The future of sharing books with children – no.2 – libraries

So, leading on (quite some time later, I know!) from my previous post about the future of booksellers, the next thing M and I discussed was the future of libraries.

Despite being aware of all the cuts that are being made to the funding for libraries, it seems to me (and I’m guessing many others too – I’m no rocket scientist…) that maintaing libraries is the perfect way to soften the blow of disappearing bookshops.  They have the chance to offer impartial advice and one of the things people often say they love about bookshops (and especially independent ‘specialist’ ones) is that there are people there with ideas and knowledge who can point them in the right direction when it comes to choosing books.  Libraries can, and often already do, do this brilliantly, though clearly will not be able to continue if they are not funded.  Thinking about this issue caused me to look around on the internet a bit and I came across The Library Campaign‘s website which gives a lot of food for thought.

M thinks that libraries are on the way out as well.  Again, NOT because he wants them to be, or because he thinks it’s right, but because there is little chance of them continuing to get the funding they need to survive.  When I pointed out how much libraries do over and above the lending of books – check out this great post for inspiration – he still didn’t feel it would be enough to justify their future security.

I so desperately want to think he’s wrong (and I know there is most definitely an element of him playing devil’s advocate when we chat about these things) but I find it harder and harder to believe that the decision makers in this country value libraries enough to want to keep them.

Talking about education is a whole separate blog post and probably a whole separate blog, but it makes me (and countless others, I know) so sad to think of all the pressure that is placed on small children to pass, or indeed fail, tests practically from the moment they are born and yet so much evidence seems to suggest that this isn’t the way to help them succeed and be happy in later life.  A love of reading *does* seem to do this.

I hate to think of C, who has started school this year, losing his passion for books.  He is loving learning to read and seems to be doing very well with it, but I would never want that to replace the magical story times we have together.  One of his highlights of the week is choosing a book from the school library and bringing it home to share with us, which I’m pleased about as I have less opportunity to take him to our local library now that he’s at school.

Both C and H love visiting the library, despite the fact that they live in a home where they are lucky enough to have access to hundreds of books at any time.  It’s not merely that they are able to choose books they mightn’t have seen before (and yes, contrary to M’s opinion, there are *some* books out there that we don’t own 😉 ) but also that they are in a place that exists purely for the purpose of celebrates reading and stories, and talking and sharing and having fun.

Something else that I think is important about libraries is time.  In schools, nurseries, bookshops and homes we might be under pressure to choose a book quickly or there might be other distractions.  In a library, it’s All About The Books.  We can choose one, read a bit of it, change our mind, choose another, have someone read that to us, go for a wander to run our fingers along the spines of the older people’s books and dream about when we will read them, come back, sit down, have a cuddle, choose a new book, and so on.  So much of a young child’s life is scheduled these days that in an ironic twist I find myself pencilling in time for us to do nothing and the library is one of the most perfect places for it.  Of course, it’s not that we’re *actually* doing nothing, but more that we’re allowing ourselves not to have a plan and to see where the books take us.

If we want children to grow up to be creative, independent thinkers who are able to start their own businesses, develop creative solutions to problems and to forge their own paths, we need to show them how powerful their imaginations are and to show them that there is never one right answer –  there are so many ways to tell the same story and each one is valid.  (This makes me angry again, thinking about how the current pressure on tests means children will be afraid to make mistakes or get things wrong occasionally.  If no-one tries anything new because they’re afraid of making a mistake (and many mistakes need to be made in order to bring about the most exciting changes – I’m sure even the most revered authors and illustrators would tell us that!) then how will anything ever change?  ARRRRGHHHHHHHHH!)

*Takes a VERY deep breath*

I don’t have the data to show how well libraries are used and I expect it varies wildly from area to area.  School libraries are also proving harder to sustain, it seems, and so it’s not as though they will become a replacement (not even mentioning the fact that libraries are not only for children, even though that’s what I’m focusing on here, so school libraries – brilliant or otherwise would have no impact on giving adults access to books).  Where will children and families go to get advice about what to read next or what to try out or simply to find out why reading is so fun and so important?  I’d like to think that everyone reads book blogs avidly and takes advice from there (!), but I know that’s not the case and even if it were, blogs couldn’t replace the personal touch of chatting to someone in person.

