Today The Guardian very kindly published a piece written by me, on behalf of Voices for the Library, about World Book Day, the cuts and the need for more joined up thinking in local & central government
Here is the full text;
Today is World Book day, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a worldwide celebration of reading. It is the biggest event of its kind with more than 100 countries taking part.
In the UK, the Reading Agency is co-ordinating activities with an array of exciting opportunities to promote libraries. Children and staff will dress up as their favourite literary characters, authors will give readings, excited school classes will visit their local libraries and everyone will be having a thoroughly good time.
But this is about more than just fun. Libraries play a crucial role in promoting literacy in local communities and society as a whole.
Only 40% of England's 10-year-olds have a positive attitude to reading, according to the Reading Agency, and just one in five parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children. In lower income homes, 14% of children rarely or never read for pleasure. Research carried out by the National Literacy trust also shows that, when asked, just over a quarter of 35,000 children from 188 schools said they read outside of school.
But a study conducted by the Institute of Education shows that 10 to 16 year-olds who read for pleasure do better at school. Children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The National Literacy Trust says there's overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people's life chances. "A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote. Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage."
Public libraries promote positive reading experiences from the cradle to the grave. It's all part of their lifelong learning remit. As with most things, it all starts from the beginning. For babies, children and young people there are baby-bounce, class visits, storytelling sessions, summer reading schemes, teenage reading groups, including ones specifically focused on Manga and graphic novels, for example.
For adults, though not exclusively, there are reading groups, creative writing groups, self-publishing groups, reading challenges, author visits – the list goes on.
Library staff also visit schools, nurseries, playgroups, prisons and community centres. Outreach is not just crucial in promoting the great work of libraries, and attracting more users, but it canlead to greater community involvement, empowerment and resilience.
All of this work is taking place in a time of budget reductions. Councils need to start seeing cuts to libraries as a false economy: the cuts are easy to make but the long-term consequences could be disastrous.
They need to develop and promote the key education and information role libraries have, not only within their own departments and directorates but within central government as well. More joined-up thinking is needed in local authorities; for example when drawing up a poverty reduction or education strategy, why not involve the library service? Stronger links should also be made with local schools and and higher education establishments.
Councils and policymakers need to conduct more research and evaluation into the social impact of libraries, as opposed to just relying on footfall, issue and economic data which is seen by many to be a poor indication of their true value.
It's claimed that many local councillors don't own a library card, or if they do they haven't used it in years. If this is the case, then today is a great day to start because they will see the joyous faces of children, and adults, enthralled in the telling of tales and the dedication and enthusiasm of trained and knowledgeable library staff. This might even, hopefully, influence them when making the next cut or writing the next strategy document.
Alan Wylie is a public librarian and member of Voices for the Library.