Thursday, 22 January 2015

Why fund libraries when it's all online? - by Nicola Morgan

He was an intelligent man and he'd flown high in his career. I know that from the conversation we'd had up till that point. The point when he said, "But we don't need libraries, because it's all online now."

You can imagine the rattle of adrenaline through my veins. But I've learnt that in these situations a rant doesn't help matters. You have to go straight to the point.

"But how will you create readers," I asked, "Without libraries?"

"You can learn to read online," he suggested, clearly not having thought this through. But he's not alone in not having thought this through.

We're not winning the war to keep libraries (both public and school) valued and funded. We’re winning some battles but the enemy keeps popping up elsewhere, just as strong, blinkered and ignorant as before. We’re not winning it because of a fundamental misunderstanding by far too many people of what all libraries do. And what they do that nothing else can do, least of all the Internet. Unfortunately, many of these people are our elected politicians, entrusted with the education of our children and claiming to want a “fairer” society.

Libraries – and, crucially, their trained librarians – create readers. It’s that simple. Without the libraries you used as a young child, you would not be the reader you are now. I doubt any of us became a reader simply through the books our parents bought – even wealthy families wouldn’t choose to buy the quantity of books needed to feed a young reader. Young readers need, as James Patterson said recently, to be “inundated with books”, so they can find ones they like.

Liking books is not optional: it’s essential, if the child is to undertake the thousands of hours of practice necessary for the complicated process of becoming a reader. Teachers and parents, in different ways, teach children to read but that’s only the start of building a reader. Books do the rest and librarians curate the flood of books so that the child becomes a strong swimmer in ever deeper waters.

But that’s public libraries. What about school libraries? Why do we need those, too? Well, many families don’t use public libraries and, remember, we want a fairer society, where everyone can become a reader with a wide mind and big horizons, not just children with socioeconomic advantages. School librarians view each child, from whatever type of reading background or none, as a child who can, with help, have a richer reading life. They know better than anyone the full range of books, modern and classic, and how to make it enticing.

Too many elected politicians don’t understand any of this. Some, like the man I spoke to, believe libraries aren’t necessary because “It’s all on the Internet”. Oh yes, “it” is all on the Internet – all the words and knowledge you want, poems and stories, gems and sludge, recipes for bombes and bombs, facts and falsity, it’s all out there. And you can access it all (or the parts that Google throws to the top of the search results) and sift through it (eventually) and make good decisions about it (I hope) because you are readers. You are readers because as children you were inundated with books.

If politicians know this and still consider cutting funding, they must explain how they will create a fairer society when only the privileged can become real readers. Because that is what will happen where school library services are cut. Families who can afford to will fill the gap: they will buy as many books as they can and their children will have no limits to achievement. The children of other families will learn to read at school (I hope) but, lacking the necessary flood of book choice, will not become proficient enough to read widely for pleasure and so they will read much less. That would be fine if it was their choice. But they would have no choice.

Please help us win this war. CWIG (the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group of The Society of Authors) keeps fighting these battles, and so do loads of authors (particularly children's ones) such as Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy and Malorie Blackman, and many ABBA bloggers and readers. But we need everyone to help spread the message that without a properly funded school library service and a dedicated librarian in every school, we cannot offer every child the power of reading. And without that, it’s just not a fair society.

Libraries are how people become readers.


Adapted from a piece for the Society of Authors in Scotland newsletter. 
Nicola Morgan is on the committee of CWIG, the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group and is a former chair of the SOAIS. She is an Ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland and a specialist in adolescence, the science of reading and reading for pleasure. The Teenage Guide to Stress advocates reading for pleasure as a valuable anti-stress strategy.

20 comments:

catdownunder said...

I agree with everything you have to say Nicola. We are having exactly the same battles here Downunder. We already have some schools without libraries and more are going the same way. Even some teachers are saying "they can get all their texts on line so we don't need a library". They would rather the school had extra computers.

Heather Dyer said...

This is true - my friend's son wants to do better in English and needs to read more and spend less time online. His has bought him a couple of books from Waterstones but is disappointed when his son finds out that after a page or two they aren't his cup of tea. The library! I said. Take him to the library! He can try out as many as he wants and if he doesn't like them he can chuck them back again. And it's free!!

