Campaigners welcome literacy drive but condemn government hypocrisy

Campaigners welcome literacy drive but condemn government hypocrisy

Library groups have welcomed education secretary Nicky Morgan’s drive for all children to have a library card, although campaigners say the news rings hollow at a time when many public libraries are closing.

Desmond Clarke, a veteran library campaigner who has spoken out against library cuts in the past, said the announcement was “very good news”.

“I’m delighted Nicky Morgan is going to work hard to improve literacy in this country and everyone should welcome what she’s trying to do,” he said, adding that having the Department of Education, a government body, recognise the importance of libraries was “terribly important”.

Nick Poole, chief executive of Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP), agreed, saying: “We welcome that Nicky Morgan has recognised the difference that libraries and librarians make in helping children build skills and confidence through reading…. Trained librarians have the knowhow to engage children and their parents, recommend appropriate books and resources and support literacy in a structured way.”

For Sarah Mears, chair of the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians (ASCEL), anything that encourages children into libraries is a “good thing”. She said: “There are challenges but the more we can encourage children into libraries the better.”

However, other library campaigners have pointed out the hypocrisy of the announcement at a time when another government body – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), led by culture secretary Ed Vaizey – is allowing local authorities to close public libraries.

Chair of the library campaign Laura Swaffield said public libraries were closing “by the hundred – especially the small local ones children can actually get to”.

She said Morgan should “have a word” with Vaizey, who has “done nothing to help local people trying to stop this wholesale destruction [of the library service]”.

Meanwhile author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons asked: “So will there be an immediate moratorium on all library closures? Will funding be restored to the three hundred plus library points closed in the stewardship of this government? Will Vaizey halt the cuts to library staff that have seen a fall of 20% under this government? Will we see action to stop the slashing of opening hours and book stocks, an issue that hit the headlines at the crisis-ridden Library of Birmingham? Answers please.”

He added that he thought it was "astonishing" that Morgan says she supports children enrolling in libraries whilst refusing to make libraries in schools a statutory requirement. "Morgan could also help by demanding schools spend money on books," Gibbons said.

Children’s authors also complained about closures. Gary Meehan said Morgan’s campaign is “pointless symbolism if the libraries have either been closed down or had their hours slashed so kids can't use them”. Lydia Syson said every child needs an “accessible, open library”.  

This morning the Telegraph published an article co-written by David Walliams and education secretary Nicky Morgan saying that children's literacy should be a "national mission". As part of this, the government will work with the Reading Agency to set up Chatterbooks book clubs in 200 primary schools and hopes “many other schools” will get involved. It said will also “support” the Reading Agency’s goal of getting every eight-year-old enrolled at their local library.