Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Graham Meadows

I write in a personal capacity. However, my professional role is as an Adult Literacy consultant, where my area has been Literacy in HM prisons. I am a registered consultant with NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), and publish in Literacy Today, Basic Skills Bulletin and research/practitioner quarterlies at both Lancaster and London (IOE) universities.

Brent’s Library plans propose a large central library, which replaces six smaller libraries already in existence and functioning well. It is now known that the new library will take two years to finish (the six smaller ones in the meantime remaining shut). As a literacy consultant, I would affirm that this fails local learners in every respect. Also, that when the (for many) remote new library does open, the least advantaged will, in all probability, be those least able to reach it.

In addition, proposals of this kind undermine government action in other domains, particularly, for example, in the justice system. Brent shares much responsibility in the fight against urban crime as any other London borough, yet unlike others, has chosen to disregard the option to reduce crime in the community by supporting literacy. One only has to look at who is currently in custody to realise that the link between crime and low literacy is a real one. Indeed, 70% of prisoners currently in British gaols are functionally illiterate.

One solution is to pre-empt offending by enabling (potential) law-breakers to survive without resort to crime. Providing resources to overcome illiteracy can help to achieve this. By encouraging informal reading and writing in local communities—a task which local libraries are best fitted to do—crime levels can be brought down. To achieve maximum results, however, library centres need to be “seeded” well in communities, thus reaching disadvantaged learners—ie those (see above) most likely to offend.

Viewed in the wider context of crime control as well as the good of its citizens educationally, Brent’s proposals re its libraries seem not only misguided but self-defeating.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012