Staff at independent bookshop Kenilworth Books have written an open letter to Theresa May lamenting the "deep injustice" of libraries cuts, which they say are threatening the nation’s literacy.
Tamsin Rosewell and Judy Brook of the Warwickshire bookshop sent the letter to Theresa May, along with a copy of The Last of the Spirits by Chris Priestley (Bloomsbury), in an attempt to persuade her to acknowledge the impact of the mass closures in England on society in the hope she will intervene to halt them and provide more funding to local councils.
The letter argued that libraries "stand as sentinels against ignorance in society", have a "long history as places of sanctuary" and "offer a unique combination of safety and unfettered freedom".
It argued that the loss of libraries will affect inclusion and diversity in society and the destruction of the service will "leave the next generation at the mercy of ignorance".
“Without robust funding for libraries to purchase books, we will quickly lose access to the many voices, perspectives and opinions of authors, especially those from traditionally under-represented groups", said the letter. "We also stand to lose the many wonderful events organised by libraries, which add light and character to a community. It is wrong that libraries should be pitched against other social services, as if social support of any kind can be compared for value to society. As they always have been in the past, libraries are a vital intervention and investment for present and future generations."
A total of 478 libraries have closed across England, Scotland and Wales between 2010-2016 according to figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), with the number of closures in 2017 due to be released this week. Meanwhile, almost 8,000 librarian’s jobs have been in the last six years, as a result of the closures, according to a report by the BBC, which also revealed the amount of volunteers in libraries had almost doubled since 2010, rising from 15,861 to 31,403.
Rosewell and Brook's letter argued that if the country remains on its present course of closures, "then we leave this next generation at the mercy of ignorance. And close on the heels of ignorance comes appalling want".
It continued: "Already, England has the lowest literacy standards in the world (OECD 2017), with 1 in 7 adults lacking basic literacy skills – figures that give us a glimpse of a bleak future if we remain on this destructive course. We really cannot afford as a nation to lose our libraries or our librarians, together they form one of the foundation stones of our culture. Removing the support of libraries from our children’s lives feels like a deep injustice, perceived and felt all the more finely for the knowledge that it is happening while we lament great want of literacy."
Brook, owner of Kenilworth Books, told The Bookseller that nearby in Coventry many libraries were under threat and that fighting for them is "very dear to [their] souls".
"Libraries are integral to society and it is important that people are able to access them. We thought that sending the letter was really worth doing and hope that it will help put libraries back on the agenda and raise awareness of the importance of them."
Meanwhile, Rosewell said that the closure of libraries and removal of librarians "should be of concern to the whole of the British book industry".
The bookshop is no stranger to campaigning. Earlier this year, it sent a copy of S F Said’s middle-grade fantasy book Phoenix (David Fickling Books) illustrated by Dave McKean, to US president Donald Trump to “help fill” the White House shelves and show how books can “destroy ignorance”. Rosewell has also led the way in calling for an end to deep discounting on books and has drawn up what an example of a modern Net Book Agreement may look like.
Last week authors Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman and Neil Gaiman and 150 other book trade figures have lent their support to a campaign to halt the decline in school libraries spearheaded by CILIP, the library and information association.