In Shropshire a review of library services is under way, designed to save £1.3 million. All Powys libraries will remain open but their operating hours will be reduced next year to save money
The steps set off alarm bells with Morpurgo, who at 71 says he has enjoyed the luxury of having access to public lending.
The War Horse author believes councillors should rethink proposals to cut library services for the good of the next generation.
Speaking after a performance at the Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury, he said the closure of libraries would be especially detrimental for children.
“There is a growing difficulty in getting children to read which needs to be tackled,” he said.
“Parents have to read to their children to help them make their own ways in life and to develop into an all rounded adult. Books are a great way to teach children but sadly some parents do not have time anymore. Some children arrive at school without having seen a book. It is then down to the great teachers and schools to teach the children how to read. The important thing to keep this going is to support libraries and not let local authorities close them. Libraries are how people fall in love with books. I know the argument is the internet is taking over but not everybody has the internet – a lot of older people don’t. You can access a range and depth of books in the library that you just can’t do on the internet. They are wonderful places for information and form parts of local communities. Councils say not enough people use them but the answer to that is more investment to make them better rather than close them.”
A school library is an equaliser, argues ex-school-librarian Anna James, now working for The Bookseller as books & media editor:
In my school library I worked with so many different teenagers; Year 11 girls who had never read for pleasure before finding books that represented their school experience, with one particular convert refusing to let her friend watch "Made in Chelsea" until after an impromptu book club.
I worked with groups of struggling Year 7 students who were re-engaged with books by having Wonder read aloud to them. There were the Year 10 girls who joined in with the sixth form Man Booker prize shadowing club, the Carnegie shadowing group and the queues of students lining up to get books signed by Patrick Ness or Henry Winkler. There was a never-ending stream of students who found solace and comfort in the library, not to mention somewhere to play Dungeons & Dragons.
They also have small budgets and are often reliant on SLSs to maintain collections that can support their schools. SLSs are an invaluable resource, organizing training and advocacy, as well as resources. They are an irreplaceable loss, especially for primary schools where budgets are even smaller, or non-existent, and frequently without a dedicated librarian. The closure of SLSs limits the number of children that can be helped and inspired by libraries.
SLSs are dependent on funding from their council, and councils are currently being forced to make unrealistic financial cuts to their arts and culture provisions by the government. A government that refuses to make school libraries statutory and repeatedly demonstrates the lack of value it places on the arts.
School libraries open minds, eyes and hearts but they need the support of their schools, councils and fundamentally the government. When school libraries are gone, due to ‘unavoidable’ cuts, we will realise what we have lost. Without a school library, and librarian, where will children go to explore, question, learn and wonder?
Libraries are an equaliser and I believe a child who has had access to a properly staffed and equipped school library is less likely to need access to a prison library.