5 Reasons Why We Need to Protect Local Libraries
“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in a desert.” Those are the words of Dunfermline-born Andrew Carnegie. A man who put his money where his mouth was by funding lending libraries across Scotland. As a condition to funding, councils had to adopt the Public Libraries Act, applied in Scotland from 1853.
Fast forward 150 years and library closures are a constant threat for many communities in Scotland and the rest of the UK. In fact, in 2016-2017 a total of 172 libraries were closed across the UK in response to a £66m slash in funding. Andrew Carnegie would be appalled, and so should we.
Why? A community needs hundreds of daily interactions to thrive. As high streets wither on the vine, and bank branches close, there are fewer and fewer places for connection in our villages, towns and cities. Countering this are libraries. Libraries build communities. Generations gather there, be it parents and young children at Bookbug sessions here in Scotland; silver surfers like my dad who don’t have internet at home nor a smartphone, sending emails to cousins in Australia; or teenagers at after-school clubs.
Libraries show that we believe that everyone can and does have the ability to read themselves to a better life
Even in a prolonged age of austerity, closing libraries should never be an option. As a society, they are a symbol of meritocracy. They show that we believe everyone can and does have the ability to read themselves to a better life. As Dr Seuss said: “The more you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, the more places you go.”
Dr Seuss’s words are the most pertinent for the children libraries serve. With that in mind, I delved into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by the UK in April 1990, and ratified by all UN member states, except the USA and Somalia, in 1992) to see if there was a strong argument in there for protecting local libraries.
And, you know what, I think there might well be. Here are 5 Articles which support my case:
Article 6: Life, Survival and Development
"Every child has the right to life. Governments must do all they can to ensure that children survive and develop to their full potential."
If we are truly doing all we can to ensure children can develop to their full potential, we must provide them with free access to books. All children in this country can access books at pre-school and school, but sharing books with children in the early years is arguably more important. It is why Bookbug gifts free books to every child in Scotland, and it’s why every child in Scotland should have access to a local library.
Article 13: Freedom of Expression
"Every child must be free to express their thoughts and opinions and to access all kinds of information, as long as it is within the law."
“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader,” said American women’s rights advocate Margaret Fuller. Thoughts and opinions aren’t formed in a vacuum. They need fuel. Libraries are a nutritious buffet for a young brain. Where else can you ‘access all kinds of information’?
Article 17: Access to Information from the Media
"Every child has the right to reliable information from a variety of sources, and governments should encourage the media to provide information that children can understand. Governments must help protect children from materials that could harm them."
It is one thing to expect the media to provide information children can understand but it means nothing without access. Libraries provide more than just books. There are magazines, comics, safe internet access, films, music – the list goes on. Magazine subscriptions for children are expensive. Library cards are free.
Article 27: Adequate Standard of Living
"Every child has the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and social needs and support their development. Governments must help families who cannot afford to provide this."
If we truly care about supporting the social needs and development of every child, no matter their economic circumstances, then free access to books, events, films and music are vital. If your child loves or loved picture books, you’ll know how quickly they would tire of the same stories. If you use or used your local library to refresh your stocks, imagine the cost had you bought each book new.
Article 31: Leisure, Play and Culture
"Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities."
Reading is not only play but one of the most relaxing hobbies there is. Local libraries are the cultural hubs of the communities they serve. The key word here is local. Where I grew up, the only cultural venues outside of school were a 50-minute bus ride away. By keeping local libraries open, we are saying that we value cultural activity for everyone. It’s a powerful message. It says a lot about who we are, and the country we aspire to be.
Want to read more about the importance of libraries? Check out Sean McNamara's blog on why libraries matter to Scotland's health and wellbeing. Or, discover our top museums for book lovers post.