SCOTTISH Borders Council’s initiative to replace school librarians with volunteer pupils and self-service checkouts has once again been criticised at a full council meeting.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage, who used to teach at Hawick High School, has been campaigning against the plans since they were unveiled as a pilot project by the local authority in May.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday, she again raised the issue with council education bosses:

She said: “The Scottish Government has just published the national strategy for school libraries in Scotland, for 2018-2023.  

“In the foreword, the deputy first minister states that ‘school libraries are a hub of activity, with library staff supporting a range of creative approaches to learning, addressing issues related to health and wellbeing, and facilitating connections between pupils across the school community.’  

“As a teacher, I wholeheartedly support the deputy first minister’s view. School libraries and school librarians are a fundamental part of Scottish education, so why are we still considering getting rid of our school librarians?”

Councillor Carol Hamilton, the council’s executive member for children and young people, fielded the question on behalf of the administration.

She replied: “We welcome the publication of this publication which recognises the value of access to a school library service, from early years through to secondary school.

“The document provides recommendations for schools and what the library service should include, as well as providing examples of best practice.

“We are using this report to plan our future library service, and this will meet the national expectations, and local need, within the resources we have.

“At the moment we are working across the schools to make the service fair and equitable for all.

“There are some key messages. There are no redundancies. I’m quite sure I’ve said this in the past at least two times, and unlike some previous plans before, where there were going to be some redundancies.

“We also have to modernise how young people study, and learn to listen to what young people are looking for in their life.”

The plans have drawn criticism from politicians, unions, parents groups and education officials, but the council has stayed the course and self-service checkouts have begun to appear in school libraries as part of a pilot project, which may lead to a roll out across all of the region’s schools.

Speaking at the full council meeting, Councillor Ramage again made reference to the Scottish Government’s libraries report: “There are five strategic aims, linked to actions, recommended in this report.

“All of them involving school librarians and seeing them as essential to service delivery and improvement.

“Interestingly, Renfrewshire Council has recently undertaken a recruitment drive to ensure there is a school librarian in every secondary school. East Lothian was shortlisted for a UK national award for its commitment to retaining a full time school librarian in each of its secondary schools.

“Can I just highlight as well we only have five full time librarians in our schools, out of the nine.

“Will the council now reconsider the decision to leave some of our libraries as unstaffed zones with all of the unacceptable consequences I have previously highlighted?”

However, Councillor Hamilton assured her colleague that there will be no staff-free zones in schools and that the project is a result of pupil consultation: “Could I remind councillor Ramage that this was a policy as a result of pupil feedback.

“The libraries are not staff-free zones and I realise that councillor Ramage has many years of experience, and I do understand that, but we’re not talking about getting rid of the library service.

“We’re not talking about banning children from libraries, we’re talking about what we’re looking for, what is new and innovative for young people to learn.”