Why the Gruffalo got very, very cross with Edinburgh City Council
IT'S a real fairytale ending. Edinburgh City Council has announced a U-turn over plans to cut school library services in Unesco's first City of Literature after more than 30 children's authors got together to criticise the "deeply embarrassing" plans.
• The Gruffalo has been delighting and scaring children in equal measure since first published 12 years ago
Famous names, such as Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson, Julie Bertagna and Lari Don, signed the letter to the education department, criticising proposals to reduce school librarians' working hours to term-time, meaning they would not be paid in school holidays.
Critics claimed this would reduce the preparation time librarians have, forcing them to drop key activities, such as promoting library use and encouraging children to read.
However, last night the council revealed that it had conducted a U-turn on the controversial policy.
Marilyne Maclaren, the education leader at the council, said the local authority would protect librarians in the city.
She said: "I am now able to reveal we have made a decision that we would not support this. We consulted extensively among parents and teachers, and I am convinced librarians play a vital role in our schools, and in delivering the Curriculum for Excellence."
Leith-based author Don last night welcomed the move, but said library staff should have been better informed.
She said: "A lot of librarians will feel let down that they weren't given the information earlier."
She said she had been left "gobsmacked" by the level of support she received from fellow writers over the issue, as she only began her campaign on Tuesday and by Thursday had nearly 40 signatures.
She said: "I've been absolutely gobsmacked by the response on this. It was only once we e-mailed authors we realised every area of Scotland is being attacked."
The letter states: "This short-sighted cut would undermine the highly qualified professional status of librarians, by treating them like piece workers, valued only when the door of the library is open.
"Paying them only for time when the school is open, rather than for non-contact time (ie, time when the pupils are not there), would force them to undertake essential administrative duties when pupils are there, reducing their vital and supportive interaction with pupils; and would also force them to drop other essential opportunities to enhance and encourage the pupils' use of the library."
The council will reveal its full decision at a budget meeting of the cabinet next week.
Meanwhile, a petition will be handed to the Scottish Parliament today over national library cuts, with a protest due to be held at Holyrood..
The petition warns: "The cuts to book budgets, library opening hours, mobile services, branches, and the drastic and unnecessary deletion of professional posts strike at those most in need of a library service and those least able to protest against the cuts in that service – the less affluent, the elderly, the frail people who are challenged mentally and physically and their carers, those who look after babies and toddlers and, crucially, our children – who are our future."
The Scottish Poetry Library produced badges this week which read: "Save libraries" and "read poetry".
Services across Scotland are under threat, from Dumfries where seven libraries face the axe, to Argyll and Bute, West Dunbartonshire and North Ayrshire, which each plan to close three.
Today sees a national day of protest against 400 planned library closures across the UK, on what has been declared Save our Libraries day.
Edinburgh was awarded the title of first Unesco City of Literature in 2004 in recognition of its literary heritage, vibrant contemporary scene and aspirations for its future.
Preliminary estimates, said the City of Literature would generate about 2.2 million a year for the capital and some 2.1m to the rest of Scotland.
As WRITERS and illustrators living in Edinburgh, or regularly working in Edinburgh schools, we urge you not to make school librarians' hours sessional. This short-sighted cut would undermine the highly qualified professional status of librarians.
Paying them only for time when the school is open, rather than for non-contact time, would force them to undertake essential administrative duties when pupils are there, reducing their vital and supportive interaction with pupils; and would also force them to drop other essential opportunities to enhance and encourage the pupils' use of the library.
Librarians are well placed to deliver and facilitate cross-curricular work, and with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, this can only become more important. If school librarians' hours are cut in this blunt and brutal way, they will no longer have the time to organise writing workshops, author visits and other literature and cross-curricular projects, which would mean Edinburgh pupils would miss out on vital chances to work with writers.
This attack on the importance of libraries and librarians at the heart of education is deeply embarrassing for Edinburgh, making it appear that the councillors in Unesco's first City of Literature no longer value literature nor those who are professionally trained to promote literature.
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