LOCAL authority leaders have been taken to book by an opposition councillor for relying on senior pupils to monitor other children in school libraries.

The plans form part of a pilot scheme the council is running at Galashiels, Peebles, and Kelso high schools, where pupils and volunteers will be working alongside, and in some cases in lieu of, librarians.

Scottish Borders Council is also planning to introduce the money-saving measure at the region’s other six secondary schools.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday, Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage questioned the safety of the proposals: “I understand that Scottish Borders is not shutting any school libraries but moving to a ‘library without staff’ and that the pupil voice will be at the heart of this scheme.

“Why then am I getting complaints from pupils about this proposal?

"They feel that the bullying they are subjected to in other areas within the school will now carry over into what they feel is currently a safe learning environment: the library.

“Pupils left, unsupervised with expensive equipment, is a recipe for disaster. How do you propose to mitigate these potential problems?”

East Berwickshire councillor Carol Hamilton fielded the question on behalf of the council’s administration.

She replied: “As has been mentioned before, this is a pilot project in three high school libraries: Kelso, Peebles, and Galashiels.

“Six high schools will remain the same.

"We have not said that the pilot libraries will be run without staff, we are modernising provision and trying out a range of developments, for example self-serve models for borrowing and returning books, as well as a range of staff being in the library to extend opening hours.

“I’m surprised that you are receiving complaints from pupils as we have not reduced any staff time yet.

“The council will be engaging regularly with pupils throughout the pilot period to ascertain their views, and the modernisation will be responsive and dynamic to pupil feedback.

“S1 to S4 will have library provision in their timetable with a class teacher. S5 to S6 students may use the library during study periods and will be trusted to use the space, however it will be monitored by senior pupils who have volunteered on a rota basis.

“We have confidence in our senior pupils to provide leadership, just as they need mentored in other aspects of the school.

“All books will be tagged and security gates fitted to mitigate theft or loss.

“We do not anticipate bullying as the new Quarriers resilience practitioners will support pupils and will be in the libraries at peak times.”

Several librarians lost their jobs last year, with less senior staff taking over.

Professional bodies representing Scotland’s librarians have lined up to condemn the move.

In response to councillor Hamilton’s reply, councillor Ramage said: “Can I just support my fellow councillors who have raised concerns about Hawick High School.

“Edinburgh City Council selected four libraries to take part in this open library model and are spending £350,000 to make it work installing closed circuit television cameras, emergency phones, lighting, speakers and alarms.

“Losing librarians is a short-sighted saving. Surely it would be cheaper to upskill library staff.

“You’re talking about putting senior pupils in and yet we have complaints about senior pupils at Hawick High School with the way they were behaving.

“You’re talking about a pilot scheme, what is the timescale that you’re basing this on.

“I’ve talked to librarians and they’re very concerned. There’s a lot of skill there that we’re going to be losing.”

Speaking after the meeting, councillor Ramage commented: “The last time I visited Hawick High School library I was appalled that the space was cleared and in a poor state of repair– it had the air of a deserted cowboy town with tumbleweed blowing across.  

“The executive for children and young people informed me that the librarian, at Hawick High School, was delighted that the library has since been renovated.

“My answer to that is I am glad that he has an appropriate working environment in which the pupils at Hawick High School can learn, her answer being irrelevant to my initial question.

“Losing librarians is a short sighted saving. I would suggest that it would be more cost effective to upskill them for the 21st century.