It all started off so positively.  An announcement by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education no less, that she would, in the words of the Telegraph headline writer, “enrol every child in the local library”. Great, I thought, this sounds like the Welsh scheme “Every Child a Library Member” that has been going on for more than a year and exactly the sort of thing that I remember Michael Rosen banging on about to politicans every time I’ve been privileged enough to hear him or read about him on library matters in the last five years.  The fact David Walliams was putting his name to it (well, sort of) in a national newspaper was also pretty good. I also thought that, at last, there would be some good news to leaven all the bad.  Indeed, I was a bit shocked by the completely negative reaction shown by many in news articles and social media about the news.

But let’s look at the detail. First off, it’s not clear exactly how much money is being put in – the exact figure is, suspiciously, never quoted – into the starting of 200 reading groups. By my calculations of how much Chatterbooks stuff costs, it could be as low as the low tens of thousands of pounds (but, to be fair, is probably a fair bit higher).  That’s pretty cheap for a government initiative and for positive headlines in a national newspaper. Secondly, there is also only “an ambition” for every child to be a member, not an actual commitment and no figure is quoted anywhere for this either.  It looks like Nicky Morgan has only, at a minimum (and again I hope there is more than this) committed to encourage schools, in some way undescribed (perhaps by a letter? – but even this is not confirmed) to get their kids to join up. At the best therefore, this announcement will go some limited way towards increasing child membership and it looks like it will in no way be the automatic thing such a headline suggests.

Another point to consider is how negative the reaction was to the news from so many people and so quickly. This shows the strong polarisation, even hatred, caused by years of cuts and campaigning for libraries. A whole government term (and change)  of effectively complete inaction over public libraries during a time of the most historically deep cuts in them is hardly going to win the Tories much praise.  But whether this is the best strategy to win friends amongst people ultimately deciding our fates for the next five years, I am not entirely sure.  I know if I was Nicky Morgan reading some of the reactions I’ve seen then I’d be thinking “well, there’s no point doing anything for them any more”. Or, has this Government got so bad and so morally and ethically blackened that there should be complete opposition to them no matter what? Is everything they do libraries-wise too little too late and written for propaganda purposes? I am honestly uncertain on the matter of automatically dismissing all Government library announcements, even after five years of being disappointed. Let’s hope, therefore,  today’s headlines live up to their promise and I get to keep what remains of my innocence.

P.S. I’d just like to see that I’ve noticed twice (Birmingham last week and now today) CILIP immediately offering immediate help and assistance in public library matters. This is a bit different to the measured and somewhat time-delayed responses some have noted in the past and that, even if all else is a chimera today, is something to hang on to. Fingers crossed.


Nicky Morgan announcement – The facts

  • 200 new book clubs to be created in England. Government funding The Reading Agency to extend their popular Chatterbooks scheme and set up new book clubs in 200 more primary schools all over the country. [Editor’s note:  It is presently unclear how much money this involves, or if paid staff time is involved or if funding is for more than one year (as books need refreshing if that is not the case).  One chatterbooks pack costs £90 so minimum spend could be as low as £18,000 for 200.]
  • “an ambition to see every 8-year-old enrolled at their local library”: Government will “support” The Reading Agency to work with public libraries and schools to get more year-3 pupils enrolled at their local library. “helping more children get into the library habit early and address findings that show that 1 in 7 children aged 8 to 16 rarely or never read outside of school.”.  [It is presently unclear how much money, if any, this involves – Editor’s note]
Nicky Morgan announcement – the reaction

“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 … Our reforms have already helped tens of thousands more pupils to leave primary school as confident readers but we must go further … That’s why I am pleased to team up with David on this national mission to make our young people the most literate in Europe” Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education.

““I’m delighted Nicky Morgan is going to work hard to improve literacy in this country and everyone should welcome what she’s trying to do,” he said, adding that having the Department of Education, a government body, recognise the importance of libraries was “terribly important”. ” Desmond Clarke, library campaigner

“We welcome that Nicky Morgan has recognised the difference that libraries and librarians make in helping children build skills and confidence through reading…. Trained librarians have the knowhow to engage children and their parents, recommend appropriate books and resources and support literacy in a structured way.” Nick Poole, CILIP Chief

“So will there be an immediate moratorium on all library closures? Will funding be restored to the three hundred plus library points closed in the stewardship of this government? Will Vaizey halt the cuts to library staff that have seen a fall of 20% under this government? Will we see action to stop the slashing of opening hours and book stocks, an issue that hit the headlines at the crisis-ridden Library of Birmingham? Answers please.” Alan Gibbons, library campaigner

“”Libraries have been massively underfunded for a very long time, which is the result of the government refusing to acknowledge the educational role of libraries. It does stagger me that politicians are placing responsibility for literacy away from themselves and local authorities and on to parents – who are trying their best for their children – and on to library services which have been trying to do this for years without enough money.” Lauren Smith, Voices for the Library.

