Children’s reading charity, ABC to Read, has criticised councillors across Berkshire who are planning cuts to public library services.
West Berkshire councillors are coming under particular scrutiny by the charity, as they are currently consulting on plans to close all the public libraries in the West Berkshire district, except Newbury, and to scale back on mobile library services.
ABC to Read recruits, trains and deploys volunteer reading mentors to primary schools across the county to help give a much-needed boost to school children who are finding reading a challenge. Each volunteer offers around four hours a week, throughout the school year, to support three children on a one-to-one basis.
Mike Edwards, an ABC to Read trustee, described the council’s plans as “an act of cultural vandalism” that would cause ripples at the heart of the community. Speaking of the proposed cuts, Mr Edwards, said:
“The free-to-access public library service is a cultural jewel in Britain’s crown. At a time when it is more important than ever to raise levels of literacy across the nation, it is incredibly saddening and unbelievable that West Berkshire Council is considering closing this irreplaceable service.
“Our volunteers, working closely with local primary schools, are trying to encourage reluctant young readers to make positive use of our public libraries but their elected representatives are planning to get rid of these very services. The community will not smile kindly on them for it.”
Marcia Rowlinson, ABC to Read Chief Operating and Development Officer, added:
“We’re incredibly disappointed that our local councillors are considering closing all public libraries in the area. These spaces are safe harbours for our children to learn and develop. As a charity who understand and value the huge impact that reading has for our children’s learning and future opportunities, we are very much hoping that the councillors will find more reasonable alternatives to these plans.”
When children fail to develop appropriate literacy skills, the implications for society can be far-reaching and expensive:
- 25% of those in Young Offender Institutions have literacy levels below that expected of a 7-year-old;
- Half of 15 to 17 year olds in Young Offender Institutions have the literacy skills expected of a 7 to 11-year-old
- 60% of adults in prison have difficulties with basic literacy skills.
Whilst recognising that local authority budgets are under great pressure, ABC to Read highlights that, once gone, public libraries may never reappear and the cost to society may, in the long term, far outstretch any savings to be made in the short term.
West Berkshire Councillors – and any others in Berkshire considering the libraries a soft target – must think again and work with the community to find a better solution.