Public libraries in the UK have another strong supporter: Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson, who, on
The Gruffalo author, who embarked on her tour of England, Wales, and Scotland on September 10, says she’s promoting the value of libraries at a time when so many of them are under threat of closure. Donaldson also plans to visit libraries in Northern Ireland in March 2013.
“Libraries are very close to my heart; not only do they provide a wonderful opportunity for adults and children to browse, borrow and engage with books, but they are also great community centers,” Donaldson says. “This tour is my way of celebrating libraries, to highlight all that they do and offer—from lively baby and toddler rhyme-times and book club discussions to calm spaces for study and contemplation—and to protest against the cuts and closures, which are threatening so many of them.”
Donaldson’s letter to Miller criticizes her predecessor Jeremy Hunt and Libraries Minister Ed Vaizey for not acting on violations to the 1964 Libraries Act, which states that “every authority must provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. Donaldson says she hopes her tour will draw attention to the “erosion of the library service which is happening in so many local authorities, and to the current government’s utter refusal to intervene or to provide any leadership.”
A spokesperson with the UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport told the BBC that Miller would be happy to meet with Donaldson, but added that libraries are funded and run by local authorities rather than the central government—and that it was up to local authorities to decide the best way to provide library services to their communities.
Donaldson cites a recent survey by Public Libraries News, which shows that since April 2012 nearly 250 UK libraries are either under threat of closure or have been closed. Another survey by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals estimates that during this fiscal year 2,159 library positions out of a total of 20,924 will be cut—which is on top of huge cuts made in previous years. Library cuts have varied from region to region, with some places suffering budget cuts of up to 35 percent and “cuts in book stocks of up to 90 percent,” Donaldson’s letter reads.
Donaldson asserts that Vaizey denied any problems with library services in the UK. “This may be because he is happy with the idea (now a reality in some areas) of libraries being run entirely by volunteers,” Donaldson says, adding that she hopes this is only a short-term measure. “This summer, while visiting France, I had an engagement in a village library whose users were thrilled because at last they were getting a professional librarian. Yet we are going in the opposite direction.”
Donaldson’s letter goes on to day that she’s particularly concerned about the impact of library closures on children’s reading. “Today many towns have no bookshops,” she writes. “If they also have no library, where are children to find books?”
Donaldson’s tour will include bringing some of her stories to life through acting and singing. She will also visit local independent bookshops, as well as celebrate community relations among libraries, bookshops, and schools.
Donaldson joins other high-profile British authors, such as previous Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne, Philip Pullman, and Alan Gibbons, who have spent years championing school and public libraries in the UK.