• Kate

More than just a collection of books - The importance of libraries

A library is a wonderful place. This free and open space for all the community plays a key role in our society. There are 3,667 public libraries (including mobile libraries) in the UK. Sometimes seen as just a place to read and study, they are so much more than that. They are a space for developing a love for reading, classes and activities, and a space that bridges the digital divide.

Libraries are an open door for every child to uncounted opportunities - to have fun, to learn to discover and to share” (Brian Ashley).

Reading is so important for children, and a library is a wonderful space for them to develop their own tastes, preferences and allows them the freedom to explore new worlds and perspectives. Libraries host many programmes and activities to develop a love of literature. From early year story and rhyme times to writing activities and reading challenges. The Summer Reading Challenge is a programme designed to encourage children to read over the summer holidays when the frequency of reading usually declines. Each year over 700,000 children aged 4-11 take part and keep reading, building their skills and confidence. It has been reported that reading for enjoyment is more important for cognitive development than parents’ level of education. It has also been studied that reading for pleasure is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background (Sullivan and Brown 2013). When it is reported that 1 in 8 disadvantaged children in the UK do not own a book (Wood), the library is such an important place to provide access to books and allow all children to discover a wide range of stories and literature. The library is also an environment that supports learning and this is so important for students who may not have this type of space at home. With free access to the internet and computers, it is a vital space for young people.

Access to PCs and the internet is also a key reason libraries many adults use library services. To gain access to many governement services, job applications and resources you need to have access to the intenet. With 1.5 million homes in the UK not having internet access (BBC) a free space to access the internet is vital for many.

Local libraries also provide a wide range of support for job seekers and those looking to gain more employment skills with: 86% of library authorities support the unemployed to get online

76% support job-searching online

71% help with CV writing

63% provide short courses to improve IT skills. (Libraries Connected)

Libraries also offer many activities that aim to connect individuals, combat loneliness and improve wellbeing. This can be reading groups, creative activities or coffee mornings. A Reading Agency survey in 2020 of over 1,000 reading group members found that 71% said their mental wellbeing improved because of being a part of a reading group. Mobile library services are also so important for people who are unable to leave their homes, as they provide a key source of social interaction.

Even during lockdown where physical library buildings were forced to close, many expanded their digital offering and staff continued to work to support their communities. Over 75% of library services delivered #LibrariesFromHome events and 60% of services continued a Home Library Service, providing books to very vulnerable users (Libraries Connected). As we move out of the pandemic, Carol Stump, President of Libraries Connected predicts that libraries will be essential to helping communities to recover, helping in 5 key areas: -Economic recovery with help and training for job seekers and entrepreneurs

-Education support for children and SEND students who struggled to learn at home

-Isolation mitigation for vulnerable groups and to help people to reconnect locally

-Digital inclusion for residents who lack IT skills or have no access to the Internet -Cultural partnership to help local artists and arts organisations to continue their work. (Libraries: An essential part of local recovery)

"But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information." (Neil Gaiman)

Libraries are so important as they provide access to reading, training, the internet, digital services, are a trusted source of information and connect people of all ages and backgrounds. Libraries have existed throughout history, from the ancient world to our digital age, and they are just as important now as they have even been.