Supporting Libraries

Steve Barlow presented the following to a meeting discussing the future of Somerset libraries.
We think you’ll find some interesting points!


The Case for Public Libraries in

Promoting Children’s Reading

Friends of Somerset Libraries and

The Campaign for the Book

August 2012


One of the arguments that has been advanced as to why libraries are no longer as necessary as they were is that books have fallen in price and ‘most people can afford to have their own books.”


A 2011 National Literacy Trust survey on Book Ownership of over 18,000 pupils aged 8 to 17 demonstrated that, while 70% or respondents had books of their own, 30% did not.


Of the latter, 40% said there were fewer than 10 books at home. They were 15 times more likely to report that they lived in a house without a single book. They were also more likely to come from a background of socio-economic deprivation.


The report concluded that children who do not own books:

  • enjoy reading less
  • read fewer books
  • read less frequently
  • read for shorter lengths of time when they do read
  • have fewer books in the home
  • read less of every kind of material not just books
  • have more negative attitudes to reading
  • find it harder to find books that interest them
  • are twice as likely to agree they only read when they have to
  • have lower attainment


The report further concluded:

It is not a case of books being irrelevant now technology has superseded printed matter. Children with no books of their own are less likely to be sending emails, reading websites or engaging with their peers through the written word on social networking sites. Children who grow up without books and without positive associations around reading are at a disadvantage in the modern world.


Therefore to argue that book ownership among children renders libraries unnecessary is to ignore the needs of the most deprived 30 % of our population.



At the end of 2009 in a survey entitled Young People’s Reading and Writing, the National Literacy Trust surveyed 17,000 children and young people online in the UK’s largest ever study of young people’s attitudes to literacy and literate behaviour.


The research demonstrated the powerful relationship between a child’s access to resources and their attainment in reading and writing. There were strong positive relationships between a child’s access to all the resources which were named in the survey, paper and electronic, and their literacy attainment.


Worryingly, the research found that children’s access to all types of resources had fallen since its previous survey in 2005. Book ownership in children and young people had fallen steeply from 89% to 73%. Interestingly, there had been a significant drop in the number of children who access a computer at home (91% in 2005 to 83% in 2009) – perhaps linked to the rise in hand-held technologies.


Therefore it is demonstrably not the case that libraries are no longer needed as a learning resource by a population that has greater access to electronic media.



The National Literacy Trust’s research into Public Libraries and Literacy (February 2011) found that:


Non library users are:

  • more than three times more likely to only read when in class
  • more than three times more likely to state that they cannot find anything to read that interests them
  • almost three times as likely to rate themselves as not very good readers compared to library users.
  • However, the vast majority of pupils, whether or not they use the library, agree that reading is important to succeed in life.
  • Young people that use their public library are nearly twice as likely to be reading outside of class every day.
  • Public library users are nearly twice as likely to say that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot.
  • Public library users are twice as likely to say that they talk with their family about what they are reading at least once a week and report that they get significantly more encouragement from their parents in reading.
  • Young people reading above the expected level for their age are twice as likely to be public library users.
  • Young people reading below the expected level for their age are twice as likely not to be public library users.


The report concluded that public library use is strongly correlated with positive outcomes for reading attitudes, motivation, and behaviour and school attainment, and non-library use with negative outcomes.



In May 2012, Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, acknowledged the importance of public libraries in a child’s reading development. In particular, Mr Gibb said his policy staff were investigating Michael Rosen’s idea of giving every five-year-old a local library card: in a BBC Radio 4 interview, Mr Gibb said:

‘One of his ideas is for every child. When they start school, they will be issued with a library ticket from the local library and a map of how to get there and then school visits as well.’


The government understands the importance of the Public Libraries in the development of reading: however, this would be a difficult policy to implement if the schools in question had no local library.



In the December 2005 survey Children’s and Young People’s Reading Habits and Preferences, when asked why they were reading, most pupils indicated that they read because it is a skill for life, it helps them find out what they want/need to know and because it is fun.


Pupils believed that reading is important. However, pupils receiving FSMs were more likely to agree that reading is boring and hard, that reading is more for girls than for boys, and that they cannot find books that interest them.


A greater proportion of pupils receiving FSMs also stated that they would read more if books had more pictures, if someone read aloud to them, if libraries were closer and if their family encouraged them more.


21% of respondents stated that they would read more if libraries were better, and 18% said they would read more if libraries were closer.


The research indicates that among children from deprived backgrounds, having a well-stocked, welcoming public library nearby would potentially make them better readers and thereby improve their life chances.


The November 2008 Literacy Trust discussion document, Literacy Changes Lives, reported that:


In the UK, the Every Child A Reader programme makes it unequivocally clear that basic literacy is essential to future success. 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties in basic literacy skills. 25% of young offenders are said to have reading skills below those of the average seven-year-old. 60% of the prison population is said to have difficulties in basic literacy skills and 40% had severe literacy problems. Similarly, the Social Exclusion Unit reported that 80% of prisoners have writing skills at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old child; the equivalent figure for reading is 50% (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002:6).


Therefore there is a clear link between failure to read and write, and offending and imprisonment. The report also concluded that children from the most deprived social backgrounds were most likely to be drawn into offending behaviour.



The above evidence makes it clear that, in the event of Public Library Services being reduced, or withdrawn altogether, the biggest losers will be among the lowest socio-economic groups; that their acquisition of literacy skills is likely to be impaired; that they are more likely to resort to offending behaviour.


Furthermore, in 2000 the OECD, in its paper Literacy in the Information Age concluded:

Literacy not only enhances career prospects, but also reduces the chance of being unemployed. In most countries, low skills are associated with a higher incidence of long-term unemployment as opposed to short-term unemployment.

Of the factors studied in the wage analysis, educational attainment is the most important determinant of earnings in most countries.

Across countries, higher levels of literacy skills in the workforce are associated with larger proportions of knowledge jobs in the economy.

Literacy skills influence positively the probability of being in a white-collar high-skilled position and negatively the probability of being unemployed or in a blue-collar position.


In 2012, an OECD survey revealed that UK schoolchildren had fallen from 17th to 25th in its international league tables for standards in reading.


Therefore it is clear that, setting aside any arguments about the role of literacy in enhancement of understanding and enjoyment of life, there are hard economic reasons why literacy is vital to our children’s competitive future in a world-wide labour market, and accordingly, to our country’s future prosperity.



The information contained in this discussion document is contained in the following surveys:




Steve Barlow

For and behalf of Friends of Somerset Libraries

and the Campaign for the Book                                                      August 2012