““pointless symbolism if the libraries have either been closed down or had their hours slashed so kids can’t use them” Gary Meehan, children’s author

“Can smarter folk than I, including Teachers etc, look at the document DfE Main Estimate Memorandum 2015-16 . Consulting it, 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. Government cuts to local authority grants have indeed decimated the number of branch libraries, the accessibility of what remains and (crucially) its quality. There’s no excuse for ignorance or denial of these facts. 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.” Shirley Burnham, library campaigner via email

“If that’s so, why did you reduce the hours of the library in your own constituency, just after you were elected, Nicky?” Mike Grace referring to this from 2011

Child literacy pledge: CILIP has written to Education Secretary of State offering to brief re key role of skilled professionals in libraries — CILIP (@CILIPinfo) August 19, 2015

(quotes are from various sources)

  • Every child in England to be enrolled in a local library, Nicky Morgan says – Telegraph. “The Government drive to improve literacy comes after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2013 found that England was 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries, behind countries including Estonia, Poland and Slovakia. ” … “Officials in the education department hope that the drive could stop closures of libraries across the country. Local authorities often close libraries and justify their decision by saying that there are not enough members to warrant continued funding. However, with hundreds of children being signed up, it will be increasingly difficult for councils to close libraries.”
  • Let’s get every child reading widely and well – Telegraph. “This is a question of social justice. People with strong reading skills are overwhelmingly more likely to succeed at school, achieve good qualifications, and find a rewarding and enjoyable career. They are even more likely to enjoy good health. Those who don’t master reading in school suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives, where they may struggle to get good jobs or achieve their full potential. 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. That’s why this One Nation Government has put reading at the heart of our new, more ambitious national curriculum.”
  • Library card push for all eight-year-olds – BBC.
  • Nicky Morgan and David Walliams launch child literacy campaign – Gov.uk. “Alongside existing reforms that have helped tens of thousands more pupils to read confidently, Nicky Morgan announced plans to create at least 200 new book clubs across the country and an ambition to see every 8-year-old enrolled at their local library.”
  • Nicky Morgan library campaign branded a ‘hollow gesture’ after closures – Schools Week. “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.”
  • Reading Agency awarded funding from the Department for Education – Reading Agency. “The funding follows the suggestions outlined in DfE’s Reading: the next steps report, released in March. In the report Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Reform, set out plans to help more primary school pupils become confident readers and discover a love of literature, including helping primary schools set up book groups and increasing library membership. “

National news

  • CILIP AGM 2015 – CILIP. “Thursday, 24 September 2015 – 5:30pm to 7:45pm. The 2015 CILIP AGM takes place on Thursday 24 September at CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, London, WC1E 7AE. It provides an opportunity for members to participate in important and formal CILIP business.” … “If you are entitled to vote but can’t attend, you may nominate the Chair of the meeting, or another individual member who will be attending, as your proxy and instruct them to vote exactly as you wish on each of the motions on the agenda” …

“Member resolution submitted for consideration by the Annual General Meeting. “That CILIP actively oppose those public authorities and senior library staff over the “amateurisation” of the Public Library service by offering library buildings and contents to be run by the local community with little or no funding for professional or paid library staff. This is resulting in public libraries being run by volunteer staff and taking away work currently done by paid professional and library assistant staff. All current public library service points manned by paid local authority library staff should be the current base-line – and where such actions are suggested by the local authority and senior library staff, CILIP should support the opposition to such proposals and say so publicly. Proposed by Andy Richardson MCLIP and seconded by Anna Brynolf “