Right, I’ve wittered on enough about the problems, so in order to adopt a Positive Mental Attitude I’ll try and think of how things could realistically be better.

1)  Could mobile libraries play a greater role?  If the cost of sustaining a huge building is part of the problem (and I’m not saying that it is because I don’t know) could the books travel around to be shared?  Could there be pop-up libraries in the same vein as the pop-up shops which are becomingly more and more popular?  These libraries could also pop up at children’s centres, nurseries, baby clinics, etc. at certain times, with someone on hand to chat to parents and families about the joy of reading.

2)  How do the events a library offers impact on how well it’s used?  Many libraries have a fortnightly Rhyme Time session for small children based on nursery rhymes, as well as offering a whole range of events in the school holidays for older children.  I don’t know of many simple storytelling sessions that happen on a regular basis, where it’s possible to sit and be read a book.  I’m sure there are many reasons (lots of them financial) why this doesn’t happen.  However, while it mightn’t be possible to recreate a full-on craft or singing and dancing session at home, if you’ve watched your child be spellbound by someone just reading to them, it might encourage you to do the same at home.

3)  How could publishers play a part?  I am sure I’m being naive and that there are lots of reasons why this wouldn’t work, but could publishers donate a certain number of books per year to libraries?  I know a publisher’s goal is to sell books rather than donate them to a place where they’ll be used for free, but I can’t be the only person who has bought books after borrowing them from the library countless times?  I wish publishers could opt to pay less in tax and instead donate books to libraries to keep them flourishing.

4)  How can we support children whose families can’t afford books or whose love of reading isn’t strong enough to cause them to proactively seek out books?  I ask myself this question constantly when I am considering what Story Seekers might *be*.  Even though I like the idea of baby and toddler classes and realise that should they be successful they would potentially earn me a salary, I know that there are lots of parents who wouldn’t ever attend those sort of classes, for a whole variety of reasons.  I would LOVE to moonlight as a library outreach worker (I’m thinking cape, mask and a sparkly book wand) who visited children’s centres, worked alongside health visitors, liaised with staff at pre-schools and even visited families in their homes?  There is a steady stream of articles about how important a love of reading is for a child’s future success and happiness and in this Guardian article, the current Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, writes passionately about how important libraries are in giving everyone an equal chance to develop this love.  If we accept we need to get people using libraries in order to show that they’re worth keeping, perhaps we need people to reach out deeper into the community and shout about them even more than we already do?

Without libraries, how else can we guarantee being able to share the magic of reading and books for future generations? One of the many things I love about libraries is their sense of continuity.  The buildings themselves may have been used by many generations, but even if they haven’t you are still reading books that many others have read before you and hopefully even more will read after you.  My mum instilled me in a need to appreciate the history of things and the stories behind them and her mum instilled in me my passion for reading.  Both these things are encapsulated in libraries and I want my children and my children’s children to know and love them too; for libraries to continue to be woven into the fabric of our family.

*stops writing, grabs sparkly book wand and swooshes it emphatically* As Captain Barnacles would say, “Let’s DO this!”


P.S.  Apologies for the overuse of asterisks in this post – I feel slightly like Joey in the episode of Friends where he totally doesn’t get how how to use ‘air quotes’ (are they even a ‘thing’?) 😉




  1. Lol, this is a great post!
    There are a couple of things that jumped out at me. The moonlighting at a children’s centre or somewhere where the books could reach the children that most need them – yes! Brilliant! And doesn’t it always come down to moonlighting, volunteering, putting your time and money and ideas up for use? And your idea about publishers giving books to libraries or children’s centres in return for tax breaks is genius- Lol for PM!
    But perhaps our little community of book bloggers could fill this missing link? As book bloggers we get sent books by publishers. They send them to us in return for publicity. I know that I’m not the only one who donates a lot of them. Mine go to two nurseries and two schools via The Rainbow Library. I know a lot of us donate them to our kids’ schools. That’s great – all (most) kids go to school and will get to hear those books read to them.
    But perhaps we could link the two ideas and donate books to schools/nurseries/children’s centres/libraries *with* a couple of hours of our time to read to the kids. I bet we all do it anyway. I read every Wednesday with Mollie’s reception classes and at her old nursery. I know you do, Zoe, Phil, we all get in there and get involved already. So maybe we get our heads together and figure out what we can offer, where needs it, what we can do. Maybe we take it on ourselves to plug the gap between publisher and children? We have the resources, we have the skills, some of us have the time to give. When I set up the Rainbow Library I got (and still get) a huge amount of support from publishers, authors and illustrators. Perhaps if we all work together and formalise this into a big umbrella group, we could make it work, in our communities at least?
    Let’s wave our sparkly book wands! Let’s *do* this!
    *stops waffling, puts kettle on*

