Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL)

Summary

This response to the Government enquiry is submitted by ASCEL—the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians.

It identifies three key elements of a 21st Century library service—information provision; reading, literacy and reader development and community support and engagement.

It recognises that the library service is developing its electronic services, but that a physical presence is also important.

It identifies that there are opportunities for rationalising services and responding to economic constraints.

It argues that library closures do have an impact, particularly on the most vulnerable members of our society and to mitigate the impact of the closures it is vital that library services considering closing libraries actively involve and consult the community and seek to clearly understand their needs.

It argues that services should also give careful thought to how to enable communities whose libraries are closing to maintain reasonable access to high quality library services.

A. What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st Century

1. ASCEL believes that a comprehensive and efficient library service must comprise three elements of service. It must:

meet the information needs of the community;

meet the reading needs of the local community; and

provide a physical and vibrant centre for the community.

2. It must provide a basic free service to meet these needs, but it must not simply be reactive.

3. The library service should be a crucial element of the cultural life of the community and of the nation. Through book and literary events and reader development activities for both adults and children it should stimulate the desire to read, extend people’s reading repertoire, help to reinforce the skills of emergent adult and child readers and celebrate the written word.

4. It must provide easy access to a comprehensive range of resources in a range of formats, through efficient partnerships and effective use of technology.

5. The library service should have a physical and electronic presence. Libraries can energise communities. People need a local, free and attractive place where they can meet, participate in activities and contribute to their community. Physical library spaces can bring diverse communities together, thereby contributing to the building of social capital.

A library service needs to ensure that all communities have access to a library or mobile within a reasonable distance of their homes in order that:

Parents and young children participating in baby and toddler times have a chance to get to know each other and build friendships.

Older people who may be feeling isolated have a reason to leave the house without travelling too far and still feel part of the community.

Job seekers have local and easy access to resources to support them finding work.

Children struggling with homework can have support which relieves pressure on working parents.

6. The library service needs to respond positively to technological innovation. It needs to engage with the community through social media and exciting marketing. The service needs to provide easy access to e books and e audio and ensure that these collections are comprehensive and effectively promoted and managed. E books cost money just as paper versions do and if libraries can offer free e book loans they will continue to widen access to books for all. Library services should be working with the book trade to resolve issues around the loan of e books.

7. It may no longer be sustainable to have 151 separate library authorities and ASCEL recognises that an efficient library service needs to be constantly exploring cost effective ways of service delivery. There needs to be more co-operation and sharing of services across authority boundaries. There also needs to be partnerships between libraries and other local services for example early years services. Libraries offer unique skills and support to enhance the services of other agencies and in turn benefit from the new customers those other agencies can bring into libraries.

8. Libraries need staff with a wide range of skills and expertise to develop and deliver services to their communities and engage effectively with communities. But libraries are also ideal places for community participation, offering opportunities for volunteering and work experience. Volunteering should add value to the core service providing more capacity for cultural and learning activity and service innovation.

9. The library service needs to be fully accountable to its local community, but this creates the danger of an uneven provision of service across the country. Some national guidance on service provision would ensure a basic level of service. However national standards can lead to an overall mediocre level of service. To counteract this, there should be an emphasis on strong leadership and innovation within services. Good practice and professional expertise must be identified and shared and services should be encouraged to look at ways to generate income. By selling services and expertise to the private as well as other areas of the public and third sector, libraries may protect free core service to their communities.

B. The extent to which the planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries and Museums Act and the Charteris Report

1. It is true that as the centres of towns change, develop and move, libraries suddenly find themselves to be no longer in the centre of towns and may become less well used by the local community. When finances are tight it is proper to review library services and buildings and consider the most cost effective ways of delivering services. However when reviews are undertaken it is vital that the views of the whole community and all stakeholders are explored and seriously considered.

2. Access is a crucial issue especially for children; older people and people with disabilities, and those who are living in poverty who have little access to books and information.

3. When library closures are considered there needs to be a clear strategic plan in place to ensure that the needs of the specific community affected by the library closures will be met and the community will not be unfairly disadvantaged. In particular travel and distance issues to the nearest library need to be carefully considered to ensure that the service maintains “a comprehensive and efficient public library service for all desirous to make use thereof” (Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964) and alternative options for providing information and reading opportunities are explored.

C. The impact that library closures have on local communities

1. Whilst the electronic services libraries are beginning to offer are shifting some of the focus of service delivery, the physical library building is still a compelling and significant part of a community. In times of economic hardship, it could be argued that more people will need libraries to learn new skills, seek employment, apply for jobs, write CVs etc.