Sue Bursztynski said...

As you say, it starts with the politicians, most of whom have a privileged background. And it isn't all the politicians. A lot of folk out there have no respect for teachers(or think all the good ones are in the private schools), so they allow governments to give principals the purse strings and, far from making things better, it just forces them to make decisions about where there will be cutbacks. The easiest place for cutbacks is the library. Because, as you say, "it's all online".

My colleagues don't want the library closed, only the administration. When I retire, I doubt I will be replaced. Too much of this is happening. We do need support from the big name writers, in the newspapers, where it will embarrass those responsible.

Clare Zinkin said...

This is a fantastic article. I wish I could print it out and stick it all over our local council offices (who are planning on closing local libraries) and give to my school (where I remain as an unpaid volunteer librarian as there is no budget for me). And the other primary schools down the road who don't even have a volunteer...

Susan Price said...

Great post. I've tweeted it about as much as I can.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, all! It's a message we have to keep saying (or shouting) over and over again. GRRRRRRRR!

adele said...

A wonderful and timely post. Needs saying over and over again, which is depressing in itself.

Gill Duane said...

Brilliant post. Thank you from a school librarian.

Lesley said...

Thank you for this Nicola. This cannot be said enough.

Rewan said...

A great piece. Nothing beats the sheer joy of going into a library and coming out with a pile of books to read. And of course libraries offer so many programmes and activities to help people learn and communitys come together.

Savita Kalhan said...

I attended the Save Barnet Libraries meeting in Mill Hill last week and there was overwhelming support for Barent's libraries, which are underfunded at best and now under threat. There was little support from Barnet Council however. A very depressing situation.

Pennie Wilson said...

I played 'The Reading Game' (created by a School Librarian -Carel Press) with a Year 7 class this morning and the teacher commented that it was wonderful that the kids had the opportunity to browse and discuss so many good and varied titles and genres. This is an example of the sort of thing a School Librarian does to encourage children to read widely...

Anonymous said...

Whenever someone claims that "everything's available online" I want to give them my reading list & ask them where I can find all the titles online and how much it will cost me to access them. Everything is NOT available online, and online does not always mean free.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Nicola! And thank you also to all the other authors who do such a great job of supporting libraries.
School libraries have never needed support more than now when we are threatened on all sides and yet with the gap between the haves and the have nots wider than it has been for a century (BBC news, this morning) we are more essential than ever.

Emma Barnes said...

Absolutely, Nicola. The library service is essential...and yet there is this terrible ignorance among the powerful in our society about what is happening to it and what this means.

Without the libraries you used as a young child, you would not be the reader you are now.

I can see in my mind's eye many of the books I read as a child from the library - what the cover looked like, whether they were hardback or paperback. So many books that meant a huge amount to me, and changed the way I saw the world, and which I would never have discovered otherwise (despite coming from a book-rich household).

As you say, children need a wide range of books to become readers, and libraries are the only way to provide that for most children. If they become readers, the impact on the whole of their education is enormous - as many studies have shown. The closure of libraries is damaging the education, and the future life chances, of the next generation.

Linda Strachan said...

Great post, Nicola.

We say it again and again and keep hoping that if we keep shouting about it eventually they will listen and realise that it is not rocket science, just good old common sense!

Anne Akile said...

A powerful post. Thank you for your continuous support in highlighting our profession and libraries.

Charlotte said...

Bravo, the internet is the library without a librarian. Do these people not know whatva scholar a good librarian is, how vital they are as a signpost and gateway. what is being lost is horrifying.

Sue Bursztynski said...

No, Charlotte, they neither know nor care, as long as their own children's exclusive private schools still have a library and a librarian. Definitely a case of haves and have nots. And the haves can also afford the author visits schools like mine can't.
While my four campus school still has three libraries(the Principal closed the senior campus library last year to save money and because "it's all online") one of the surviving libraries is run by a woman who has no knowledge or qualifications - an integration aide who learned on the job. Her skill is to make the library look pretty, not much else. Nothing happens in the library at that campus. And the books have been cut down. But she is cheaper than the brilliant TL she replaced.

Nicola Morgan said...

Charlotte, I think that the internet is not even that because the internet cannot create readers (or not any application of the internet yet invented)!