Libraries raise literacy standards and must be funded
Posted by Jonathan Douglas
1 Sep 2010
The debate about libraries in a period of cuts and austerity has kicked off. Many campaigning voices are advocating passionately for libraries. This is great. However the danger is that the debate becomes focused on personal experiences of the value of libraries rather than on the evidence for why libraries make a difference to society and therefore warrant public funding.
The evidence suggests that there are three vital roles which libraries have in raising literacy levels, the role which sits at the heart of their identity:
- Libraries provide families with babies and preschool children, with a vital literacy resource. They have a vital and well documented role to play in enriching the home learning environment of many families through rhyme times, outreach and free access to books.
- Libraries provide school aged children with books, resources and space where they can learn to love reading. Research has shown that a child’s enjoyment of reading is a vital factor in social mobility.
- For adults with low literacy skills libraries offer access to information and resources to re-engage them with learning. A first step for many on the path back into learning, libraries offer as much support or anonymity as adult learners need.
The factor that unites these three roles is radical: All three of these roles are most effective for the most deprived in society. Libraries make the most difference to those who have the fewest books at home, where parental engagement is likely to be weakest and amongst those least likely to buy books or value reading. Libraries have a disproportionate benefit for the most disadvantaged.
The irony of the current debate is that many of the most powerful advocates for libraries appreciate their value from more advantaged, more literary perspectives. We must not lose sight of the social purpose of libraries. We must not mistake them for a state-subsidised version of Waterstones.
Libraries are fundamentally an agency for creating a fairer society through learning, creating literacy and offering access to knowledge. This is why they merit state funding. This is why in the Spending Review they warrant support.
For more on the proposed privatisation of libraries see:
A discussion titled ‘Have libraries had their day?’ took place on Radio 5 Live this morning. You can read comments here:
On Radio 4 this morning, Arts Correspondent David Sillito discusses how the library service could be reshaped to attract more customers. Listen to David’s views here:
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