  • Libraries Digital Inclusion Application – UK Online Centres. “Tinder Foundation, in partnership with the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, is pleased to announce the launch of the Library Digital Inclusion Fund. We are looking to fund between 10-15 library services to participate in an action research pilot from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016. The pilot will see participating library services deliver basic digital skills support to those in their communities without these skills. Participating services will also feed back on the level of success delivered by particular approaches to engaging with new people and teaching basic digital skills”

Local news by authority

  • Bradford – Calls for more cash to be spent on Baildon library – Telegraph and Argus. “Baildon Councillor Debbie Davies has hit out at Bradford Council’s decision to put cash from the sale of a Shipley building exclusively towards the £640,000 bill for a raft of improvements to Shipley library, while she says Baildon Library has dire problems including draughty windows and a leaking roof – a claim the local authority disputes. Shipley Library will close on Friday, August 28, for eight months with the revamp to include new heating and lighting and carpets, improved meeting rooms, updated toilets and an exhibition area. New self-service kiosks will also be installed.”
  • Edinburgh – Libraries report rising numbers through doors – Scotsman. “Figures show the total number of occasions on which services were accessed rose four per cent to 12.2 million in 2014-15, with visits up two per ent to over 3.4m. And attendance at special events has soared 16 per cent as the range of activities held at Edinburgh’s public libraries – which now includes community food schemes and digital skills classes – continues to expand.”

“A successful outcome to the first stage of a legal challenge against   Shropshire Council’s decision to relocate the Church Stretton Library from the centre  of the town  to the school.  A judge sitting in the High Court of Justice  Queen’s Bench Divison, Adminstrative  Court has granted permission for the full judicial review of the Council’s decision to relocate the library to proceed.  Campaigners have welcomed this decision.  It will allow us to go to a full hearing where we will be able to put a strong case to the judge and explain why we think the decision to relocate the library was so deeply flawed and what we would like to happen next.    Our view on the whole relocation saga is the same as it has been since November last year.  We think the relocation to the school is unnecessary and there is a strong case for keeping the library where it is and for the council and campaigners to work together to deliver cuts in the Council budget and at the same time keep the library at the centre of our community where it can be accessed by all age groups and all those with any kind of mobility difficulties.  There is still time for the Council to abandon the school relocation plan and start working with local residents and users to produce a mutually acceptable solution” Shropshire – Church Stretton Library Campaign (via email)

  • Southampton – Five Southampton libraries cut in council funding vote – BBC. “Five Southampton libraries are at risk of closing after councillors voted to stop running them from next year. The local authority’s cabinet made the decision on Tuesday evening in a bid to make an annual saving of £286,200.” … “The report recommends Bitterne Library, Central Library, Portswood Library, Woolston Library, Shirley Library and Lordshill Library remain open. But it says Burgess Road, Cobbett Road, Millbrook, Thornhill and Weston libraries should no longer be funded and managed by the council. Southampton’s mobile library service is also under threat.” see also Five libraries to shut in Southampton – BookSeller.
  • Southampton – Funding withdrawn for Cobbett & four other Southampton libraries from April 2016 – Bitterne Park Info. “I will keep repeating this until I’m blue in the face: we are not closing libraries tonight. We are seeking to re-establish them as community run libraries. If they close it is because there is no capacity in the city to come forward and help run them,” said Leader of Southampton City Council Simon Letts (Lab) at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (Aug 18) which later unanimously passed a motion to withdraw council funding for five branches including Cobbett Road from April next year.” … “Speaking after the meeting, Kevin Lancashire, Friends of Cobbett Road Library chair, said that he thought the council hadn’t started from a position of looking at how to keep libraries open. It’s very frustrating that the arguments that we’ve put over the last 12 or 18 months have been virtually ignored”
  • Suffolk – Literacy boost for Suffolk Libraries – Suffolk Libraries. “Matt Shenton has joined Suffolk Libraries this week as the new Literacy Ambassador – a post funded from a successful bid to the Foyle Foundation. Matt will work with schools and other organisations to promote the benefits of library use and with an aim for all Year 7 children across the county to have their own library card. Matt will also be visiting schools and working with other organisations.” … “Suffolk Libraries’ Literacy Project has been funded by a grant of £30,000 from the Foyle Foundation which is an independent grant-making trust which awards funding to charitable organisations involved with arts and learning.”
  • Suffolk – Suffolk Libraries Presents – Suffolk Libraries. Two ballet productions screened (tickets £7.50 each) put on with support from Arts Council England.