  2. I’m all for this – love it Carmen!

    If I have to throw a word of caution into the mix, I don’t think authors/illustrators would be keen on publishers donating lots of books to public libraries. Book sales to public libraries, plus PLR is quite essential to most author/illustrator livlihoods.

    Also, it’s key to build good relations with your local public librarian – I wouldn’t want them to feel undermined / unappreciated, by any well meaning offer of support.

    I do think it is a bit different in schools and nurseries, children centres and the like – perhaps these places would be where we book bloggers could make the biggest difference?

    1. Good points. I’d thought about PLR when I read Lol’s point about tax breaks for publishers but I don’t really know enough about how it works. I think Lol’s idea of children’s centres is the way to go. And schools and nurseries of course. I sometimes forget that just because we all *get* the importance of reading for pleasure, not everyone who works with children necessarily understands it, and getting in to children’s centres and nurseries would enable us to support them and the parents/carers. Hmmmmm.
      There’s the seed of something here, I think.

  3. My take on this – and it seems to be a fairly unpopular take – is that Libraries (for us) work like Spotify does for music. We’re far more likely to purchase a book, or indeed investigate an author’s back catalogue if we’ve borrowed a book from the library. Of course the flip side is that you may borrow something you thought was going to be a potential future purchase and it actually sucks I guess…

    ReadItDaddy wouldn’t exist without our local library and the speed that they get new books in at. It’s still an essential part of what goes into our blog (though we are now fortunate enough to get sent books to review, we would be running on empty most of the time if that was our sole method of obtaining books as we don’t have infinite funds and resources to purchase them, and the blog’s purely a spare-time thing). Hooray for libraries, we really couldn’t do without them.

  4. Reblogged this on Rhino Reads and commented:
    Lol at Storyseekers has written a very thoughtful and passionate post about the importance of reading for pleasure and the availability of library services. You should read it….

  5. Thanks so much for your comments and ideas, guys – I knew you’d come up trumps!

    I have no idea at all about how PLR works but would obviously hate to take anything away from the invaluable authors and illustrators who make all this possible in the first place! Zoe, do you know how libraries currently obtain books? Do they pay the going rate for them directly from the publisher, or via some other route? If the publishers donated the books, would it not be their income that took the hit, as it were, or would they always pass that on to the authors / illustrators? Is there a rule that states that PLR cannot be earned if the book has been given rather than paid for? Sorry if I’m being dim, I’m just really keen to understand how it all works.

    In terms of libraries, I fully agree that anything that was done would have to be suggested without making library staff feel as though they their work is not valued. They do an amazing job under extremely challenging circumstances and it would be counterproductive if they felt undermined. I can only speak with regard to my local library, who advertise for volunteers to undertake specific tasks but (having been in to enquire about working with them on setting up a local FCBG group and a few other things) otherwise don’t seem to be hugely up for anything else. That’s not at all a criticism of them as I’m sure there are many valid reasons for their approach, but just in terms of building up a good relationship with a library I think I’d find it tricky as so far I’ve been unable to get in touch with anyone who could help (the people I’ve been pointed in the direction of in the library itself were all (very helpful!) support staff). Perhaps you are able to chat to these people if you start volunteering?

    Anyway, I think – as this discussion is showing – that children’s centres and other early years settings are the way forward, albeit I’d still like to hope that this could somehow be in conjunction with libraries if only to support the great work they do. I think that children’s centre staff, health visitors, etc. are already working out in the community, directly with families, and therefore they’re in a great position to identify those who might appreciate support with growing to love books. If people are apprehensive about going into a library for whatever reason, it might be best to take the book love to them anyway.

