Thursday 19 February 2015


Part of my weekend was spent catching up on my professional reading which included the Read On Get On campaign report, published by Save the Children – it makes for a rather depressing read. A lot of the evidence I already knew about but some of the research was commissioned especially for the report so it’s useful to have up-to-date statistics. And seeing everything put together in one document like this really brings home the situation regarding the appalling literacy levels of children in the UK.

25% of children at age 11 are not reaching the expected levels of literacy for their age. If you break this figure down into demographics, the highest number is white British boys in the low-income bracket (45%). The gender difference is one of the widest in the developed world and one of the things I found most shocking was the variance in language development of children aged three years, with the gap between the poorest families and those in the high income bracket being 17 months. There's more but I'll leave you to find that out ...
All these translate into problems in adulthood and impact on poverty, crime, well-being and unemployment. Another statistic for you to think about: 47% of adults with low literacy levels have problems reading the instructions on their medication.
And, as the report says, after 150 years of compulsory primary education, it cannot be business as usual because that’s not working. We are failing our children.
So what is the answer? Fortunately the report realises that this problem needs to be addressed regardless of which political party is in power and it has come up with four key areas of focus:
·         To create and celebrate the enjoyment of reading in all our communities

·         To support very young children in their language development before they start school

·         To provide support and information for parents

·         To support and enable teachers and schools
The aim of the campaign is to have all 11 years olds at a literacy level of 4b by the year 2025; it is an ambitious project but one that needs to be tackled and a paper is being produced ahead of the general election detailing what action is needed to address these four points. One thing I hope is recognised is the important role that professional librarians and libraries can play in this campaign. Librarians have skills and expertise that can feed into every single one of those four drivers; indeed many of us are already working in these areas from delivering rhyme times to babies in public libraries to promoting reading for pleasure across the school curriculum. To ignore this would be to waste a valuable and unique resource and, if we seriously want to address the issue of low literacy levels, then we should all be working together.
A final note: the report talks about the fact that it isn’t just disadvantaged children and adults who are affected by low literacy levels but that there is an economic cost to the country and new analysis has been carried out to assess this. These results show, based on a cautious scenario, that if the UK had taken action in recent decades to ensure children were reading well by age 11, then the GDP could have been around £13.8 billion higher in 2014, with an optimistic scenario putting it at £18.4 billion. The figures are extrapolated to 2025 with the cautious estimate being £32.1 billion and the optimistic, £42.9 billion.
I wonder how much it would cost to ensure that every child had access to both public and school libraries with professional librarians, working together with parents and schools to create a generation of literate children?



Thursday 5 February 2015


Saturday is National Libraries Day and tomorrow (Friday) about 80 schools around the UK are taking part in a Guinness World Record Book Swap in celebration of this. From past experience I know there’s going to be a buzz around the activities and events happening but it’s rather dreadful that we have to use a day of celebration as an advocacy and promotional tool to support something that is so basic and fundamental to many people’s lives.

Time and time again we hear the argument that libraries are irrelevant, that people don’t use them, that you can download ebooks and find anything you want on the internet. None of these are true, by the way. Not everything published is available in an electronic format and even if it was, not every book lends itself to that particular medium (“That’s Not My Dragon - his ears are too tufty” on a tablet? …. don’t think it really works); you can’t find everything you need online; and people do use libraries – around a third of the population, with that figure going up to 50% in deprived areas. That’s over 19 million people in most areas … just think what the reaction would be if every single one of those library users decided to write to their local MP or the DCMS!
So that leaves us with “libraries today are irrelevant” and that made me think about my own library use. I am, as Ian Anstice said, “A librarian, a library user and a lover of libraries”. For as long as I can remember I’ve used my public library but, as I currently work surrounded by about 13,000 books, pick them up at various promotional events and am lucky to be able to afford to buy (some of) them, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I no longer need to use my public library. That it was irrelevant to me. But you’d be wrong. And I had a look at the last few years of my borrowing history to see exactly what type of stuff I’d been borrowing and why … so, in no particular order:
·         Guide books – I can never decide where to go next so end up borrowing a selection of books from the library to help me choose. I wouldn’t want to buy all of these because most of them wouldn’t be any use to me afterwards.
·         Guide books – once I’ve decided on my next trip, I like to have a selection of guide books to help me plan my activities. I do buy a guide book to take with me but looking at a few gives me more of an overview and I wouldn't want to actually buy that many. And websites don’t work in the same way … I’ve tried!

·         Stories on CDs – I have about a 50 minute drive to work and it’s a great opportunity to catch up on my “reading”. I also belong to a reading group so listen to the month’s book choice. It’s interesting how often I’ll carry on with a book on CD and enjoy it whereas I know if I was actually reading it I would give up.

·         Teenage/YA books – yes really! Even though you’d be forgiven for thinking that surely I’d have enough of these at work to borrow. But sometimes the book I want to read is popular and always on loan. I know I could pull rank and borrow it but that feels too mean to me so I borrow a copy from the public library. Sometimes I’m waiting for the paperback to be released (those hardbacks can be a bit expensive plus students don’t always like to borrow them … they have enough to carry around without adding a weight tome to their bag) but I want to read the book so I’ll reserve the hardback. Sometimes I want to read a book before I decide whether to buy it for my shelves.

·         Baby books – these have been a recent borrowing addition due to the granddaughter and, whilst I already have quite a collection for her amassing in my living room, I love taking her to the library and letting her choose what she wants to bring home to read. This is where reading for pleasure and that life-long love of books starts.

·         I also have a stepdaughter about to become a teenager and, since she’s been in my life, I’ve turned her from an “okay” reader into a book-obsessive! This is fantastic but there’s no way I can keep up with her reading tastes and demands … plus part of this process was regularly taking her to the library and letting her choose (that word again!). And we still go.

·         Totally random books that have caught my eye:  Just My Type, a book about fonts by Simon Garfield. I found this fascinating, in fact, so much so that I have now bought my own copy. The Network Effect – a business book. Core Strength Training – didn’t work! 60 Baby Knits – why would I want to buy it when I only wanted to use one pattern?

·         Those coffee table books that are lovely to dip into but cost the earth, things like “London’s Bridges”, “Wildlife Photographer of the Year”, etc.

·         Books that have been recommended to me … for example, The Rosie Project by Don Tillman which I enjoyed so much that I bought several copies as gifts for friends. It’s unlikely that I would have bought the book personally but I’m glad I read it.

·         The latest book by an author I enjoy but don’t want to wait for the paperback to be released.

·         Magazines! I was amazed at how many of these I had borrowed.

This is just a selection out of several hundred books borrowed in a relatively short time for all sorts of reasons. It’s a very haphazard and eclectic range but illustrates well the relevance of the public library to me personally, and I haven’t even mentioned those items borrowed for study, self-development or to extend my understanding in a particular situation. Surely I can’t be the only person out of 19 million who does the above.
So, the next time somebody says that libraries aren’t relevant, tell them to ask a library user what they’ve recently borrowed!
Happy National Libraries Day #NLD15