2. For those in economic hardship, free access to books and information and activities for parents and children can at least relieve home pressures and engage people in their communities and at best turn people’s lives around.

3. ASCEL is particularly concerned with the impact that library closures will have on the following specific groups of the community: Parents, babies and toddlers, children and teenagers.

For parents

Libraries provide parents with:

information about parenting issues;

books to help them explain difficult situations with their children;

a place where they can meet other parents;

a place where they can learn how to share books and rhymes with children; and

a place of safety and comfort where they and their child(ren) feel welcomed and can enjoy spending time together outside the home.

For babies and toddlers

Libraries provide an extensive range of books for children in the early years; they also run baby and toddler rhyme times and music times, all of which contribute to the development of language and later to literacy. Dame Clare Tickell,1 Frank Field2 and Graham Allen3 all express their conviction that that children’s life chances are determined in their early years, and children who are born in poverty may be a year behind their middle class peers when they start school, but one of the factors that can improve the life experiences of poor children in the early years is if their “home learning environment” is strong. The home learning environment includes the following six activities:

Reading to their child.

Taking their child to the library.

Helping their child to learn the alphabet.

Teaching their child numbers or counting.

Teaching their child songs or poems and nursery rhymes.

Painting or drawing at home.

It is vital that local libraries can support the home learning environment of young children. Libraries surround children in a language-rich environment which allows them to hear and explore words in stimulating and fun ways through rhymes and stories preparing them to read their first words.

For children and teenagers

Libraries encourage children to read for pleasure. Last summer (2011) 780,000 children participated in “Circus Stars” the national summer reading challenge. Not all of these children were natural readers or had access to books extensively at home “Great encouragement to continue reading through the summer—I have one who loves to read and one that doesn’t!! Both completed Circus Stars with enthusiasm” Parent Braintree Library Essex. Through their participation in this library activity children and their parents recognised that their reading skills were practised and improved.

The government recognise the need for children to read widely if they are to become discerning and informed citizens and critical thinkers able to contribute to society and to the economy, but very few homes would have access to the range of books children need if the library was not available to them.

In response to the disappointing reading performance of England’s 15-year-olds in the international PISA study, Schools Minister Nick Gibb recently stated: “Almost 40% of pupils in England never read for enjoyment. The difference in reading ability between these pupils and those who read for just half an hour a day is equivalent to a year’s schooling at age 15” (DfE, 2011).4 It is vital that public libraries support pupils with access to a wide range of reading for pleasure materials. Recent research from the National Literacy Trust has also demonstrated the importance of reading for pleasure. For example, they found that children who use the library are twice as likely to be above average readers (NLT,2011)5 and that there is a correlation between visiting libraries and children’s reading levels and the number of books children read per month and reading attainment.6

Libraries also provide children and teenagers with support for their learning and information needs and particularly for children in deprived areas libraries provide access to computers, places to study and indeed staff to support them. The Children’s Public Library User Survey7 of 2010 found that children using libraries in deprived areas are more than twice as likely to go there to do their homework, compared to children in the least deprived areas. Staff working at libraries in the more deprived areas are twice as likely to be assisting with homework than those in least deprived area. Libraries in the most deprived areas received a higher satisfaction score for homework help.

D. The effectiveness of the secretary of state’s powers of intervention under the public libraries and museums act 1963

1. We believe that it is important that the Secretary of State uses the powers of intervention to ensure that where authorities are considering closing libraries, the full impact of the closure on the local community has been assessed and that the community has been consulted. The Secretary of State should also ensure that the spirit of the Act—that all those wishing to use the public library should be able to do so -is maintained and that before closure is undertaken all other options have been considered. Also that there is a strategy for enabling reasonable access to a public library for all those in the local community, regardless of age, ability, language, ethnicity or economic situation.

January 2012

1 The Early Years: Foundations for Life, health and learning, Dame Clare Tickell, 2011.

2 The Foundation Years: Preventing poor children becoming poor adults, Frank Field, Cabinet Office, January 2011.

3 Early Intervention: the next steps Graham Allen MP, Cabinet Office, January 2011.

4 www.education.gov.uk/a00199153/englands-15-year-olds-reading-is-more-than-a-year-behind-the-best, DFE. October 2011.

5 www.literacytrust.org.uk/news/2984_children_who_use_the_library_are_twice_as_likely_to_be_above_average_readers National Literacy Trust, February 2011.

6 The Gift of Reading in 2011: Children and young people’s access to books and attitudes to reading; Christine Clark, Jane Woodley, Fiona Lewis; National Literacy Trust, 2011.

7 Children’s public library user survey national report 2010-11 “Children Talk, Libraries Listen” CIPFA, October 2011.

Prepared 5th November 2012