Wednesday, 22 December 2010

How important are books to you?

Yesterday it was revealed that from 1st April 2011 the government will cut, by 100%, all Department for Education funding for the Booktrust's bookgifting programmes. This is sad news indeed as the three schemes run by the Booktrust are designed with one sole purpose - to get books into the hands of kids and thereby encourage them to read. Bookstart is a national programme that gives a free pack of books to every baby born in the UK, as well as invaluable guidance to their parents/carers. Booktime promotes reading for pleasure by giving the gift of a book pack to children across the UK shortly after they first start school. Booked Up (admittedly, the only one of the three schemes that I have first hand experience of) is a national programme that aims to give a free book to every child starting secondary school in England. All of these could become a thing of the past if the government sticks to these plans, and this makes me want to cry.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have grown up in a household where reading for enjoyment was encouraged from a very young age. We had books in the house, although as there were five of us money was often tight and therefore many of our books came from charity shops or jumble sales. This didn't make them any less precious to us though, probably more so. These days there are many families who can't even afford charity shop books as their parents have to prioritise spending money on food, clothing, heating. This means that in many areas schemes such as Booked Up means a child gets to own a book for the first time in their life. Even teaching in a relatively affluent area I have seen how much the gift of a book means to some children. And the government want to take this away.

What makes this even more depressing and tragic is that this announcement is on the back of the past month when we have heard about so many local councils wanting to close down library services. If it hadn't have been for Lillington and Leamington Spa libraries I probably wouldn't be the person I am today. Although money was tight in the family, if I ever wanted to read a new book I would go to these libraries, and often spend hours there choosing my next reads. Before our annual family holiday I would go into Lillington Library equipped with my library card and my mother's library card, and I would later emerge with a pile of twenty books - Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Doctor Who, Agatha Christie - and I feel nothing but sadness that a generation of young people in certain areas of the county may soon not be able to do this.

Many people will be thinking that there is nothing they can do about this, but there is. You can write to your MP. You can bombard your local and national press with letters in protest. You can add your voice to the thousands who have already expressed their disdain at the cut in Bookstart by following them and tweeting your thoughts using the #bookgifting hash tag.

And there's more..... Alan Gibbons, author of the fantastic Hell's Underground series, is currently trying to arrange a coordinated protest about library closures on Saturday 5th February. This is what he is proposing:

*Library campaigners hold Read-ins at selected libraries around the country on Saturday, February 5th, say at noon, focusing on branches facing closure in key areas such as Doncaster, Leeds, Lewisham, Brent, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, etc.

*The Read-In would begin with speeches by readers, authors, trade unionists, librarians, councilors committed to libraries, etc and continue with protestors going into their libraries and taking turns to read excerpts from their favourite books.

*The Campaign for the Book is an umbrella body and respects the autonomy of local campaigns. The exact nature of each protest would be up to each area.

*We would try to attract the maximum media publicity in the build up to council meetings and the Conservative Local Government conference in Warwickshire on Friday, February 11th.

*The atmosphere should be celebratory, pointing to the positive impact libraries have in communities, raising literacy, giving access to ICT and information, providing meeting places and local events. We want to demonstrate what libraries are and argue what they could be with a proper strategy for their development.

If you are keen to support this please visit Alan's blog entry here or email him at 

I would love to hear your thoughts about these issues - please do leave a comment below this post. 

Please don't just sit by and watch the literacy of England's children suffer. 

*Edit: If you have any doubt as to the value of programmes such as Bookstart please visit this link. 


  1. The news about BookStart was a real shock to public librarians and school librarians. We have all seen the positive impact of the programme. The BookStart book, I know from what people tell me, is sometimes the only book in the house. I know, from my experience, that families have rediscovered libraries and reading due to the initiative.

    Public libraries are facing the greatest threat in their history. I count over 360 under threat of closure.

    For a survey (and map) of announced library cuts see For reasons to defend libraries see

  2. Like you, hearing this announcement made me want to cry. It's so mean sneaking it in before Christmas, too, just when teachers are enjoying a well-earned break and parents are racing around trying to get everything done before the 25th. I'll keep in touch - thanks for a very clear, concise post.

  3. Terrific post, thank you. Do you mind if I send the link to all the School Librarians in my area. I am sure they would love to comment/take part.
    I have seen Bookstart in Wales but not the other two schemes.
    I would love to sign up for Booked up for next Spetember - lets hope it is still going

  4. Thank you all for your comments. I think the whole cut is Booktrust funding has come as a massive shock for many people simply because we just didn't see it coming.

    Asamum - please send the link to anyone and everyone. I am not sure Booked Up ran in Wales as I know some of the Booktrust programmes were England only.