CULTURE

Woeful lack of school libraries

The statistics are alarming. Of Greece’s 16,089 schools, a mere 499 have libraries, and most of those are not even in operation for lack of librarians. This vexed issue was the subject of a meeting called by a broad group of bodies representing publishers, librarians, writers and parents at the Stoa tou Vivliou book arcade on Tuesday. Citing a series of broken promises by successive governments, the speakers called for the implementation of plans made with funds from the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) and planning for CSFIV – the appointment of librarians, inclusion of libraries in the state budget, and the opening up of libraries to local communities. When he was prime minister, Costas Simitis promised that every school would get a library. As education minister, Gerasimos Arsenis made the same promise and went part of the way to keeping it by founding the first 499 libraries. His successor, Petros Efthymiou announced the foundation of a further 1,000 libraries, though he later reduced that number to 638. He did not keep his promise to fund the first 499 libraries and enrich their collections of books, nor did he renew the librarians’ contracts. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has repeated his predecessors’ promises for a library in each school. Yet a list of titles recommended for school libraries by a team of experts has been on Education Minister Marietta Giannakou’s desk since May 2004. A leaflet circulated by the Panhellenic Foundation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB) also claims that of the total 70.4 million euros earmarked for setting up libraries, the sum of 35.7 million euros has been siphoned off by various ministries to fund other, unrelated activities. Tuesday’s meeting simply reran longstanding complaints, but the charges are serious. What does the government have to say?