Keeping your school library up to date

28 June, 2023

Providing access to a range of high quality and relevant titles lies at the heart of promoting a culture of reading for pleasure. But with so many new books being published and school budgets stretched to the limit, how do you decide which ones to choose and how do you keep the flow of fresh new titles coming?

Every school is different so there is no one right answer, but here are a few ideas for you to consider and, more importantly, the resources that you can draw on to help you.

Setting a budget

There are ways of getting books for your library without using school funds (read on to find out more) but stocking your school library and keeping it up to date will require a budget. How big a budget will depend on the particular circumstances of your school. CILIP – the UK’s library and information association – and the School Library Association provide some useful guidelines to help you work out what you are aiming for.

CILIP recommends that a primary library should contain between 10-13 quality library books per pupil. Smaller schools need proportionately more items per pupil and CILIP recommends a minimum base figure of 1300 quality library books for schools with fewer than 100 pupils. (Note that this figure is in addition to textbooks, class sets and reading schemes.) For secondary libraries, the SLA recommends 13-18 books per pupil aged 11-16, going up to 17-25 books per pupil for sixth forms.

Unfortunately, books don’t last for ever (the average life of a library book is 10 years) so, even if your library is already well-stocked, you will still need to factor in a budget to replace books that have become outdated or been too well-loved. In an ideal world, you should be looking to replace or update 10% of your library stock every year. While it may make sense to do an overhaul once a year, remember to keep some money aside for specific requests or ‘must-have’ new titles as they are released.

Creating your wish list

Assuming that you now have a budget to spend, the next step is to decide which books to buy. With so many books to choose from, that can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there’s a whole range of book review and book recommendation sites that you can turn to for help and guidance. These cover all genres and come in a range of formats so you can choose a format that works for you. There are online databases like CLPE’s Corebooks and BookTrust’s Great Books Guide that you can interrogate, video round-ups of the best of the month’s titles to watch, or you can browse the many reviews contained in bi-monthly online children’s book magazine Books for Keeps. You can also join a local Teachers’ Reading Group for the chance to share reading recommendations and learn more about how to develop a culture of reading for pleasure in your school. Why not suggest that members of staff each choose a different review site and then share your recommendations?

The shortlists for the many children’s book awards are good places to go for recommendations and will ensure that you always have the best of the latest publishing on your shelves. Sign up for the Literacy Hive newsletter to ensure that you get the latest book award news straight to your inbox.

Some of the awards also have shadowing schemes, which are a great way to encourage your pupils to read, discuss and then vote on their favourite titles. Including pupils in the book selection process is always a good way to improve engagement and ensure that your bookshelves are stocked with books that children will want to read.

A diverse and inclusive library

When you are creating your booklists, don’t forget to include non-fiction, poetry, graphic novels and picture books for older readers so that you can appeal to all reading tastes.

Magazines, comics and newspapers are another good way of providing a variety of reading material, and a subscription will ensure that there is something new in the library every week.

You will also want to make sure that your library collection is as diverse as possible so that all pupils can see themselves represented and can develop vital empathy skills by reading about the lives of others. Our Reflecting Realities section contains a range of resources to help you build an inclusive library, from the latest research reports to specialist book suppliers.

Expert help is available

Don’t yet have the in-school book expertise to create your own booklists? Why not talk to one of the specialist school book suppliers? From curated book packs of the latest fiction titles to bespoke book selection services to match your budget, they have a wealth of expertise and book knowledge that you can tap into.

If the cost of buying in all these new books starts to feel a bit overwhelming, it might be worth investigating a subscription to your local or neighbouring Schools Library Service. Services vary from one SLS to another, but many loan reading for pleasure collections as well as the more traditional topic boxes. The SLS is another great source of help and advice when it comes to refreshing your library stock and a subscription will ensure that you have new titles coming in regularly to tempt your young readers.

The School Library Association provides training, advice and access to resources to support the running of school libraries. Your school can sign up to become a member to access the full range of their services. However, even as a free member, you can still sign up to some of their online training courses and download a range of useful publications, such as this Get Everyone Reading guide from author Alec Williams, full of tips and ideas on promoting a reading for pleasure culture.

Complete library revamp

Sometimes a library may need more of a revamp than a simple injection of the latest award winners. Or perhaps you now have space to create a library for the first time? Again, the Schools Library Service and several of the specialist school book suppliers such as Peters, Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, Madeleine Lindley and Best Books for Schools can help. They offer library consultancy services that include weeding out titles that are no longer relevant, identifying gaps in provision and recommending new titles.

 Books for free

And now, as promised, here are a couple of ways of getting books for the library without dipping into the school budget.

  1. Run a School Book Fair: As well as providing your pupils with the opportunity to buy their own book from a curated selection, you will be earning commission to spend on books for the school. You can choose from a range of school book fair providers here.
  2. Set up a fundraising page: You can raise money from your parent body and local businesses by setting up a fundraising page on the Support Your School website, run by Peters. The website is free and helps schools raise funds that can then be used to buy books from Peters’ extensive selection. Find more fundraising ideas in our interview with Holden Clough Community Primary School, who raised over £12,000 to support their reading for pleasure goals.
  3. Apply for a grant: The Siobhan Dowd Trust Fund was set up to bring the joy of reading to young people who need it most. Schools can apply for a grant to spend on a #BookshopSpree where a group of pupils visit their local bookshop and select new books for their school library. The Foyle Foundation runs the Foyle School Library Scheme that awards grants to schools for books and libraries. Priority is given to primary schools, although secondary schools can also apply. Primary and secondary schools can also apply to reading charity Read for Good for a Brilliant Box of Books containing 150 fiction and non-fiction titles.
  4. Set up a Wish List: Work with your local bookshop or one of the online children’s booksellers such as A New ChapterBest Books for Schools and Bookwagon to create a wish list so that parents can donate a book to your library. You can find and support your local independent bookseller with this map created by Jon Biddle (@jonnybid). Once you have your new books, a nice way to thank people for their gift is to paste in a ‘Donated by’ bookplate. Bookplates UK was set up by author Anne Fine when she was Children’s Laureate. It provides a selection of bookplates created by top children’s illustrators that you can download for free.

While we all benefit from a vibrant children’s book scene, keeping up to date with the thousands of titles that are published every year is no mean feat. The good news is that there is lots of expertise and support that you can draw on to ensure that you have books that cater for the reading interests of all your pupils.

Boy looking at library shelves