THE future of school libraries in Comet country is in doubt, after a council yesterday (Wednesday) took a step nearer to pulling the plug on funding.

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The county council-run Schools Library Service (SLS) provides facilities, including mobile services, books and specialist resources, to libraries at educational establishments. Many schools either subscribe to a membership or use a pay as you use (PAYU) service.

But the county council voted at its Libraries Cabinet Panel, with eight in favour and three against, to recommend to Cabinet that the service should be scrapped in spring next year.

Currently, nearly half of all county primary schools and a third of secondary schools subscribe to the service on an annual membership contract alone, with many more also using the PAYU service.

One school librarian, who asked not to be identified, said that the cuts could be “catastrophic” to schools.

“As far as we’re aware, it’s been kept very quiet. There’s been no consultation,” said the secondary school worker.

“For primary schools in particular, it’s an invaluable service. For them, it could be catastrophic.

“I’m not sure fully what would happen there, or how they arrange funding. But at secondary schools, it could have a very dramatic impact. It’s relied on so much, and provides so much.

“Special needs students, particularly those with visual impairment, use SLS services a lot, which we could never normally afford. It could be devastating if this is lost.”

Funding for the SLS is made up of income from direct buy-in from schools, and money from a Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). The county deficit for next year is expected to top £41,000.

Chris Hayward, county council cabinet member for libraries, said “The Hertfordshire Local and Libraries Cabinet Panel has recommended to Cabinet that we discontinue the support services we provide to school libraries from March 31 2012.

“The provision of school libraries has always been the responsibility of individual schools. The library service offers expert advice and support to schools on a traded basis, and it is expected to cover its costs.

“In recent years, fewer and fewer schools have been buying into the service - only a third of secondary schools and 43 per cent of primary schools now choose to buy in, with others finding alternative provision. This means that, despite restructuring in 2010, the service is running at a deficit and is no longer viable.

“If a decision is made by Cabinet to close the service, schools will still be able to purchase library materials directly from library suppliers and publishers as well as obtain professional support and advice from organisations such as the Schools Library Association.

“Secondary school librarians and primary school library co-ordinators may also be able to use existing networks and partnerships to support each other and share resources. No school library should close as a result of this decision.”

A final decision will be made by Cabinet next Monday.

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