How to make the most of your library – top tips from the Great School Libraries campaign

July 12th, 2019

We all know that school libraries are vitally important and can have a huge impact on young people’s learning. In fact, the benefits of having a library in school are supported by research and observation from across the world.

Alison Tarrant, Chief Executive of the School Library Association and head of the Great School Libraries campaign takes a closer look at the research below, and highlights some practical activities you can use in school to maximise the impact of your library.


A whole-school approach to teaching critical literacy is essential to embedding critical literacy across the curriculum to combat Fake News, and the school library is best placed to assist with this.

National Literacy Trust 2018 

Activity: Explore the SLA Information Book Award shortlist with pupils. Talk about the style of writing, purpose and audience – all concepts that need to be applied when browsing information online.


“The school library is incredibly important – much more than it was in the past. It’s a place where everyone comes to share, to learn, for challenge, for ambition, to inspire and be inspired, and the space around it has become crucial too.”

Stephen Heppell, Building Schools for the future Conference, Sheffield. November 2006.

Activity: Create a display on a world topic or debate – a censorship display can be incredibly powerful and lead to discussions about different cultural norms, religious freedoms, as well as the importance of not distorting or belittling past events. Try not to ‘other’ but choose themes that link and generate connections and discussions (for example choose thrillers for Halloween but include some LGBTQ or BAME authors rather than having a focused display).


“Research provides compelling evidence that library usage is linked to reading levels among children and young people, and that library usage and reading, in turn, are important factors in literacy skill levels and general educational attainment.”

Evidence Review of the Economic Contribution of Libraries, ACE 2014

Activity: Variety is the spice of life – set a reading challenge over a term to persuade children to engage with different formats. Poetry, information books, fiction, newspapers, graphic novels, magazines, online articles, audio books – include everything you can provide access to. It’s a great way of showing how reading is an inclusive activity, and can be differentiated easily and subtly.


“Several personal and interpersonal outcomes, such as self-esteem and the feeling of success and accomplishment, have also been associated with school library use.”

Activity: run competitions that allow pupils to explore areas or skills not covered in the curriculum. Photography competitions; book cover design; book trailers; illustrate a scene; design a play list for; compose the music to this scene; do a freeze frame of this moment. All of these allow pupils to develop their skills and discover their abilities so they can find their place in the world. Display the entries!


“By supporting and giving access to a broad range of information sources, the school library can motivate pupils and stimulate learning by providing the means to freely pursue subjects which fully engage them.”

Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for education and skills, Good School Libraries; making a difference, 2003

Activity: Link different topics into a supported research project, using a framework like FOSIL. This guides pupils through finding and evaluating information; deciding if it makes sense and whether it’s worth using. This can be used from primary through to sixth form. Using a framework like this means research can be more constructive and ensure that all pupils can benefit (sometimes with ‘go and find out about’ those who know the most benefit the most, deepening the attainment gap).


School libraries are brilliantly flexible, and reflect the culture and priorities of the school around them. Get the most out of your library by using these activities as a starting point for next year’s planning.

For more information on the benefits of having a school library, click here.


School membership of the SLA costs only £89 per year, and there are a range of benefits, including an advice line, journal, and online resources, as well as member discounts and giveaways.

To find out more about the Great School Libraries campaign, click here.

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