Category Archives: Libraries

Library closures and their impact on children’s literacy.

What libraries do for us – and me is an article written by Malorie Blackman on The Guardian‘s ‘Comment is free’ page which took my interest last week.

Blackman emphasised the point that libraries are the “best literacy resource we have” and with many public libraries closing across the country, there is concern that it could have some impact on literacy rates in children. It is thought that approx. 105 libraries have closed or left their local authority control since April 2012.

Many local councils have announced library closures. Lincolnshire plans to close 32 of its 47 libraries and Sheffield are to keep 12 out of 28 libraries open. Blackman commented on culture minister Ed Vaizey’s quick decision to save Jane Austen’s ring leaving the UK, in August, and said how he should be showing the same concern to save our libraries. Like Austen’s ring, libraries are considered “national treasures”.

There have been numerous complaints that the closures are in breach of the 1964 Libraries Act, which specifies that “every authority must provide a comprehensive and efficient library service”. Although despite this the article states that the government are yet to become involved in investigating the complaints.

Blackman questions why these closures are happening in a time where the government has placed emphasis on children’s reading and has also announced plans to reform secondary education, in particular the changes to GCSEs. It is no doubt that libraries offer a fantastic service. Story-telling sessions for young children, homework clubs and knowledgeable staff make up a safe environment where children, and adults alike, can discover and explore.

While libraries make up a significant part of our cultural heritage and have a positive impact on communities across the country, I feel that libraries can only do so much. What I mean by this is children’s parents must also play a significant part in encouraging their children to read and visit the library. Unless a child’s parent takes them to a library on a regular basis, then the child will not encounter the benefits. These library closures also make me wonder whether booksellers will offer more services to make up for those lost through closures? Booksellers could hold story-telling afternoons for young children and themed art and craft days to get children involved in literature. It can also be suggested that bookshops could offer a scheme where parents could trade-in bought books for other secondhand books at a small fee, particularly for those families who may have a low income. Suggestions which hopefully won’t have to be considered.

Blackman’s article finishes with the statement: “Without them [libraries], literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone”. “The Institute of Education stated that children reading for pleasure between the ages of 10 and 16 can drastically improve vocabularly and attainment and is extremely important for a child’s cognitive development”. With this statistic, it can be seen that library closures will have a negative impact on literacy in children.

There are, however, sites such as the Voices for the Library which “advocates for public libraries and library staff”. The site presents some encouraging statistics and stated that although library visits were in essence, down, visits via libraries’ websites were in fact up, with more loans being issued via websites. According in CIPFA, book issues increased in 2009 from 307,571,240 to 310,776,757. In addition it is thought that during the period 2008-9, web visits to UK libraries were up 49%. So while, libraries are closing, library usage via websites are up emphasising the point that “these are times of opportunity, not decline”. Like bookshops, libraries can embrace change by enhancing the use of digital. A great example is the new library which opened in Birmingham recently (you can read my blog post on it, here). The new building is a successful mix of tradition and discovery reflected through the incorporated use of digital devices to enhance learning. Certainly, it is current news such as this which shows just how much opportunity there is for libraries in general.

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The Library of the Future: “All about books. All about learning.”

Birmingham has introduced a brand new £189m library in Centenary Square and been deemed ‘a people’s palace’ by its architects. Gone are the days of the old creaking floors and slightly dusty shelves of an old, traditional library, it seems.

Picture by Charlie Bibby

Picture by Charlie Bibby

The new eco-friendly design has been built in a way to depict Birmingham’s industrial revolution of earlier years, whilst also keeping to a futurist and modern theme.

The BBC has posted a video tour of the new building on their website. Brian Gambles, Director of the library, emphasised the fact that the new library is a “fusion of digital and physical is essential to the vision of the library”. The interactive technology, including more than 200 public access computers where the public can interact with the various collections, and 20 large-scale multimedia walls means that the public can “engage with new collections in new and different ways”.

Certainly the theme of interaction is also enhanced with the library’s ‘Discovery Pavillion’, which includes 18 week programmes of ‘creative residencies’ where new library users can experience creative practices such as bookbinding and animation. In addition to this are specific pieces in the library which are part of the Pavillion where certain collections and spaces are highlighted to the public.

Surely, this new library stands at the  forefront of the future for libraries? It will be interesting to see what happens to our libraries following this change. However, there is speculation from The Library Campaign that by 2016, 1000 libraries will be closed. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has stated that 349 libraries have closed down since 2009. With the proposed local government budget cuts in 2015/16, it is therefore thought that an additional 340 libraries will close (Figures taken from The Guardian). While the new opening is great for the public in and around Birmingham, what about the rest of the country? It can be assumed that the majority of major cities and towns across the UK will have access to a good library facility, however, it is the smaller communities across the country which may suffer if their local library is closed.

Although the new library emphasises its connection with digital – encouraging users to discover and interact on a new scale – it is clear that the printed book is still at the heart of its development. 350,000 books are available to the public, 43,000 of which are situated in the Shakespeare Memorial Room. The room, originally built in 1882, was taken apart from the old building and rebuilt piece-by-piece into the new development. I like the thought that physical books are still the focus of developments like this. It shows that even though the book industry is undergoing momentous change, the familiar and the traditional is not forgotten; almost as if the industry is keen to hold on to its origins (something which I highly agree with).

Although, at its core, the library is fundamentally grounded in enhancing the printed book, the building’s modern appearance and facilities has deemed it a ‘super library‘, joining international libraries across the globe, including the Seattle Central Library (USA), Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico), Kanazawa Umimirai (Japan) and, Spijkenisse Book Mountain (Netherlands).

From what I gather, the reaction to Birmingham’s new ‘super library’ has been positive. It bodes well for the future of books across all aspects of the industry. I feel that as long as the industry as a whole continues to grow almost as a hybrid model (embracing digital, yet not forgetting its physical roots), then the industry will continue to flourish.