Since 2010, councils have abandoned hundreds of libraries, leaving the local community with the responsibility of running them. Now, roughly 500 of the UK’s 3,850 libraries are run by volunteers. Last year saw the closure of 100 public libraries, with the looming knowledge that more are heading towards the same fate.
Everybody should have access to a public library. Literary culture takes a huge role in the construction of society. Reading and writing help us make sense of a world that is rapidly changing. They give us a voice, but also allow us to tap into the voice and minds of others. Literature is paramount for development. And most importantly, we should have the breadth of that knowledge at our fingertips. For free. Yet funding continues to be slashed, and with it all our libraries could be at risk of falling.
Furthermore, it’s not just the future of public libraries that need concern. Budget cuts see that school libraries are already closing. Perhaps this is the most concerning reality. School libraries are essential tools for improving children’s literacy and attainment, therefore, with libraries quickly dropping off the grid, we should expect a drop in children’s development.
But what would our world look like without them?
Libraries are more than simply vessels for education, they are also cultural treasures that need to be preserved. In an ideal world, a world in which councils realise their universal importance, these buildings act as social and cultural hubs. They would play a vital role in the community by not only providing access to free reading material, but also to IT. They would provide an area to socialise for free, and help the younger generation have the best start in life, no matter their background or their parent’s pay grade. Universal accessibility, for no cost. These are the very reasons why they should be saved.
“If students are denied access to free reading material, many students from low income families very quickly lose their right to education. It affects us all.”
But with the future of libraries firmly straddled on the back of community volunteers, what steps can be taken to ensure that they remain stable for generations to come? The first step I believe, is a universal acceptance of their importance.
A case in Scotland reiterates my point. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, reveals in a column of the Bookseller that her ‘lifelong love of reading’ is the force which ‘compelled her and her government to increase its budget for funding the arts’. Culture is a powerful construct, able to transcend boundaries and change lives as we know it. Literature, and therefore libraries remain at the heart of culture, and thus heritages which need to be preserved.
The Bookseller describes how the arts trade in Scotland ‘had anticipated a drop in arts funding’. As a result, a flood of high-profile writers wrote to the Scottish Government and urged it not to cut its funds in the sector. As a result, Creative Scotland saw a surprise increase in funding; a suspected increase of ‘21.2%, to £38.9m, in 2018/19’. This goes to show that there can only be progress with widespread action.
The 1st of March saw the annual return of World Book Day, an event in sponsorship with National Book Tokens. This is a scheme that aims to improve children’s access and engagement with literacy and culture. This year, independent charity the Reading Agency coordinated with World Book Day in libraries, aiming to increase their involvement at this huge event. As a result, World Book Day offered a plethora of activities and positive PR about libraries, consequently putting them centre stage. They also included a library joining message in the backs of many £1 books, thus encouraging a boost in children membership with their local library. This is important as it not only proves the importance of libraries as an irreplaceable cultural hub across generations, but also allows the younger generation to become passionate about reading. A small yet necessary step.
For many people, lack of access to libraries results in a lack of access to literacy. This is a startling fact, one which should prompt action from the community, particularly students whom, without access to both school and public libraries, would struggle to complete their studies. If students are denied access to free reading material, many students from low income families very quickly lose their right to education. It affects us all.
“If your local or school library service is under threat, take the time to contact your local council to show your support within the community and explain why libraries are important.”
According to Voices for the Library, over 10 % of UK libraries are currently under threat. That’s over 500 out of a total UK public library provision of just over 4,500. Some councils are suggesting that volunteers can run library services. This does not consider the professional and ethical standards to which professional librarians must adhere, including data protection. Library closures and cutbacks are determined by the local authority but may be influenced by spending restrictions imposed on them by central government, just as was highlighted in the Creative Scotland case. So how can we respond?
If your local or school library service is under threat, take the time to contact your local council to show your support within the community and explain why libraries are important. You could also contact your MP. Similarly, you could check with your local council’s regulations about how to start a petition. Perhaps one is already in process? Check through social media pages and make sure to your presence is known. An active role within your community could help to reinvigorate the role of libraries and encourage people to use them more.
A future without libraries would be very sparse. The literary heritage would decline, and with it, less will be able to experience the simple pleasure of reading and learning. Help show the Government that arts funds should not be cut.