Make Repositories of Knowledge Fun Places for Children to Gather

It is locked and dark. Only old books are available. There are probably many school libraries like that. School libraries need to be developed into places where children can gather and encounter memorable books.

The funds that the central government grants to local governments to purchase books for public elementary and junior high schools are not being fully utilized. A total of ¥22 billion was granted in fiscal 2021, but only ¥12.6 billion was actually used to purchase books.

Since the use of the funds is left to the discretion of local governments, it is believed that local governments put higher priority on the enhancement of social welfare programs and information technology at schools.

It is impossible to overlook the fact that funds that should have been allocated for the purchase of books are being used to pursue other policies.

As digitization advances, society is inundated with a great deal of information. Reading activities are indispensable to acquire the abilities to judge the truth or falsity of information and to use information correctly. School libraries play increasingly important roles as places for inquiry-based learning that fosters the ability to think.

Creating a reading environment for children is an investment in the future. The funds should be used for their original purpose, not just for immediate issues. The government may need to consider providing funds in the form of subsidies that can only be used for their designated purpose.

In some schools, old books stating that Germany is divided into East and West are still in place. Books must be sorted into those that should be kept and those that should be replaced.

For this purpose, it is important to have school librarians and teachers with librarian certification who have expertise in books. They are expected to play such roles as accurately recommending books to children who come to the library saying, “I want to read an interesting book.”

It is not uncommon for school libraries to be closed for many hours because there is no school librarian on duty. School libraries also have a significant function as a place for children to spend time. Librarians may be able to detect unusual behavior in children who have worries.

More school librarians and other staff should be assigned to make school libraries places where children can casually drop by.

Some schools have carpeted floors, manga comic books and low kotatsu tables equipped with heaters and blankets so that students can stretch their legs and read in comfort. Each municipality and school should make their own such efforts.

Earlier this month, the lawmakers leagues for print culture and school libraries jointly adopted a resolution calling for better treatment of school librarians, many of whom are hired on a nonregular basis, and the improvement of books kept at school libraries. It is hoped that they will strengthen their efforts to lobby the central and local governments and lead to reforms.

A single book encountered at a library may be deeply engraved in the mind of a child and have a great impact on their life. All people concerned must share an appreciation of how important that is.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2023)