Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson has warned that the UK is heading for a "less literate society", in an open letter urging the newly appointed culture secretary, Maria Miller, to show "leadership" and protect libraries on behalf of young readers.
Published in the Independent on Sunday yesterday, Donaldson's letter asked Miller to consider "ring-fencing council spending on council's library services" and to discuss with her colleagues the possibility of "using some of the education budget" for this purpose. Donaldson also asked: "Above all, will you (unlike your predecessor) respond to concerns and complaints, and show some leadership for our young readers?"
Donaldson criticised the current government's "utter refusal to intervene or to provide any leadership" over the "erosion of the library service". She also slammed the disproportionate cuts to libraries, varying widely from authority to authority, which have led to some areas still providing a "safe space where all are equal and welcome", and others no longer being able to.
She said the library cuts combined with bookshop closures meant children would be less likely to discover books: "I am particularly concerned about the effect the cuts and closures are having on children's reading. Today many towns have no bookshops. If they also have no library, where are children to find books? Is it a surprise that we are always reading horrifying statistics about the number of homes without books?
"If children don't discover what books they like, they are unlikely to become life-long readers, and we are therefore heading for a less literate society. Illiteracy leads to lower skills, greater social problems, higher crime rates, and a country less able to prosper in the global jobs market. So cutting libraries is a false economy. They are the best literacy resource that we have."
Donaldson was writing as she prepares for a six-week tour of UK libraries, when she will be acting out stories with visiting schoolchildren, as well as aiming to "draw attention to the erosion of the library service which is happening in so many local authorities".
Meanwhile, library campaigners have also learnt they have more time to make representations to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport after they announced they were not minded to intervene in a series of library closures.
The department had offered to accept comments until September 17th, after Ed Vaizey announced last week they saw no reason to intervene in cases across Lewisham, Bolton and the Isle of Wight.
However, after complaints that this was not enough time, the DCMS sent out a letter saying: “Whilst the Department considers that ample opportunity has already been provided for any representations to be made on the question of library services in Lewisham; in the interests of fairness and generosity an extension of time to submit representations will be allowed until 5 o’clock on 31st October 2012. However this will be the final deadline for any evidence and final representations to be made to the Department. It is not intended that this October deadline will be extended.”