The case for a school librarian


Glass doors with the polished wooden frames. Rows and rows of Enid Blyton’s Fatty series that I couldn’t touch. This is one of my earliest memories of a library. A grumpy looking man sat at a high table at the door. Oh you again, his expression seemed to say. We would be lined up and made to sit around the long tables. The shelf reached up to the ceiling in my mind. The glossy hard bound encyclopedias practically looked edible. My mouth watered. But I was a reading child. When the tattered paperback that I had read five years ago was plopped in front of me, I simply rolled my eyes and began to read. I closed my ears to hum to myself and the teacher seated across the table snapped, stop singing. Ugh, the pain. This isn’t how I like to read a book. The silence rang in my ears and when, a few minutes later, the process of wrapping up fifty odd children began, it was almost a relief. Now I can go read the book in my bag peacefully.

A few years after my beginning experiences in a school library, a librarian in a sari welcomed me in my new school with a Dumbledore like smile. After a brief enquiry, I practically ran to the library from my classroom. It is the first place I search for wherever I go. I judge my cities, my places of work, anywhere at all, by the bookstores and libraries. Oh, she smiled. The library was silent, as they ought to be vehemently, oh, but the silence did not hurt my ears. There was a quality in the air that sang to me. Go take a book. From there? She could not have missed the disbelief in my eyes. You mean, from the cupboards? I did not miss the, ‘where else?’ on her face. I stood transfixed, to take it all in. The tables weren’t long. The cupboards were big and colourful. The books looked fairly worn and looked welcoming. People had been reading them. What do you like to read? Was she talking to me? I could not believe it. Over the next two years I spent in this library, reading and reading my favourite literature, I had also begun subconsciously emulating a role model. I was forming a mental picture of the ideal librarian.  

She found out I liked to write. One day she said to me, well the only way to write better is read, read and read.

Have you read Little Women? Oh read Dickens, you will love his books.

I have! 

Oh you have, wonderful! Have you read ‘The tale of two cities?’


Well then! You should read Amitav Ghosh too, The Glass Palace is in that shelf.

My eyes stayed wide and glossy for forever.


A research paper titled named ‘Change in School Librarian Staffing Linked with Change in CSAP Reading Performance, 2005 to 2011’ by the University of Denver found that librarians lent to higher reading scores and higher increases in reading scores. Schools with only library assistants or no librarians at all showed lower reading scores and lower increase in levels. The study also showed lower unsatisfactory levels of reading in schools where a full time librarian was present. The study also goes on to illustrate that even with poverty as a control, students with access to a librarian fared better at reading than students without a librarian.

The nation’s report card 2000 published by the US department of education states that children who read for fun dare better on tests. Children who discussed their reading with friends and family also outperformed their peers who did not discuss their reading.

UNESCO’s study of the readership at the Delhi library by Frank M. Gardner, published in 1957, makes for most interesting reading even today. ‘The Delhi Public Library’ is the 8th report in a series of 9 UNESCO Public Library Manuals. According to the report, 29% of members were children under 16 years of age. 47% were still students. The largest member group was that of schoolchildren, at 34%. The study goes into great detail, asking members the distance between their homes and the library. It seems that distance wasn’t a particular deterrent, with members using their own modes of transport to visit the library even from a few kilometers away.

What particularly interested me, is this:


The Delhi Public Library, an evaluation report’ goes on to say that while women members, the elderly and technical workers were largely absent, 20% of members were recorded saying that they borrowed for their family. 28% of members stated that the books they borrowed were read by others. The study repeatedly extols students to be the largest benefactors of the library, central or mobile.

In India in 2016, 19 out of 29 states and 7 union territories have passed the Public Libraries Act. These acts outline little more than purpose, powers of council members and fund management. While all those sections are crucial, a prerogative for children’s libraries and sections is largely absent. Guidelines on librarians and training librarians are absent. Desired measurable outcomes and implementation timelines are also absent. Even the National Mission on Libraries website states that out of all the states that have library legislations, only 8 have ‘reasonably good public library and infrastructure facilities’.

The states that have passed the Act are: Tamil Nadu. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Manipur, Kerala, Haryana, Goa, Mizoram, Gujarat, Orrisa, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry and Arunachal Pradesh.

Arunachal, the state to most recently passed its Public Library Act in 2009,  remarkably specifies a children’s section under (4) Sections of the District Library, where other acts do not.

The Kerala public libraries act allows the state government to grant not more than one percent of the education fund annually. (31-(1)), allowing disbursements of funds to Children’s library funded by the government. This is also the sort of specific that we would do well to add to other acts.

Now, the school library in India finds mention in the Schedule of the Right to Education act 2009 as follows: ‘There shall be a library in each school providing newspaper, magazines and books on all subjects, including story-books.’ 

National Mission on Libraries maintains a list of registered libraries. According to NML, the total number of libraries in India is 5009. Karnataka has the highest number of registered libraries at 1150, followed by Maharashtra (843) and West Bengal (817).

According to the IFLA report on ‘The Role of Libraries in Lifelong Learning’, there are 2,67,219 Public Libraries in the world: There are 797 public libraries in Africa, 37,063 in Asia, 20,081 In North America 3,942 in South America and 2,05,336 in Europe (UNESCO statistical yearbook 1999). Evidently Europe leads by a great margin. Europe and North America also have nearly perfect literacy rates.

Study after study shows the impact of libraries and librarians on education and literacy. A librarian is a microcosm of a reader’s experience of books, child or adult. The librarian is the human interface that conducts the reader’s rite of passage.

When we appoint a teacher who happens to have a free period to man the library, we have to ask ourselves, is this perhaps going to cause more harm than a lack of interface at all? This teacher is distracted. This is not this teacher’s primary responsibility. This teacher has a lot of other things to do.

When the children walk in, the silent sign up on the wall is the enforced with unnecessary force. The books are revered and distanced. Perhaps incomplete written work is carried in to be completed and precious reading time is viewed as all too commonplace. Spare our overburdened teachers and save the reading habit. A librarian does not operate in isolation. Our systems and schools must support her.

Rohini Manyam Seshasayee

Rohini was a Teach for India fellow in Ahmedabad. She loves her books and is deeply passionate about children getting access to books.

One Response to “The case for a school librarian

  • Wow, that was a very good read Rohini!! I never thought about the importance of librarian that way. The article has given me a reason to go to my school library (the school where I teach) once again, and look for a proper guidance from the librarian.

    Thanks again!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: