I’d like to begin this piece not by talking about myself, but recounting an anecdote about someone very close to me – my Mum. When she was younger, every weekend she and her grandfather would go and visit Middleton Library, a redbrick Victorian building that is still a library to this day. It was through visiting this library that my Mother developed her love of reading, a love of literature that would translate, in years to come, into gaining an BA and an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing. This passion for reading and a love of libraries would translate to me. Some of my fondest memories are of scanning through library shelves, searching for a book that might catch my eye.
Whether it was finding a new book to read, a new series to begin, or even just the joy of seeing such seemingly vast collections of books together, the pleasure of visiting a library is one which I will always treasure. Even now, at what feels like an age in which one must put away childish things, as one book suggests, I still feel glee when entering a library, at looking for books to enjoy, whether they are childish or not. As a wise man once said, “there’s no point in being grown up if you can’t act a little childish sometimes”. Going into a library never fails to reawaken my inner child.
Allowing children to grow as individuals, to be exposed to new and exciting worlds, to engage with fascinating and thrilling ideas should be fundamental rights
Therefore, given the impact that libraries have had on my family and I, it astonishes me as to how underfunded they have become over the past decade. There have been numerous studies which prove that children benefit from visiting libraries and reading from an early age – not only this 2002 OECD study, but also research conducted by the University of Wollongong in Australia, which discovered that visiting libraries was one of seven indicators linked to a child’s cognitive development.
This is not something that even the government themselves dispute, as the Australian study was cited by the Head of Libraries at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in a 2018 blog for gov.uk. Yet, the government has continually failed to provide adequate support both for public and school libraries. Despite several attempts to get the government to launch a formal inquiry into how many schools are without adequate libraries, they have continually refused to either publish the figures relating, or to launch a formal inquiry.
We owe every child the opportunity to unlock their imaginations, and for so many, libraries are the key
The government’s continuing inaction has prompted the current Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell to send the government an open letter demanding £100m be ring fenced for libraries. The letter, signed by previous Children’s Laureates, is a good start, however that alone will not make the government act. The issue must be forcefully and continually raised to make the government take action. A great deal of emphasis, not least of which is due to the pandemic, has been put on the right to healthcare – the ability to access healthcare free of charge is something that has made the NHS an embodiment of positive and beloved public service. The same attitude must be taken to libraries.
Allowing children to grow as individuals, to be exposed to new and exciting worlds, to engage with fascinating and thrilling ideas should be fundamental rights. The internet may contain more information at our fingertips than we have ever seen before, but it is nothing compared to the joy that can be provided by physically going to a library and being able to see books for yourself. As the pandemic has deprived so many of us of the ability to communicate and to converse, then it is imperative that children are able to regain that knowledge and communal experience of discovery that they have been unable to have. It would be a truly cruel thing for children to be denied access to libraries again because they are simply no longer there. We owe every child the opportunity to unlock their imaginations, and for so many, libraries are the key.