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Impact of school library services on achievement and learning in primary schools: Critical literature review of the impact of school library provision on achievement and learning in primary level students.

Williams, Dorothy; Coles, Louisa; Wavell, Caroline


Dorothy Williams

Louisa Coles

Caroline Wavell


This critical literature review examines research linking educational attainment and school library use at primary level, and complements a review examining the links between educational achievement and school library provision at secondary level, completed at the end of 2001. The study was funded by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries to inform the work of the Department for Education and Skills Task Group set up to implement actions contained in the Government's response to "Empowering the Learning Community". The aim of the literature review was to examine evidence from research conducted in the UK and abroad linking learning in its widest sense, encompassing processes and attitudes, with library provision, including the type of resources, nature of access and staffing. The evidence was then analysed in relation to: its applicability to primary school libraries and Schools Library Services in England; methodologies that could be used to assess impact of library provision on learning; and any gaps in the research. There was a body of research supporting the view that primary school libraries can have a positive impact on academic achievement particularly when accompanied by appropriate action to ensure the service delivery is efficient and effective. However, much of this evidence was from countries where school librarians have a teaching qualification and more research is needed to determine the extent to which the evidence is transferable to England. There is limited research demonstrating the view that school libraries have the potential to impact on the broader aspects of learning, including vulnerable or special needs students. Where there is evidence of impact on learning, there are associated key factors of collection levels, library staffing levels and collaboration between the librarian and teacher. Training of teachers and librarians is demonstrated to raise mutual understanding of each other's contribution and roles within the school library setting. Training should include information skills development, collection mapping, planning and evaluation. There is no clear evidence to indicate the contribution made to learning by the various models of school library provision, although flexible scheduling appears to be an important factor in encouraging student use and to be effective this requires a full-time qualified librarian managing the resources. The presence of a librarian and the quality and frequency of their instructional input has an impact on learning but the relationship between this and qualifications and personal attributes and experience is less clear. School librarians who take a professional and proactive approach to their role within the school can cite evidence of their impact on teaching and learning; and are more able to reflect, self-evaluate and develop the service further. The report makes the following recommendations. 1) Research should be conducted to establish the extent of the existence of different models of library provision in primary schools. 2) Research should be conducted into the impact of the different models of library provision on student learning. 3) Research related to the National Literacy Strategy should be reviewed in relation to the use and management of library collections, selection of resources by teachers, and how such issues impact on learning. 4) Consideration needs to be given to ensure pre-service training and professional development training of both teachers and librarians addresses the need for greater understanding of their professional contributions to learning in school libraries. 5) Consideration should be given to identifying and piloting process and outcome standards appropriate for use in primary school library provision. 6) Ideally all primary schools should have the funds to support the service of a qualified full-time librarian to manage well-resourced school libraries. As the situation stands, priority should be given to identifying appropriate models for: a) training for teachers in library management and resource integration within the curriculum; b) training in curricular issues and resource integration for librarians working in Schools Library Services, Public Libraries and volunteers working in school libraries; c) ensuring that all primary schools have the support of a Schools Library Service; d) establishing close relations between Schools Library Services and education departments. 7) Once some of the above measures have been put in place, it would become more appropriate to undertake the kind of longitudinal study of impact of primary library provision on learning, based on the implementation of appropriate standards, as recommended in the previous secondary report: a) adapt the quantitative studies used in the USA for use with KS1 and KS2 SATs and pilot to establish whether the methodology is transferable to the English primary education; b) implement appropriate intervention(s) related to training and standards (see above); c) apply a qualitative evaluation of the intervention using the standards and any indicators developed. Apply the adapted Lance model again after intervention(s) to identify any impact on learning.


WILLIAMS, D., COLE, L. and WAVELL, C. 2002. Impact of school library services on achievement and learning in primary schools: Critical literature review of the impact of school library provision on achievement and learning in primary level students. Aberdeen: Robert Gordon University.

Report Type Research Report
Publication Date Dec 31, 2002
Deposit Date Jan 29, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jan 29, 2016
Publisher Robert Gordon University
Public URL


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