    It would be utterly amazing to talk this out in detail and put our heads together on some kind of combined strategy and Carmen, I think a Twitter #kidlitbkgrp (not sure if that’s the right hashtag!!!) would be a fab place to start 🙂

    1. I’ve never actually spoken to our local children’s librarian as she isn’t based in our branch but I’m going to give her a shout and pick her brains because she has a great reputation locally. I’ll see what I can find out.
      There are a lot of ideas floating about here and I think we could really get something (or thingS) going if we work together. Lots of places/groups are being mentioned – libraries, sure start, Bookstart, FCBG, children’s centres, pre-schools, schools. Perhaps we could get a blog going with links and advice about reading for pleasure and how to support your own local community. How to set up a book box library, how to support children with reading, tips for supporting reading for pleasure in your community, how to contact local schools to volunteer, links to agencies and sites that can help. It could be a hub for advice and ideas with us as contacts for our areas and as we learn more we could add it on there. I’m just thinking out loud.
      We need that chat! Oh Chaletfan…..!

  6. Unfortunately we have a government who bases decisions on facts, figures and monetary value. The true value of learning, reading and the joy of books is long-term and shows its real worth years down the line. As much as I disagree I suspect that the value of a local library simply doesn’t cut it with the decision makers looking for a quick win to ‘save money’.

  7. […] The future of sharing books with children – no.2 – libraries ( […]

  8. This is very topical for me right now, as I skimmed our council’s draft budget to find – yey! – no mention of library cuts… only later to read that they are reviewing the service and proposals will be made in January – a month before the budget is passed and therefore with less time for the public to protest. Hmmm….. I am really pleased you are all mobilising, and try to help in small ways – the other week we donated a bunch of books to the GP surgery as we noticed they had very few left, all in really bad condition. And where do you have time to read, if not waiting rooms… Actually that bit about time was what I found really interesting in your post Loll – I had wondered about school libraries taking over but actually, that is on the school’s timetable, not the child’s – where else but the library can you spend hours browsing? Great post.

    1. Ohhhh that’s a crafty way to sneak in budget cuts to the library. Keep on it, Helen. Don’t let them get away with it and shout if you need help shouting at them when the time comes!
      I think it’s absolutely right about time. School libraries and classroom book corners can provide books and schools that are a timely promoting reading for pleasure can do wonders, but all timetabled. And what about the parents/carers? How do they get support with helping their children learn to read and enjoy books? I love programmes like Beanstalk reading support and Doorstep Libraries – Could we do look at them for ideas??

  9. Right, let’s hope I don’t lose this comment! Fabulous post, thank you. I am a librarian by profession (currently working in social media though), and worked in public libraries in Leeds back in 2003-2005. Libraries buy their books through specialist library suppliers, such as Askews and Holts – They can work with stock managers and librarians to supply books straight to branches with minimum input needed to get the book on the catalogue. Donating books to libraries is very kind, but for staff more trouble than it’s worth to be honest. That sounds ungrateful in times of cuts but often the books people donate aren’t in great condition (librarians regularly weed books and condition is a factor when deciding what to do with a book, people like to see books in good condition and are more likely to borrow them) and may be odd book club or Readers Digest editions where the ISBNs aren’t already part of the database, so they take a while to catalogue.

    I was interested that Readit Daddy felt the way he uses libraries was seen as unpopular, that’s exactly how I use libraries, try before I buy. When I was younger I would often fall for bargains on Amazon or Waterstones 3 for 2, only to end up donating the books to charity shops when I next moved house. I decided to borrow books more to see if I actually wanted to buy them, saves me a fortune and my bookshelves are just stuffed, rather than over-flowing. And if you take out something that sucks? Doesn’t matter, you didn’t pay for it, did you?

    The best way to support libraries is to take books out, and to attend events that interest you. If councils are considering closing libraries, it’s the ones with least/falling issues that are most at risk. They also look at other things like number of reserves, and use of PCs. But taking books out is the thing most of us can do. Get your library stats up!

    When I worked in Leeds there was one area that did have a Bookstart worker attached to a Sure Start centre but I’m pretty out of the loop on things like that now, in Scotland we don’t have children’s centres and we have Bookbug rather than Bookstart. Many authorities have specific Bookstart/Bookbug posts (I applied for one once) although that is the kind of post that would be first to go in times of cuts.

