School library: purpose

Your school library is a catalyst for literacy and reading and for teaching and scaffolding inquiry learning.


Introduction to the school library
School library role
School library and the school community
Library information landscape
School library and National Library
School library and the Public Library
School library and specialist libraries
School library and NZ curriculum
Key competencies

Introduction to the school library

"We hope that libraries will always exist as places for learners to find information, resources, services, and instruction. But formats, technologies, learning needs, and our schools are evolving. And so are students themselves. Our entire information and communication landscapes have shifted—and this shift will only continue." - Valenza & Johnston (October 2009)

The school library is central to learning and plays a key role as a place for encouraging innovation, curiosity, and problem solving. Your library is a catalyst for literacy and reading and for teaching and scaffolding inquiry learning. School libraries make a difference to students’ understanding and achievement and provide support for teaching and learning throughout the school. The school library is an important part of the school community and reflects and welcomes this community.

Your school library plays a key role in the cultural and social life of the school. It can be a central point for engagement with all kinds of reading, cultural activities, access to information, knowledge building, deep thinking and lively discussion.

School Library role

The vision, principles and management of your school library can be recorded in your school library management statement. This document reflects your school’s vision for learning and underpins your library’s services, and organisation.

Learning and teaching

The school library provides a model for inquiry learning and building knowledge and confidence in seeking and processing information. The school library is pivotal to developing 21st century learners.

There is a large and growing body of evidence showing the impact of the school library on student achievement.

It is a fundamental resource for supporting students’ learning, and a key support for teaching staff. Your school library reflects and encourages collaborative learning and sharing of ideas.

Read research about school libraries and learning

Literacy and reading

School libraries are places for learning and thinking, and play a key role in supporting and developing enjoyment of reading and multiple literacies.

"A sanctuary, a mine of treasure, a house of maps to secret lives in secret worlds… - the library became my other home.” Joy Cowley.

There is a Pedagogy of the Library, which informs and guides the services of New Zealand School Libraries. This document based on current and future focused thinking reflects libraries that engage and support all learners.

School library and the school community

Your school library can also play a key role in building a learning community. A school library reflects students’ identities through ensuring that the languages and cultures of the school community are an integral part of the library’s collection, services, and environment.

The library is a place for inclusiveness. See The School Library and learning in the information landscape, p.13 where the whole second paragraph under role and learning in the information landscape begins: “An important quality of the school library is its potential for inclusiveness.

The International Federation of Library Association's (IFLA) Manifesto states:

"The school library provides information and ideas that are fundamental to functioning successfully in today's information and knowledge-based society. The school library equips students with lifelong learning skills and develops the imagination, enabling them to live as responsible citizens" (2008).

The school library is learning environment for the whole school community - a learning commons.

Library information landscape

School libraries are unique but they are also part of a much wider information landscape. The school library is an ideal place to learn about the way that libraries work and how to use libraries. For some students their school library will be their first experience of a library.

The school library can connect with other libraries, including public libraries, for a diverse range of information resources.

Jim Rettig President, ALA, (American Library Association) 2008-09, describes libraries as “the only providers of universally accessible lifelong learning opportunities.”

School library services

National Library Services to Schools provide a wide range of fiction and non-fiction resources for primary and secondary schools.

You can explore our online resources, which includes selected High interest topics of curriculum–linked web-based resources.

Index New Zealand (INNZ) provides access to abstracts and descriptions for approximately 1,000 journals, magazines and newspapers and includes general interest material, social research, the environment, science, agriculture, current affairs, the arts and humanities. The National Library Collection Delivery will provide full text articles as a PDF file emailed to your school.

School library and the public library

Public libraries are for the whole community. Many school libraries work closely with their local public libraries and encourage their students to become library users within and beyond the school library environment.

Regular visits to the public library as part of your school’s learning programme will enrich students’ reading and build their confidence as library users.

Successful collaboration with your local public library can also benefit whole families, as students encourage parents and siblings to go to the public library after school, during the weekends and in school holidays.

Public library holiday reading programmes have been shown to reduce the summer reading slide and in many cases increase literacy levels (PDF) and a love of reading.

School library and specialist libraries

Secondary schools in particular can alert their students to digital and sometimes print resources available through specialist libraries.

For example, senior secondary history students may access Archives New Zealand and the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Resources for learning has more information on access to primary and secondary, and Māori and Pasifika information sources.

New Zealand government organisations also have libraries where information may be accessed to support student research.

School Library and New Zealand curriculum

The school library is an integral part of teaching and learning in the school. It scaffolds and provides access to resources, which support the New Zealand curriculum.

The school library embodies the principles of the New Zealand curriculum:

  • promoting cultural diversity and inclusion
  • reflecting Treaty of Waitangi principles
  • and developing all learners in a quality and coherent learning environment.

The library plays a key role in enabling community engagement, and promotes outward thinking and future focused thought and discussion.

