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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."

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Please, please can we stop speaking merely of the damage of library closures. The real issues are so much greater. We need help to raise awareness of the insidious act that more and more councils are employing - the hidden cuts, as a result of recognising the backlash of outright closure. They silently hollow out library services by de-staffing, reducing the service and the help on offer, expecting the remaining staff to do more, and running down the stock within.

We really must stop celebrating open doors; It's an easy message but a shallow one.

Consider,

The open door there for an elderly couple without internet access at home - but no staff to support their needs within to access the online world or time to help when run down IT equipment repeatedly fails and defeats them.

The open door for the child who has no access to skilled staff to encourage or advise on their book choice or able to locate a resource they need.

The child who enters and leaves that open door with no praise or interaction as the hard pressed staff are attached to pods and everything is automated via self-service machines, all in the name of efficiency. This was soul destroying to watch for a parent like me, who has children with a love of books, nurtured by a skilled children's librarian who knew how to engage and excite the interest of the children, before the cuts removed her, and her expertise, completely from their lives.

The open door for the student who wants access to help and knowledge to further their education or to complete a homework task but whose library is not open when they need it, and even when it is, is insufficiently staffed, meaning limited time to help answer simple queries or to help find the resource the young adult requires.

I've seen all these scenarios in library services hollowed out but celebrating keeping doors open. Let's not perpetuate the myth that open doors provide services.

The Library Campaign (www.librarycampaign.com) is working hard to work up a set of universal library offers, against which anyone can judge a library service and to listen to and respond to the changing libraries agenda.

Next month Speak up for Libraries holds a second conference, on 23rd November, open to all, to explore the issues facing libraries in the UK and to find a way forward collectively. If you care about libraries do book a place! http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/speakers.asp

The full speech linked 'libraries and librarians' right from the start. Seems he can't quite conceive of one without the other...
He praised the librarians he knew as a kid, who treated him with a respect he wasn't used to as an eight-year-old, suggested books, got inter-library loans.
And he said: 'If you perceive a library as a shelf of books... it is being misused.'
After centuries of information scarcity, we now have overwhelming 'information glut'.
'Information has value. The right information has enormous value. People need help navigating it. Librarians are for that.'
So the hundreds of libraries now being dumped on to community volunteers just aren't libraries in Gaiman's eyes.
Or The Library Campaign's.
Come to the Speak Up for Libraries conference, 23 November, and help start sorting out the mess.

Please, please can we stop speaking merely of the damage of library closures. The real issues are so much greater. We need help to raise awareness of the insidious act that more and more councils are employing - the hidden cuts, as a result of recognising the backlash of outright closure. They silently hollow out library services by de-staffing, reducing the service and the help on offer, expecting the remaining staff to do more, and running down the stock within.

We really must stop celebrating open doors; It's an easy message but a shallow one.

Consider,

The open door there for an elderly couple without internet access at home - but no staff to support their needs within to access the online world or time to help when run down IT equipment repeatedly fails and defeats them.

The open door for the child who has no access to skilled staff to encourage or advise on their book choice or able to locate a resource they need.

The child who enters and leaves that open door with no praise or interaction as the hard pressed staff are attached to pods and everything is automated via self-service machines, all in the name of efficiency. This was soul destroying to watch for a parent like me, who has children with a love of books, nurtured by a skilled children's librarian who knew how to engage and excite the interest of the children, before the cuts removed her, and her expertise, completely from their lives.

The open door for the student who wants access to help and knowledge to further their education or to complete a homework task but whose library is not open when they need it, and even when it is, is insufficiently staffed, meaning limited time to help answer simple queries or to help find the resource the young adult requires.

I've seen all these scenarios in library services hollowed out but celebrating keeping doors open. Let's not perpetuate the myth that open doors provide services.

The Library Campaign (www.librarycampaign.com) is working hard to work up a set of universal library offers, against which anyone can judge a library service and to listen to and respond to the changing libraries agenda.

Next month Speak up for Libraries holds a second conference, on 23rd November, open to all, to explore the issues facing libraries in the UK and to find a way forward collectively. If you care about libraries do book a place! http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/speakers.asp

The full speech linked 'libraries and librarians' right from the start. Seems he can't quite conceive of one without the other...
He praised the librarians he knew as a kid, who treated him with a respect he wasn't used to as an eight-year-old, suggested books, got inter-library loans.
And he said: 'If you perceive a library as a shelf of books... it is being misused.'
After centuries of information scarcity, we now have overwhelming 'information glut'.
'Information has value. The right information has enormous value. People need help navigating it. Librarians are for that.'
So the hundreds of libraries now being dumped on to community volunteers just aren't libraries in Gaiman's eyes.
Or The Library Campaign's.
Come to the Speak Up for Libraries conference, 23 November, and help start sorting out the mess.