Swindon Council’s plans to close 11 out of 15 libraries has been slammed as “very detrimental to Swindon children” by the region’s headteachers.
Twenty-five headteachers have written an open letter to the council urging it to reconsider the "drastic" plans to close most of the region's libraries and the mobile library provision.
The proposals will see only four libraries continue to be run by the council – Central, West Swindon, North Swindon and Highworth - in order to make £1.5m worth of savings.
The letter claimed that the plans would be "very detrimental to Swindon children" and will place disadvantaged children at a "much greater risk" of not having adequate literacy resources in the home and therefore lower attainment in "their most crucial years".
The letter read: "We appreciate the financial pressures on the local authority, but believe that other areas of expenditure should come under much closer scrutiny before library closures. We ask, on behalf of our children, that as part of the consultation, Swindon Borough Council reconsider this drastic step and seek an alternative approach."
Last year, Swindon’s libraries budget was £2.6m, but by 2020 it will have been reduced to £1.1m, with most of the savings to come as early as next year, the Swindon Advertiser has reported.
One of the signatories Sally Clarke, headteacher at Nythe Primary School, said: “Library facilities do not merely represent access to books for children, they represent high academic aspirations and raised levels of social understanding within their communities. The lack of a university for a town this size is already a limiting factor, but the removal of the libraries will strike at the heart of social and academic aspiration for the people of the town.”
Kelly James, headteacher at Lawn Primary School, who also signed the letter, added: “Reading is the key that unlocks doors to life. It’s just that important – if you can’t read then you can’t look at a bus timetable, you can’t do your shopping, pay your bills or fill in forms."
In response to the letter, a spokesman for Swindon Borough Council said: “We have received a wide range of responses as part of the libraries consultation and we welcome the submission from the Swindon headteachers. The views expressed in the letter will be considered along with all the other consultation responses.”
Library campaigners across Swindon have welcomed the headteachers' letter. Sarah Church, chairman of Save Swindon’s Libraries, said: “We very much hope that the borough council will listen to Swindon's most experienced teaching professionals now they have written to highlight the importance of the library service and its staff to the school children of Swindon. It is well documented that reading for pleasure at primary age is a key determinant in later life success: continued access to the library service is central to improving the lives of Swindon’s children.”
Nick Poole, c.e.o. of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), also wrote an open letter to Swindon Council earlier this year urging the council to reconsider the cuts. Poole said closing these libraries “will cause long-term damage" to the futures of constituents.