Sunday, 8 February 2015

A message from Alan Gibbons about National Libraries Day

Four years after I called for a National Libraries Day, an event that is now an annual celebration, I fear for their future. On May 25th that year I said:
“We are delighted to launch National Libraries Day, a week of events in early February leading to a day of celebration of reading, libraries and librarians around the United Kingdom. A reading child is a successful child. A child who goes to the library is twice as likely to be a good reader and that child becomes a literate adult, a lifelong reader. There are 320 million visits a year to our libraries but we can make them even more popular,”
Four years on, the annual number of visits has fallen by forty million. The fall has been steepest in deprived communities, according to research by the House of Commons library commissioned by the Labour Party. The research follows the Cipfa figures in assessing that there were 282m visits to libraries in England in 2013-14, compared with 322m four years earlier.
In deprived areas, the percentage of people using libraries has dropped by more than a fifth from 46.2 per cent to 36.8 per cent.
A third of people aged 16 and 24 had visited a library in the last year, compared with nearly 40 per cent four years earlier.
There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week, a fall of eight per cent.
A few months ago William Sieghart, author of an independent report on libraries, warned the network was at a “critical moment.” Even the prestigious Birmingham of Library faces devastating service cuts.
Add the number of library closures to branches being handed over to an uncertain future in the hands of trusts and volunteers, book stock reductions and ever shorter opening hours and you have a recipe for possibly irreversible decline.
During my years of campaigning to save our libraries, I have debated with MPs, councillors and the Culture Secretary. I have yet to hear a single comment from any of these people to reassure me that the service is safe in their hands. So let’s celebrate National Libraries Day, but we will have to fight for them if it is to mean anything.
Alan Gibbons, Campaign for the Book

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