    Hope that helps, this is a wonderful post, you might be interested in Voices for the Library, they have loads of interesting things about public libraries on their website and are a leading advocate of them:

    1. Really useful comments, Katherine, thanks! I can completely understand how donated books could be more trouble than worth. How would that work with new books though? As book reviewers we’d be (mainly) donating books that are not yet or recently published. So they’d be in new condition and would be the kind of books that libraries would be purchasing.
      Loll- Bookstart, should we look into that??
      Katherine, Your comment about using the library – use it or lose it- has made me rethink how I use my local one. I used to regularly take my daughter to rhyme time and special events like teddy bear picnics. Now she is at school we go once every three weeks to take back her books and choose the next haul. She never quite manages to stick to the limit of 20 and I usually end up popping a handful of her books on my card. So 25ish books every 3 weeks. Not too shabby. But we could go more regularly. And I very rarely take out adult books. I often take out children’s books for me to review or research but hardly ever use the adult section. Must try harder! I will make the effort to support the library as an adult borrower too. I agree this is an area where we can all make a difference. I think we all use our local libraries and attend events, but I can certainly do more. I don’t often use the reservation system, but will from now on.
      And I’m off now to check out that link. Great stuff 🙂

  10. […] I want to share with you this incredibly thoughtful post about the future of sharing books with children. In it, another one of my […]

  11. […] been some passionate discussion about the importance and future of children’s reading over on the Storyseekers blog this week. I urge you to read it. And then to think about it. And […]

  12. Love this post and I love what it’s inspiring in the way of discussion. So thank you for that. And you’re very welcome to borrow #kidbkgrp for the night. It can be like a literary batsignal 😉

    1. A literary bat signal! I *love* that! Let’s do it! Loll, I shall twitter at you and we can organise 🙂

  13. janetpamelanoble · · Reply

    As a current primary school librarian and former public libraries children’s librarian with 20+ years’ experience, I try to remain upbeat despite all the threats (real and imagined) to my beloved profession.
    The fight for the future of libraries, I feel, is first and foremost political. I don’t think you can separate libraries from the public services in general that are being devastated by our present government. The current people in power do not need the state to fund libraries (or education or health care etc. etc.) and don’t care about people who do. No amount of donations and volunteering will help save services that should be properly funded and staffed by paid professionals. Campaigns such as the Library Campaign are doing a great job in highlighting the situation.We all need to further its good work by raising the issue with our local councilors, MPs, and via any form of media we have access to.

  14. Thank you ALL so much for your comments. So many of my questions about how libraries work have been answered and so many ideas have been thrown into the mix, which is just what I dreamed of when I put the post together.
    Carmen, I think you’re right that looking into Bookstart should be our next port of call. I think if we want libraries to flourish we need to convince people how amazing they are. If the current methods of doing that aren’t working, then perhaps there needs to be more in the way of people reaching out to families when children are young – hence the link with Bookstart – so that we are encouraging a lifetime of library use. Health visitors and and staff in children’s centres are ideally placed to offer all sorts of advice about the wide-ranging aspects of a child’s development and if we could support that with sharing a love of reading then, HURRAH!
    I know that when C was little I got invited to sessions at our children’s centres about weaning, baby massage and a few other things and am wondering whether a session on sharing books with very little ones might be something of interest to families? Perhaps we could even get the local library involved and invite them along to sign people up there and then? We could also take these workshops into nurseries, pre-schools, etc? It would be awesome to combine them with a storytelling session and have out lots of books for children and their carers to explore? Arghhhhhh, SO many thoughts and the comments section of a blog mightn’t be the best place to witter on about them all.
    I think we definitely need an organised Twitter chat about all this 🙂 Sending up the batsignal……… 😉

  15. I would definitely try and get in touch with your council’s children’s librarian, there will be someone overseeing it all, rather than trying to speak to people in branches. They may already be doing workshops but may welcome some help with it, especially if you obviously have expertise and some books looking for good homes!

    National Libraries Day is in February, a response to the cuts announced a few years ago. I think the date changes every year so it’s always the first Saturday in the month, couldn’t tell you for sure though!

  16. […] have been thinking about this. And other things like this, like this post on the future of public libraries, and the way that I desperately long for there to be a future […]

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