Sarah Pavey explores the link between Library Services and Student Well-being as we approach a new academic year.
As the academic year begins, new undergraduates are on the cusp of stepping into the world of higher education, armed with not just academic knowledge but for a minority also a valuable skill set acquired through their interactions with unsung heroes of their schools – the librarians and school counsellors. Yet, the true impact of these encounters goes far beyond academics; it profoundly influences their mental health and access to crucial support services in their university life.
In recent years, school libraries have undergone a transformation, with a renewed focus on fostering the joy of reading for pleasure, especially for 11-13 year olds. This shift was triggered by changes to the National Curriculum in 2014, which unfortunately pushed aside
independent research projects. While encouraging a love for reading is undeniably important, this shift has inadvertently deprived students of the essential skills required for the academic rigors and research, demands they will face at the university level. Schools, influenced by the pressure to secure top grades, have increasingly favoured rote learning. This trend has only intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and learning gaps due to missed schooling. The consequence? A generation of students who may excel in examinations but are ill-equipped to navigate the complex world of academic research and independent learning that awaits them in higher education.
The impact of these changes is not limited to academic preparedness. It extends to students’ perceptions of library and counselling services in universities. The school environment might lead students to misconstrue the role of university librarians and mental health services. The COVID-19 pandemic added another layer to this perception issue when many school librarians were furloughed or reassigned, reinforcing the notion that their role was dispensable in the education ecosystem. In schools both the librarian and counsellor, where they exist, centre on a person giving help following a lesson or referral rather than on a service available to all at any time.
But why might new undergraduates need information literacy skills for wellbeing and achievement? New students, especially those who have secured top A-Level grades for university admission, may consider library advice irrelevant. This time can be particularly challenging for students transitioning from a rote learning environment to one that demands critical thinking and independent research, as is often the case in social science and literature-based degrees. The shift from being high-achieving students in school to potentially facing
lower academic standings at university can be emotionally jarring. Receiving a poor grade on their first university essay, simply because they followed the methods that had previously brought them success, can trigger anger and resentment. This fear of failure, compounded by a fragile self-esteem during this transitional period, can have severe implications for their mental health. However, those same students have often had no contact with a school counsellor believing this person is only for those with multiple recognised mental health issues, so why would they contact wellbeing services at university?
Changing the perception of librarians and counsellors in English schools is undoubtedly a formidable task, given the current curriculum limitations. The curriculum provides limited exposure to higher education academic expectations, which can directly impact students’
mental health. A report by Barnardo’s (2023) highlights students’ complaints about inadequate school support, especially during times of academic pressure. However, some school librarians in England are already taking proactive steps by teaching academic research
and writing skills to sixth form students, often in response to international curricula or Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs). It is crucial to extend this effort to bridge the gap for school leavers without professional librarian support. By doing so, we can equip them with
the essential skills for academic writing, critical thinking, and upholding integrity standards and ensure high self esteem lessening the need for mental health services.
School librarians must actively work to change the prevailing narrative in England, showcasing their qualifications and expertise beyond merely promoting leisure reading. By doing so, they can give school leavers a distinct advantage as they embark on their higher
education journey. Additionally, they can inform students about the support available from university librarians to ensure academic success and from mental health services for wellbeing, should they struggle. In a recent chapter authored by Sarah Pavey and school
counsellor Dr. Ros Sewell, titled “Perceptions of Support Worker Roles in English Secondary Schools: Impact on Transition to Higher Education” we delve into how the perception of school librarians and school counsellors affects access to these services at university. This
study underscores the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the pivotal roles these support workers play in students’ lives during their transition to higher education and makes suggestions as to how this might be achieved.
To bridge this gap, it is essential to change the perception of school librarians in England and foster increased collaboration between universities and schools By recognising the value of school librarians and the importance of information literacy, we can better support the mental health and academic success of new undergraduates as they embark on their journey into higher education.
Barnado’s. (2023). It’s hard to talk. Expanding mental health support teams in education.
Department for Education (2014) National Curriculum. Available at:
Pavey, S. J., & Sewell, R. (2023). Perceptions of Support Worker Roles in English Secondary
Schools: Impact on Transition to Higher Education. In Perspectives on Enhancing Student
Transition Into Higher Education and Beyond (pp. 1-20). IGI Global.