Gaiman: closing libraries 'like stopping vaccinations'

Author Neil Gaiman has said that closing libraries is "like stopping vaccinations", and that the "insidious" effects will be felt by our children.

Delivering the second annual Reading Agency lecture this evening (14th October) at the Barbican centre in London, Gaiman drew direct links between children's literacy levels and rising prison populations, and said it was the duty of all "human beings and citizens" to foster a love of reading in children.

Gaiman said: "The consequences of shutting down health services is messy—people die and there is blood. The closure of libraries is insidious. We are inflicting it on our children . . .  It's like stopping vaccinations." He added that while he felt sympathy for hard-pressed local authorities, "I feel more sympathy for people in towns and cities and rural areas who are now having information denied to them."

Speaking before the event, the US-based author said libraries on both sides of the Atlantic faced the same problems, but that the political situation in the UK was exacerbating the problem. He said: "For reasons I don't understand, the government here is attached to austerity in a way that the US isn't. When they close things, they don't seem to do it with any sense of pride, which is sometimes how it is presented here. They also seem easier to shame into changing their minds. In Florida there were attempts to close several libraries, and people kicked up a fuss and embarrassed them into stopping. I'm not sure you could embarrass Sunderland [which recently closed nine libraries] in the same way."

Gaiman also supported the idea voiced by Jeanette Winterson, who gave the inaugural lecture last year, that online giants such as Amazon and Google could be taxed to fund a library service. He said: "Amazon and Google both understand the importance of books and the importance of information . . . Having these giant, stomping, ****-off monolith corporations running around, perhaps if tax issues were sorted out, they could contribute."

The author, who said he grew up in libraries, also said that children should be allowed to read what they want. "I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children . . . do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer," he said.

Gaiman also praised publishers for supporting literacy, despite issues within the industry. He told journalists: "Publishers are trying to work out what the industry will look like in five years' time, and 10 years' time. They've seen the rule book torn up and shredded, and the shredded paper burnt. But they are aware that older readers come from younger readers, and that they have an obligation to them."