attainment and school library use (see Table 8), with young people who read below the expected level for their age being almost twice more likely to say that they are not a school library user, and those who read at or above the expected level being nearly three times more likely to say that they are school library users.

Please note that while school library use is related to attainment, our research design can make no inference about causality: that is, higher attainment may lead to school library use or greater school library use may lead to higher attainment.

Discussion
This report has shown that most young people use the school library. They use it because it gives them easy access to books, because it is a friendly space and because they believe that the school library, and by default reading, will help them do better at school.

If they do not choose to use it then the reasons most commonly given are the polar opposites. It is because the school library does not have books that interest them and because they do not think it will make them do better at school. They also do not see their friends use it, which in turn holds them up from using it.

School library use is related to ethnic background, age and gender. Social background, assessed in this study crudely by free school meal uptake, was not an important correlate of school library use, indicating that school libraries do not disproportionately attract users from more affluent backgrounds.

In general, girls use the school library more than boys; KS2 pupils use the school library more than their older counterparts; and young people from Asian backgrounds use the school library more than young people from White, Mixed or Black backgrounds.

School library use is also positively related to reading enjoyment, self-reported reading ability as well as reading attitudes, indicating that those who use the school library are more likely to enjoy reading, to rate themselves as better readers and to think more positively about reading compared with their peers who do not make use of the school library.

Most interestingly, there is a clear link between attainment and school library usage. Young people with a reading age above the expected level for their age are twice as likely to be school library users as their peers with a reading level below that expected for their age.

These links are not necessarily causal, but they suggest that school libraries have a vital role to play in the reading patterns of those pupils who not only use the school library but who also have higher literacy levels.

How children and young people perceive the school library, what they use it for and their views on the way in which it could be improved have all been critical to the Commission’s debates and have played a significant role in informing its recommendations. For the full report of the Commission see:…..

Author: Christina Clark, September 2010

About the Author:
Dr Christina Clark is Head of Research at the National Literacy Trust. A trained forensic psychologist with a PhD in  Socio-political Psychology, she has over 15 years experience of designing, conducting, analysing and reporting social research projects in a variety of social policy areas both in an academic and a not-for-profit context. Christina joined the NLT in 2004. Since then she has been instrumental in devising a series of influential large-scale surveys that explore young people`s attitudes towards a variety of literacy issues. To date over 65,000 pupils have participated in NLT surveys and have provided their views on reading, writing, speaking and listening, resulting in over 20 research reports.

The National Literacy Trust is an independent UK charity that transforms lives through literacy. We believe that society will only be fair when everyone has the literacy skills they need to communicate, to fulfil their potential and to contribute more to society. We campaign to improve public understanding of the vital importance of literacy, as well as delivering projects and working in partnership to reach those most in need of support. To help us transform lives through literacy, you can make a donation or support our work.  To find out how visit www.literacytrust.org.uk/support National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260, and a company limited by guarantee, no. 5836486. Registered in England and Wales. Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.

Contact:
Dr Christina Clark (PhD)
National Literacy Trust
68 South Lambeth Road
London SW8 1RL, United Kingdom
E-Mail: christina.clark@literacytrust.org.uk
Internet: www.literacytrust.org.uk

Reference:
1 The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries, Literacy and Information Management`s `Inquiry into the Governance and Leadership of the Public Library Service in England` www.cilip.org.uk/getinvolved/advocacy/public-libraries/pages/appg.aspx The Library Modernisation Review www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/libraries/5583.aspx

 
 

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