Fighting to keep our libraries

Libraries work. They make people literate. Here is some evidence. Please note few government ministers or local councillors use genuine evidence to support their decisions.

“Enjoyment of reading has a greater impact on a child’s educational achievement than their parents’ socio-economic status.” (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Reading for Change, 2002. 2009).

“Children who read for pleasure make more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of ten and sixteen than those who rarely read.” (Institute of Education, 2013).

“Overall, young people who enjoy reading very much are nearly five times as likely to read at the expected level for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all.” (Children’s and Young People’s Reading Today, 2012).

“All pupils must be encouraged to read widely across both fiction and non-fiction to develop their knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live, to establish an appreciation and love of reading, and to gain knowledge across the curriculum. (Department for Education 2013.4)

“Reading at Key Stage 3 should be wide, varied and challenging. Pupils should be expected to read whole books, to read in depth and to read for pleasure and information.” (Department for Education 2013.2)


They work because reading is not about orthography alone. It is about immersion, experience, communication. Reading is like other human experiences. Do it a lot and you get good at it.

They are cheap. In total, they cost less than a billion pounds when trillions is wasted on Trident, the banks and a failed austerity project that has given us almost permanent economic crisis since the 2008 crash.

Shutting them costs a fortune, not just in redundancies but in the damage to society:

  • UK Gross Domestic Product in 2025 could be £32bn higher if action had been taken to ensure all children were reading well by the age of 11. (The Read On, Get On campaign supported by the Save the Children, the Confederation of British Industry and the Teach First charity).

They fill a gap:

*One in six children don’t read a book in a month.

*Four million children do not have a book at home.

*The National Literacy Trust did a survey with 17,000 people in the sample. This is rather bigger than Michael Gove’s Premier Inn ‘evidence.’ It found that a child who visits a library is twice as likely to be a fluent reader as one who does not.

They provide a lot more than books: story telling sessions, research, help with the internet, access to work, local history, a community meeting place, etc.

They are popular. They get high user satisfaction surveys.

They are heavily used by the young, the poor and the elderly:

• Nearly half (44%) of the 8-16 year olds surveyed use their public library Where they are not used, by many people in work, it is because opening hours have been reduced.

They keep up with technological change. Libraries used to have cuneiform, papyrus scrolls and the codex. Now they have the codex, ebooks and the internet.

They are ill-served by those given the job of superintending them. Ed Vaizey has, on the many occasions libraries have proposed to shut over half their libraries, been minded not to intervene. If Ed read more widely, he would understand that ‘minded’ is a most inelegant word.

They are a statutory service, but councils often say they are not, ignoring legal advice.

They have lots of good friends among the public. Hundreds of thousands of people have petitioned, rallied and protested.

They have few genuine friends among politicians.

*Local authority spending has declined by a quarter in real terms.

*Vaizey does not exercise his duty to superintend.

*Hundreds of libraries have closed or been handed over to an uncertain future with volunteers.

*Opening hours have been slashed.

*Book funds have been slashed.

*The Local Government Association occasionally fails to say that libraries are statutory.

*They are always top of the hit list for cuts. Labour cuts as badly as the Tories, meekly implementing Osborne’s idiotic programme. The Lib Dems prop up the Tories then hypocritically try to distance themselves from them.

Politicians claim credit for things they haven’t done. Vaizey preens about the Birmingham and Liverpool libraries started before his government came to power.

The law is not enough. The 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act’s provision of a ‘comprehensive and efficient service’ has never been comprehensively and efficiently explained.

A library needs a librarian. 12% of full time staff have been sacked. A library without a librarian is a room.

Volunteers can supplement a professionally run library service. They should not substitute for them.

Not all countries are doing what we are doing.

*There are 180 new libraries in South Korea.

*There are many more libraries in China.

*There are more libraries and librarians in Japan.

*There are no wholesale closures in Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain or Finland to give just a few examples. Across the world many people ask me in genuine bewilderment: “How can the UK do this?”

Libraries attract a lot of expensive inquiries: How many have there been in recent decades, with no action or leadership to show for them? Some inquiries say appropriate things but take forever to get published: The word is Sieghart admits volunteers are not the solution. He also indicates that we need an influx of graduates into the library profession. That might draw a wry laugh from librarian colleagues.

You don’t know what you’ve got with a library until it’s gone. The only real friends libraries have got are Friends groups, users, staff, communities, unions, authors and illustrators. We have to build the strongest coalition here in the real Big Society to fight the greatest ignorance and neglect….up there in the Small and Small Minded Society also known as the political ‘elite’ (another word that proves language can be misappropriated).

By Alan Gibbons

For more information on Alan’s work or the campaign to keep libraries follow the links below



See also Terry Potter’s review of one of Alan ‘s latest books ‘Hate’ in the reviews section




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