Potentially big news from Essex, with the new leader of the council saying that no libraries will close. This comes after the council announced that up to 25 branches could close or go volunteer back in 2018 and a substantial, and very well-organised, campaign movement being formed in reaction. The new announcement doesn’t rule out volunteers so campaigners there are still very much on the alert. Meanwhile, being two or three years earlier in their cuts cycle, St Helens council has launched a library review, noting a reduction in usage in the last decade and is actively looking for thoughts on/from alternatives such volunteers and parish councils to bridge the gap. Finally, Northamptonshire, has announced – reportedly with four days notice – that Kettering Library is being closed while it is having a GLAM makeover, with no substitute being as yet in place.

Away from service-related news, it’s great to host a short interview with Fiona Evans of the National Literacy Trust about their call for evidence on primary school libraries. Public libraries have very close links to primary schools and so I would encourage you all to consider responding by giving the Trust your thoughts. And also, the Trust are obviously on our side so we should be on theirs too. Time to reach out.

Changes by local authority

An interview with Fiona Evans, Director of School Programmes, National Literacy Trust

Fiona wants a word

Who are you and what is this thing you’re doing? 

The National Literacy Trust is an independent charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK. Our mission is to give disadvantaged children and young people the literacy skills to succeed in life. This year, we are working with Penguin Random House to look into the provision of primary school libraries through a Primary School Library Review. This project is looking into the role of primary school libraries before, during and post COVID-19 and will imagine what the future of primary school libraries could look like.  

To understand the current provision within primary school libraries and make recommendations to government, the Primary School Library Review is holding a call for evidence to gather views on this important topic from across the sector. The design of the consultation has been supported by a steering group from across the sector of; The Open University, BookTrust, CILIP, The Reading Agency, CLPE, School Libraries Group, and the School Library Association. The final report will be launched in the Autumn at an Literacy All-Party Parliamentary Group event.  

How important do you think reading is for children? 

We know that reading for pleasure is incredibly important for children; research has shown that children who enjoy reading don’t just do better at school, but have increased mental wellbeing among other benefits. In fact, OFSTED has recognised the vital role that reading for pleasure plays in improving literacy levels. School libraries are an essential tool in this. National Literacy Trust and Nottingham Trent University research found that children using their school library were more likely to read for pleasure and had better reading and writing attitudes – this difference was especially marked for those eligible for free school meals. 

Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, more so than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or income. Libraries are an important place to foster this lifetime love of reading, and will be crucial in the post COVID-19 academic recovery.  

Are primary school libraries totally paid for just by schools at the moment? Any other sources of funding? 

At the moment, there is no ring-fenced funding for primary school libraries, which means many struggle with adequate funding. One in eight primary schools don’t have a library, with this doubling in schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals. 

There are a number of initiatives that support primary school libraries, including Puffin World of Stories which is a collaboration between the National Literacy Trust and Penguin Random House. The project has supported over 200 primary schools so far, giving them 300 new books, bespoke training, audiobook downloads and colourful resources.  

How can public librarians get involved in the Review? 

We would love to hear from the public library sector about the ways that they currently work with primary school libraries, and any ideas they have about what the future of this provision could look like. So far in our call for evidence, we have heard from primary schools that work closely with their local public libraries, organising class visits and joint projects and would like to hear more about other initiatives and ways of working together.  

We currently have an open call for evidence, you can see the full scope here and either fill out this form or email your response to Policy@LiteracyTrust.org.uk.   

Is there anything else apart from this that public librarians should be aware of from the National Literacy Trust? 

If you want to hear more about our projects and resources then you can sign up to our mailing list here. You can also visit our website to find out more about our other research reports and work.   

National news

  • Building cultural infrastructure across England – Arts Council England. £5m Libraries Improvement Fund. “Libraries sit at the heart of our communities, providing a safe space for residents while offering services such as reading groups and back to work programmes. The Libraries Improvement Fund (LIF)  has a budget of £5 million  for 2021/22 which will help libraries to deliver these services and reach their local communities.  A grant could be used to refurbish a library to make it more suitable for delivering cultural events like plays and writing workshops, or health and wellbeing classes. Or it could support the improvement of library buildings by increasing baby-changing facilities or purchasing furniture or equipment.”
  • Building excellence in the cultural sector – Arts Council England. Bids for the Library Improvement Fund may benefit from taking into account this document on how to develop a capital project.
  • Library Campaign Zooms in on a Publicity Campaign for Libraries – Library Campaign. “Hear Nick Poole (Chief Exec of CILIP) talk about their advocacy work and National Libraries Week (4-10 October 2021) and then a general discussion about how friends groups can advocate / publicise libraries.”
  • Plea to save libraries as pandemic sparks new round of cuts – Express. “The crucial community hubs have been hit hard by a year of building shutdowns on top of slashed funding and staff cuts. Pressure groups last night said the situation is critical, with further council cutbacks of around 14 percent in the pipeline. Laura Swaffield, chairwoman of the Library Campaign charity – which fights to save the institutions – said libraries were more important than ever and battled to offer crucial services during lockdown.”
  • Public Library Work in a Pandemic – #uklibchat. Monday, 7 June 2021, 7.00 – 8.30 pm. Twitter conversation to discuss the impact of Covid, including reopening, anxiety, digital and the retention of new services when libraries reopen.
  • Quarter of libraries shut despite lockdown easing – BBC. “More than a quarter of Scotland’s libraries are still closed a month after they were allowed to reopen. And there is concern that some of the 123 public libraries across the country that remain locked will not return. Some have not opened their doors in more than a year, and many areas are only offering reduced or remote services such as click and collect.”

International news

  • China / UK – Push in UK to turn page on books ban – The Standard. “Hongkongers in Britain have launched a campaign calling for people to donate “banned books” in Hong Kong, which will be stored in libraries in the United Kingdom. The UK-based expatriate association group said many books can no longer be kept in Hong Kong public libraries after the passing of the national security law.”
  • USA – To patrons who place holds (and don’t pick them up) – Book Riot. “Even if a patron has lost interest in a subject after placing a hold on it, it still gives staff information about what people in the community are thinking about. “

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