I am becoming more and more convinced that the Reading Agency is the strongest force for boosting public libraries in the UK. Their national promotions, most notably the Summer Reading Challenge and the Six Book Challenge (but also other things like its work for reading groups), allow the multitude (in some ways, atomised) of library authorities to take advantage of national promotion and materials.  The agency networks amongst the very highest in the land, including an event held this year in 11 Downing Street and is highly regarded by – as far as I can tell – pretty much everyone.

I gain the impression that the Agency views the deep cuts in libraries budgets as a spur to new action rather than a barrier. One of these new initiatives, launched last year with Jeanette Winterson, is the annual Reading Agency lecture. The aim of these are to provide “a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries as we explore how to create a reading culture in a radically changed 21st century landscape.”.  This year, one of my personal heroes, Neil Gaiman spoke and gave it both barrels in his defence of reading and of libraries.  Details of his speech are below.  If you work in a library, print off his remarks and re-read them when you’re feeling low or, even better, act on them when you can.  If you don’t work in a library, spread the message and influence those who you can.  If you see a politician, tell them, again and again, until it sinks in.

Neil Gaiman

“The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based about asking what percentage of ten and eleven year olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure. It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations. And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.” Neil Gaiman

“The consequences of shutting down health services is messy – people die and there is blood. The closure of libraries is insidious. We are inflicting it on our children… It’s like stopping vaccinations.” He added that while he felt sympathy for hard-pressed local authorities, “I feel more sympathy for people in towns and cities and rural areas who are now having information denied to them. …

… For reasons I don’t understand, the government here is attached to austerity in a way that the US isn’t. When they close things, they don’t seem to do it with any sense of pride, which is sometimes how it is presented here. They also seem easier to shame into changing their minds. In Florida there were attempts to close several libraries, and people kicked up a fuss and embarrassed them into stopping. I’m not sure you could embarrass Sunderland [which recently closed nine libraries] in the same way.”” Neil Gaiman

  • Neil Gaiman: Let children read the books they love – Guardian. “Gaiman was delivering a lecture on Monday night about the future of books, reading and libraries to an audience of arts and literary figures. In a wide-ranging speech he said the rise of ebooks did not mean the end for physical books and made an impassioned plea to stop library closures.” … “We know what the results are. In order to remain a global power, in order to have a citizenry that is fulfilled and fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations, we need to have literate kids.” … “The Reading Agency’s director ,Miranda McKearney, said the lecture was part of what is “an urgent debate about how to build a nation of readers and library users” and cited OECD figures that showed Britons aged 16 to 24 ranked 22nd of 24 countries in terms of literary skills.”
  • Neil Gaiman: Closing libraries ‘is like stopping the vaccination programmes’ – Independent. “Ahead of his speech, he said that while he had sympathy for Government ministers and local councils dealing with budget cuts, he had “even more sympathy for the people in towns, cities and the countryside who are finding their access to information cut off” by library closures. This summer The Library Campaign predicted the scale of the cuts could force 400 libraries to close by 2016, bringing the number to more than 1,000 shut since 2009.”

“Sharks are old, there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs and the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar operated, feel good in your hand – they are good at being books and there will always be a place for them.” Douglas Adams, recalled by Neil Gaiman

“”we see local authorities seeing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are, quite literally, stealing from the future to pay for today”” Neil Gaiman

  • Peter James launches Author Fund for libraries – BookSeller. Author launches new fund to help authors support Reading Agency.  “The Reading Agency said: “£5,000 could help The Reading Agency reach an additional 5,000 disadvantaged children through the Summer Reading Challenge, £10,000 could train 50 librarians to support adults taking the Six Book Challenge and £20,000 could create skills-boosting, reading-inspired volunteering opportunities for 2,000 young people in areas of high unemployment.”

“Please help The Reading Agency to help thousands of people to love reading. £20 could help 20 disadvantaged children complete the Summer Reading Challenge – the UK’s largest reading promotion for children. £50 could support 10 adults to love reading for the first time in their lives by taking the Six Book Challenge. £100 could create a transformative reading experience for 10 young people” Just Giving


  • 10 libraries share funding to help develop local businesses with digital technology – Digital By Default. Reports on recent £450k funding for libraries to encourage businesss.
  • Informed – “Welcome to Informed, a new online space for information professionals, and those with an interest on how information issues impact on society. The establishment of this blog is the result of discussions between Ian Clark, Elly O’Brien and Jennie Findlay, centering on the perceived need for a neutral online space for information professionals to explore issues of relevance to both the information sector, and to those outside of it. To this end, this space has been created in the hope that discussions of relevant issues can be hosted and explored”

  • Project: Library “An action movie: with books!” Episode One: overdue. Includes mention of library cuts.
  • UK-wide programme of historical fiction events launches new partnership – Reading Agency (press release). ““We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from libraries and readers,” says William Ryan of the Historical Writers Association. “We’ve organised many more events than we thought we might and we’re arranging new ones every week. It’s a fantastic opportunity for libraries and authors to reach out to readers and, thanks to our partnership with The Reading Agency and the support of libraries in almost every part of the country, we’re hoping this is just the beginning.”” Events listed here.

International news

  • End of the Library – Tech Crunch. “So we’re coming up with all these other ways to try to keep these buildings open. Co-working spaces! Media labs. Art galleries? We’ll see. But it’s impossible to see a world where we keep libraries open simply to pretend they still serve a purpose for which they no longer serve. I’m sorry I have to be the one to write this. I have nothing but fond memories of libraries from my youth. Of course, I also have fond memories of bookstores. And we all know how that has turned out…” Read comments too. [NB. This is an important article, not least because it attacks the idea that – for good or ill – libraries can be anything other than a centre for books and reaidng – Ed.]

Local news

“Regardless of the building’s suitability for a school, one is here defending the day-to-day functioning of the city’s central library, the largest in the south and west of Britain, and the quality of the service that the people of this city pay for and can expect.”

  • Cardiff – Ely Library censorship – Welsh Greens.  Article complains that library staff cannot put up poster against library cuts.
  • Croydon – Upper Norwood Library seeks volunteers for new trust – Inside Croydon. ““We are looking for people with a range of skills and experience, particularly people who have background in libraries, community engagement, education, accountancy, HR, legal, fundraising, business, business development and marketing. But just as importantly, we are looking for people who are passionate about our library, and feel they can understand the needs of the library members.””
  • Denbighshire – Prestatyn library to close next month ahead of new site opening – News North Wales. “Denbighshire Council has invested £850,000 into the Kings Avenue development, including a £300,000 maximum grant from CyMAL, the Welsh Government’s Museums and Libraries Division.  The current library will close on November 2, leaving the town without a library until the new site opens on the 25th.”

“The library is also set to serve as a hub for health and social care services, and will see education, learning and library coming together under the umbrella of a shared ‘learning community’ approach. This could include business support; technology; engaging young people; adult learning; employment and recruitment training; literacy numeracy and ICT skills. Denbighshire Council said it wants to provide a learning and information community resource that is bespoke to the needs of both the adults and young people of Prestatyn.”