The government’s failure to protect libraries throughout the UK from closure has been strongly criticised by newly appointed Children’s Laureate, author Malorie Blackman.
Ms Blackman has spoken out as local authorities throughout the UK target local library services for closure against a backdrop of severe cuts in their finances imposed by the coalition UK government.
While the seven libraries scheduled for closure by Moray Council is the first major attack on such services launched by a Scottish local authority, several in England have been targeting libraries for closure – the most notable being Lincolnshire where there are plans to close 32 of their 47 local libraries.
Speaking in the Guardian newspaper on Sunday Blackman, the author of 60 books who was awarded an OBE for services to children’s literature in 2008, said: “While I appreciate that in these austere times all local authorities are seeking to make savings, there is surely a strong argument for library services and in particular children’s library services to be ring-fenced against such cuts.
“Indeed, the 1964 Libraries Act states that every authority must provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service and that the government’s duty is to investigate when there are serious complaints that this is not the case.
“Yet this government has not once seen fit to intervene, not even in Gloucestershire where nearly half the libraries were scheduled for closure and Hertfordshire, where swingeing cuts to the public library service were initially proposed.”
Noting that the UK minister for culture, Ed Vaizey, intervened to prevent a ring that belonged to Jane Austen from leaving the UK, Ms Blackman insisted that public libraries were “every bit of a national treasure”.
The UK government has increased their focus on children’s reading and entertainment with recently published research suggestion children are reading fewer novels, comics, websites and magazines.
Blackman said that without libraries literacy would become “the province of a lucky few” rather than the democratising force they are at present.
She said: “Libraries are the best literacy resource we have – for children, they provide an equaliser that allows everyone the access to books, storytelling sessions, homework clubs, expert librarians who provide non-partisan assistance and advice regarding books and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature.
“Libraries switch children on to a love of reading, with all the ensuing benefits, and can make them lifelong readers.
“Without them, literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birth right of everyone.”
A spokesman for the recently formed Save our Libraries Moray group, who are set to launch a legal challenge to Moray Council’s decision to close seven of its 15 libraries, said: “Ms Blackman’s voice is just the latest in a very long line that are criticising the attack on our library services.
“The Scottish Government delayed economic cuts on local authorities for as long as possible and that is why closures of libraries in England started some time before they have in Scotland.
“Our warning to people throughout Scotland is that Moray is just the start, other local authorities will be seeing library services as an easy target and failing to fully appreciate the long term damage closing them will have on our communities.”