School libraries incorporate and reflect the key competencies and values of the New Zealand curriculum, and develop “ confident, connected, actively involved life-long learners.

See also the New Zealand Curriculum and Inquiry Learning.

Key competencies

Your school library can promote and model each of the key competencies. You can critically evaluate your library through looking at how the key competencies are represented and modelled.


  • Through using your school library students develop questioning skills and become creative and critical thinkers. For more indepth information, see 21st century literacy and inquiry section.
  • In the library students become active seekers and users of information.
  • Library users are supported in their inquiry learning and the school inquiry model is displayed prominently in the library and referred to regularly.
  • There is clear and well-organised library layout and signage. Visual displays prompt critical thinking and questioning.
  • Students can become competent constructors of knowledge. They use the library and its resources to find information to help solve problems and to develop an understanding of the world and “worlds” beyond their immediate experiences.
  • All learners develop and use searching skills effectively based on careful choice of information. Students and educators learn to discriminate useful and valid information relevant to their task.
  • The library encourages all learners to reflect on their own learning and to challenge their own assumptions and perceptions.
  • The library is a place where curiosity and creativity are encouraged.

Using language, symbols and texts

  • The school library includes a wide range of genre and text types, and different media: books, magazines, newspapers, and online resources.
  • Through building library literacy and specific vocabulary students broaden their language and understanding of library terms.
  • Students use a variety of media in the library. They select the best media for their context and message when sharing learning with their peers and teachers.
  • The library collection and environment reflects awareness of and empathy with a variety of cultures and languages.
  • Clear signage, symbols and Dewey interpretation charts enable students to understand the language of libraries.

Managing self

  • Your school library provides a safe environment where students are empowered to take the lead, or work as a group with others taking the initiative.
  • The library is a learning commons encouraging open forums, learning, discussion and debate.
  • The library provides levelled learning goal matrices for student use.
  • Library layout, signage and systems enable library users to be supported and facilitate responsible library use.

Relating to others

  • The library provides a welcoming environment where the needs of all users are respected.
  • There is proactive support for student learning. The library team make recommendations to teaching staff relevant to their subject specialisations and interests.
  • The library team models collaboration and provides an environment that encourages collaborative activities.
  • The library team communicates with library users in a variety of ways. For example: texting, blogs, email and face-to-face.

Participating and contributing

  • Library users are able to participate in group activities including discussions, debates and research.
  • The library creates opportunities for collaborative book sharing and reading promotion activities including author visits and special events.
  • The library team maximises opportunities to promote the use of library facilities and resources and uses their expertise to ensure that users’ needs are met.
  • The library removes barriers to use. It develops a sense of community through participating in whole school events and making the library a centre for learning and cultural events.



  • School libraries model excellence through supporting and encouraging high levels of engagement with learning.
  • Developing your school library as a place of sharing and cultural engagement means that it can also become a springboard for developing emotional intelligence.
  • School library systems and services provide access to resources that encourage and facilitate lively debate and academic excellence.

Innovation, inquiry and curiosity

  • The school library is ideally placed to foster innovation, inquiry and curiosity.
  • Your school library can be the place to go for students’ ‘wonderings.’
  • The dynamic environment of school libraries is a key source for motivating learners and igniting a spirit of curiosity, discussion and debate.


  • Libraries are founded on the principle of equity.
  • The school library promotes equity through:
    • supporting the needs of all learners
    • providing services to all students and teachers
    • reflecting the languages and cultures of the school community.
  • Your school library can support a wide range of learning needs and personal interests by ensuring books and other resources are available at all reading levels.
  • Access to online resources and provision of up to date technology to support and enhance learning within the library also promotes equity.
  • The school library aims to give every student the opportunity to learn, to enjoy reading and to create new knowledge and understanding.

Community and participation

  • The school library is a community of learners.
  • Collaboration and communication is encouraged and developed through the ways that the library team and teaching staff work together.
  • Community and participation is inherent within a school library learning commons environment and where collaborative learning is an integral part of the library.
  • Students’ new learning and ideas are valued and they are actively involved in selecting resources and planning library events and displays.
  • The library is a place for the whole school community. Pre-schoolers and parents are encouraged to explore, and use the library.

Ecological sustainability

  • The library buildings and practices model sustainability.
  • New and remodelled school libraries are designed according to environmentally sound principles.


  • Library staff model integrity through their day-to-day interactions with students and staff.
  • The school library reflects integrity through:
    • valuing different beliefs
    • encouraging the sharing of knowledge
    • promoting reading aloud with passion.
  • Your school library is a welcoming place for the whole school community.


  • The library welcomes and supports all learners and the high value placed on education and learning encourages and grows respect.
  • Library staff respect students’ individual choices in reading genre and format. They encourage diversity through selecting resources to match the different interests, cultures and languages of their students.

“Values are the ideals that give significance to our lives; that are reflected through the priorities that we choose, and that we act on consistently and repeatedly.” Brian Hall (1994:39), source Julia Atkin, Values and Beliefs (PDF)