For Readers

Why you should care about libraries.

When I was younger I had no money for books. Discovering I could borrow books FOR NOTHING was a wonder to me, a miracle, it truly felt like the best gift. In fact, that feeling  has stayed with me, more than any Christmas or Birthday presents.

Of course in those days we didn’t have computers…

So what?

Few children read books on line, fewer still will have an Ipad or a Kindle. But they must have access to books – for pleasure, for knowledge, for comfort, for escape, to show them what our nation values.

Free access to books is one of the defining things about our country. We care that EVERYONE has access to learning, to culture. Don’t we? We should,  access to ideas, freedom of thought,  is  integral to our democracy.

There is no turning back when our libraries are gone.

So I’m adding my voice to Michael Rosen’s, a previous Children’s Laureate, who said this:

Books have become optional extras in schools. They’ve been sidelined by ITC and worksheets. There is now a generation of young teachers who have been through teacher training with no more than a few minutes of training in children’s literature and little or no work on why it’s important for all children to read widely and often and for pleasure.

So, what we have is the notion that there isn’t time to read whole books, there isn’t time to help all children browse and read and keep reading – but there is time to do worksheets on different aspects of ‘literacy’. And yet, the people running education know full well that children who read widely and often and for pleasure find it much easier to grasp the curriculum as a whole. There is an international study showing this.

What does this have to do with libraries? If the government (or the last one) had felt willing, all they needed to do was formalise the link between schools and libraries. They could have required every school and every library to lay down some fixed, timetabled sharing of time and resources, which would involve turning the present voluntary arrangements into certain ones. In one fell swoop it would guarantee library-use and massively enhance the children’s progress.

I put all this in a document in Margaret Hodge’s library review where it was immediately ignored. I sent it to Ed Vaizey (because he asked me to), and he too has promptly ignored it.

Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker both refused to ask schools to develop their own policies on the provision and reading of books. Neither Ofsted nor schools’ ‘Self Assessment forms’ require schools to make the provision and reading of whole books something that they monitor.

In short, education and library ministers aren’t really very interested in the idea of everyone reading whole books, and they’re certainly not very interested in the idea of every child reading whole books. I even gave them a 20-point blueprint or outline on how to turn every school into what I called a ‘book-loving school’ (based largely on the TV programme I did ‘Just Read’. And that’ blueprint is now available on various websites. The ministers I met weren’t interested in sending it out, either as it is, or in any adapted form.

It’s clear that they think ‘reading’ is about ‘doing literacy’ ie learning how to ‘decode’ print. What they don’t seem to understand is that literature is one of the main ways in which we can engage with difficult and important ideas in an accessible way. It offers children a ladder between their own personal experience, the apparently ‘personal’ experience of the protagonists in any given text, and the ideas that are thrown up during the adventures, scenes and feelings that the protagonists go through. So, the reader encounters the protagonists’ feelings of, say, pity, anger, fear, guilt, envy and the like but in a school context (or indeed many social contexts) those feelings become talk about those feelings as ideas…eg what is ‘pity’? what is ‘guilt’? ie through reading, the young reader starts to generalise the particular or put another way, discover abstract thought.

Children who read widely, often and for pleasure are the ones who can make the transition between particular experience to abstract thought that all education asks of children between the ages of 8 and 13. The more you read, the easier that transition is. The kids who fall behind don’t fall behind because they haven’t done enough worksheets. It’s because the education curricula haven’t helped them discover a wide range of texts through being regular readers.

Michael Rosen’s message:
It’s about READING, stupid (not ‘doing literacy).

The teachers I know are passionate about school libraries – I think we’re very lucky – my son’s school has revamped its library and is now asking parents to help stock it with new books. They care – what about you Margaret Hodge, Ed Vaizey, Ed Balls, and Vernon Cloaker ?

Don’t you care two hoots whether the poor, the young, the old, the disaffected have access to books? Let’s have those names again:  Margaret Hodge, Ed Vaizey, Ed Balls, and Vernon Cloaker ? I hope you have google alerts on your names and squirm with shame.



All these people have things to say about  our libraries, it matters, it really does!

Michael Rosen

Alan Gibbons Campaign for the Book!

Nicky Schmidt

Lucy Coats

Candy Gourlay and Teri Terry.

Dave Cousins

Philip Ardagh

Nick Cross

Philippa Francis

Sarwat Chadda

Jon Mayhew

Keren David

Nina Killham

Bryony Pearce

Gillian Philip


If I’ve missed any please add them in comments.





19 thoughts on “Why you should care about libraries.”

    1. I’ve just sent a message to my MP Andrew Tyrie – am hoping he’ll get behind us but I think Jeremy Hunt MP and Ed Vaizey MP, Ministers at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, are the ones we need to target. Alan Gibbon’s Campaign for the Book is a good place to start

  1. If anyone wants information on how to add their signature to the Open Letter which Alan Gibbons of Campaign for the Book is sending next week, please get in touch. This is SO important, Kathy–thanks for writing about it. We all need to stand up to be counted here!


    1. Lucy is there more to it than adding your name to his letter and sending it back? That’s all I’ve done, though am collecting a few more from Tv pals….

  2. Perhaps there should be a suggestion that the library at the House of Commons is closed. How will they defend it? After all, they can all afford to get books on Amazon, or pay to join the London Library. They don’t really need it. Oh, they need it for work, do they? What if we need our libraries for work?

    Thank you, Kathryn, for saying this again.

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