Children’s laureate Chris Riddell has used the re-launch of the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to call for a probe into school library provision in the country.
At the event to re-launch the group in the House of Lords on Tuesday night (31st January), Riddell said: “I hope one of the things that this APPG will do is pressure the government to actually look into the school library provision.
“Let’s get some data and find out what the provision is and then we can actually do something about it. We should use this as an opportunity to go forward, we have got the chance to have a generation of brilliant engaged readers, and that’s what we all want.”
Also speaking at the event was libraries minister Rob Wilson, who repeated his appeals for local councils to think of new and “imaginative” ways of running their library services in order to meet the changing needs of their constituents.
He said that libraries should not be “soft” targets for closures and urged local authorities to make decisions based on “robust evidence rather then being ad-hoc and reactive”.
However, he also said that some closures were justified.
“Some people think of libraries as buildings, but it’s not just the buildings that make libraries and make successful libraries, it’s the service within them that’s so important,” Wilson said. “Sometimes their location or their layout no longer suits the things that local councils or local communities want for their library services. If so, then changes, such as co-location with other services or even closures may be justified and indeed needed in favour of providing library services in other ways. Such as through outreach, or online or other forms.
“If councillors think imaginatively about how libraries can help deliver their priorities in local government providing real leadership, then local authorities will start to see libraries as an asset to be supported and to be developed.
“Encourage councillors to embrace positive change, seek to do things differently, where effective and to be bold about it. If they are I can assure you that DCMS will be behind you and support you in that work.”
He added: “Councils really need to make these decisions based on robust evidence, rather than being ad-hoc and reactive. They should gather the evidence on local needs and actively consult local people and local professionals on options to meet these needs.”
Wilson said that the DCMS would investigate complaints made about councils who do not appear to be meeting their statutory duties and will take action under the 1964 act “where needed”.
“Libraries should not be seen as a soft option but we would prefer to work with councils and support them to deliver strong library services for their local communities”, Wilson said.
(Left-right) Ben Bailey, Gill Furniss MP and Chris Riddell
Speaking in response, chair of the APPG, Gill Furniss, who trained as a librarian before becoming a Sheffield MP and shadow minister, said: “Many challenges have been placed on the library sector in the last few years… we have always worked strategically – we’ve been constantly under pressure for years and years and years, and as the chair of the APPG I don’t mind falling out with the minister if there’s a cause to be fought for, I’ll go and tell him about it.”
Comedian, rapper and children’s author Ben Bailey Smith, brother of author Zadie Smith, spoke of his sister’s literary influence on him and their shared love of libraries.
“I used to share a bedroom with my sister, who used to read constantly through the night – it was very annoying – keeping me up. She would then force me to read the books that she’d read, so I grew up reading Judy Blume, Little Women - it brought me to tears. As much as she used to bug me, she’s also the one that got me into library culture at a young age. When we were growing up our library in Willesden had been knocked down and was being rebuilt so our library as kids was a replacement bus which would come to all the schools in the area - my sister used to look forward to that like it was the ice cream van."
“She was the one that made me the voracious reader [and she] became an international influence on reading, fighting for libraries and I very much support her in that”, he added.
Smith also read an extract from CityRead trustee Ben Aaronovitch’s new work A Rare Book of Cunning Device, while Riddell provided illustrations.
The event was hosted by Lord Graham Tope and was attended by Publishers' Association chief executive Stephen Lotinga, Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon and representatives of the British Library, among others.