The government has announced plans to improve literacy by promoting public library membership in primary schools. But the move has had a mixed reaction, with campaigner Laura Swaffield describing the news as a “bad joke for World Book Day”.
The government has put together an action plan, entitled Reading: The Next Steps, that urges all primary schools to arrange library membership for year 3 pupils (aged 7-8).
It is also setting up a fund of £200,000 to support up to 200 primary schools, where reading attainment is low, to set up book clubs, and is providing £570,000 of funding for the poetry recitation competition Poetry by Heart, which is run by Sir Andrew Motion and the Poetry Archive.
School reform minister Nick Gibb said: “Nothing is more important than ensuring every child can read well. Poor reading can hold people back throughout their adult lives, preventing them from achieving their full potential. The measures outlined today are designed to build on the progress made so far and help primary schools in the vital role they play in driving up literacy standards across England.”
However, the news comes at a time when cuts are being made to library services across the country. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), council spending on libraries in England dropped from £783m in 2012/13 to £757.3m in 2013/14, a fall of 3.3%. Opening hours and staff numbers also fell last year. School libraries are also suffering under government cuts, as councils look to save money by scrapping school library services.
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publisher Association, said the action plan will go “some way” in driving literacy but stressed the importance of schools having their own libraries.
“We repeat our call that it should be made a statutory requirement for every school to have a library,” he said. “Only then can we ensure that every child in Britain, wherever they live and what ever their background, has access to a good range of reading materials.”
Author and campaigner Alan Gibbons said: “I am delighted to see that the government has belatedly recognised the importance of public libraries. Encouraging youngsters to become members of a library is a first vital step in developing a lifelong reading habit. The National Literacy Trust found in its research that a child who goes to a library is twice as likely to be a goodreader and that firm basis of reading for pleasure is essential to the growth of a literate, confident citizen."
But Laura Swaffield of the Library Campaign said the new action plan was a “bad joke for World Book Day”.
“What’s the good of having a library card if your library is closed?” she told The Bookseller. “This is ridiculous. Even when libraries are open, stock is reduced, the number of specialist staff is reduced, even opening hours are reduced.”