Well-stocked libraries for all are an investment in our future

“We believe that every child should have the opportunities offered by high-quality library services, be that public libraries or school libraries.” Who would possibly want to argue with that? And yet a new report published by the National Literacy Trust charity (from which the quote comes) says that a quarter of disadvantaged primary schools in England do not have a library and that four in ten primary schools do not have a dedicated library budget. The report reminds us that it is not even a legal requirement for schools to have a library. NLT and Penguin Random House UK have launched a Primary School National Alliance to tackle a “chronic lack of investment” and are calling on government, businesses and charities to transform and equip 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025, supporting half a million young people.

Key findings of the report, The Future of Primary School Libraries, include:

  • A quarter of disadvantaged primary schools in England do not have a library
  • 40% of primary schools reported having no dedicated school library budget in a recent survey
  • For the 1 in 11 children growing up without any books at home, school is often the first opportunity for children to discover the magic of reading
  • Reading for pleasure is proven to positively impact young people’s mental wellbeing and academic attainment
  • Covid has affected the most disadvantaged pupils’ access to books
  • Many existing school libraries lack quality inclusive and representative books
  • Some teachers buy books from charity shops out of their own pocket

The report is well worth reading in full. Written in an engaging and accessible style, it includes short sections on the benefits of primary school libraries — sad though it is that this particular case still needs to be made — and the challenges that such libraries face, as well as a vision of how libraries might develop in the future.

Launching the new alliance, the literacy charity said that “supporting reading for pleasure can result in more children achieving five good GCSEs, in turn boosting their lifetime earnings by an average of £57,500.”

Of course, good library access is not just an issue affecting young children. Cuts to local authority budgets (in the UK) over a decade have resulted in a libraries crisis. As spending on library services has dropped, hundreds of libraries have closed and thousands of library staff have lost their jobs. It is no surprise, then, that the number of visits to libraries has also plummeted — from 315m in 2009–2010 to 226m visits in 2018–2019.

Developing children and young people’s reading, writing and oracy — a prerequisite of which is the provision for all of free-to-use, generously stocked libraries — is fundamental to the full self-realisation of the individual, including the ability to interact, communicate and engage effectively with others. We blogged in May 2021, for example, about the importance of promoting reading for pleasure.

Proficiency in writing, oracy, numeracy and especially in reading is perhaps more important than ever in this digital age. Put simply, reading transforms lives — for people of all ages. The benefits of reading are incalculable. It increases educational attainment. It broadens horizons. It promotes tolerance and understanding across cultures. It develops creativity and the imagination. It boosts mental health and wellbeing. The list is endless.

Why we must do more to promote reading for pleasure

We have written about the need to instil in young people a love of writing: “Good writing is a thing of beauty, capable of engaging and inspiring both reader and writer. It is empowering, allowing us to articulate ideas, express emotions or create whole worlds of the imagination.”

We also supported the call from Cressida Cowell, the children’s commissioner, for the government to “help reverse the spiralling inequality in education by putting primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term response to the pandemic with a ring-fenced, yearly investment of £100m.”

The Future of Primary School Libraries

National Literacy Trust Website

More Blogs About Communication, Oracy and Literacy

Image at the head of this article by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay.

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