Nicky Morgan library campaign branded a ‘hollow gesture’ after closures

Nicky Morgan’s “national mission” to get every eight-year-old enrolled at their local library has been labelled a “hollow gesture” by campaigners who say government cuts have decimated the number of public libraries.

The education secretary has today announced plans to team up with comedian and children’s author David Walliams to launch a literacy campaign.

The scheme aims to create at least 200 new book clubs and provide support for schools to get more year 3 pupils enrolled at local libraries.

But library campaigners have slammed the initiative, which comes after hundreds of libraries have closed or had to slash their opening hours since 2010.

Lauren Smith, from campaign group Voices of the Library, said: “It’s really a hollow gesture. In a lot of cases the cuts to opening hours means children can no longer go after school.

“The campaign just palms off responsibility from the government without investing in what needs to be done.”

Ms Smith said than many libraries no longer have professional staff and she was concerned that the move meant school staff would be expected to pick up the workload.

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – the professional body for library staff – is set to vote on plans to oppose the “amateurisation” of the public library service at its AGM next month.

Its chief executive Nick Poole told Schools Week: “Delivering on this commitment depends on a strong national network of public and school libraries with skilled staff.

“Trained librarians have the knowhow to engage children and their parents, recommend appropriate books and resources and support literacy in a structured way.”

According to Public Libraries News, which collates library closures, 337 libraries have closed in the UK since 2009/10.

Library visits have also reportedly fallen by 40 million to 282 million in the same period.

Education officials said they hope the new campaign will stop the closures by driving footfall, adding that local authorities often close libraries because there aren’t enough members.

However a spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “Working with local communities, councils have found innovative ways to keep providing library services while managing reductions in their budgets of up to 40 per cent since 2010.

“However, efficiencies and innovation can only go so far and in the face of more potential budget reductions in the autumn Spending Review, councils could have to make some really tough choices about which services they can continue to provide.”

The Reading Agency charity will be funded to introduce its Chatterbooks scheme – a network of children’s reading groups – to another 200 primary schools.

The charity will also work with schools to get more eight-year-olds enrolled at libraries.

Ms Morgan said: “No matter where they live or what their background, every single child in this country deserves the opportunity to read, to read widely, and to read well – it’s a simple matter of social justice.”

She said government reforms mean nearly 34,000 more young people are leaving primary school able to read properly.

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “We strongly welcome this initiative. It’s really important to instill a love of reading in young people and motivate them from an early age to develop literacy skills.

“There has been tremendous progress in improving literacy skills over the past 20 years, and this reflects a great deal of hard work by schools and students.”

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  1. The point about the closure of local libraries is well made. You could add the gutting of specialist staff, bookstock and opening hours in those that remain.

    Eight years old is a bit late to start thinking about literacy anyway. Children start learning literacy skills from babyhood – if their parents can find a local library they can actually get to. These are bearing the brunt of the closure of hundreds of librries.

    Plus schools themselves. The over-emphasis on phonics, drilling children to spell out non-existent words, making them analyse fragments of text to death, the closure of school libraries, the loss of librarians with the skills to get them reading for pleasure, the exam culture… Nicky mightbtakea look at that too.

  2. Yes, why eight year-olds? Libraries have board books and picture books. They run story sessions for pre-school children. Small babies can have their own library card.

    But first and most of all the libraries need to be there. And there have to be funds for buying books. And staff who feel confident helping parents to find books for their children.

    So it’s about investing in the library system. Not about issuing shiny pieces of plastic via schools, while bleeding public libraries of funds.

  3. V Dewhurst

    Well if there are any public libraries left – but isn’t this a reinvented campaign – sure we’ve been down this road before and as for David Wallians – why?

  4. Shirley Burnham

    In the ‘DfE Main Estimate Memorandum 2015-16’ you will find that there are no references to public libraries or school libraries, but (on pages 4-5) five ‘Key Activities’ are listed, which include:

    . Helping disadvantaged children and young people to achieve more; and
    . Making sure that local services protect and support children

    So, if Nicky Morgan’s announcement is to have any credibility and if Libraries, as she implies, synergise nicely with her Department’s ‘Key Activities’, above, it’s high time for the DfE to take the matter of public library provision very seriously.

    Perhaps the teaching profession can unite with everyone who cares about books and reading, to suggest that DfE inject some very substantial sums of money into rescuing public and school library provision. By this, I do not mean bunging a few bob to The Arts Council, which would I fear be another meaningless, hollow gesture. Bunging money over to the DCMS would not produce the desired result either, as its Ministers and officials seem to have no clue as to the value of good branch libraries and have not made school libraries statutory.

    Yes please, DfE — Turn back the tide of flotsam and jetsam from our public libraries shipwreck. This pollution is a consequence of successive Governments’ neglect, arrogance and ineptitude. Whilst that task may not be easy at such a late stage, there is a solution. A moratorium on library closures and a real expression of intent by DfE to put its money where its mouth is would begin to convince Lauren Smith, the wider public, council leaders and the profession that the DfE is committed to substance, not soundbites.

  5. Andy McDonald

    I think David Walliams has never been able to see a bandwagon without having an urge to jump on it.

    There’s another problem here though. In recent years, not only have many schools (mainly academies) got rid of librarians, or reduced them to essentially glorified lunchtime supervisors, but they’ve cut contact with LG-managed Schools Library Services too. Ostensibly to save money, but from my own experiences, a matter of ideology too.