Libraries: The gateway to reading

How the closure of thousands of libraries could affect generations of readers to come

Mass library closures in the last 5 years across the UK have raised the question of how people access literature without paying the market price of books. Reading improves: literacy, inspires imagination, builds empathy, reduces stress and broadens knowledge. I spoke to Fiona Williams, Chief Executive of Explore York Libraries and Archives, to discover how libraries are coping.

fiona-williams-york-libraries
Fiona Williams, Chief Executive of Explore York Libraries and Archives

How are libraries changing in the modern climate?
Libraries are evolving with new technology encouraging creation, sharing of content and community need. We are only now starting to understand the impact the internet and social media will have. Key for libraries is “fake news” resulting from individuals reporting on events through social media and never having their prejudices challenged. Librarians have the skills to retrieve the accurate news, which allows people to make informed decisions.

What impact has austerity had?
Libraries have become more important since austerity began as they provide free access to books, the internet, learning programmes and meeting spaces. We help people with job searches and improve their skills to find employment.

Finding a job
Libraries offer a place where everyone can access resources

Given the changes libraries face how do you ensure the prominence and importance of literature?
Libraries are developing many new services, but reading will always be at the core. We ensure that everyone has equal access to all formats. Our Big City Read encourages the whole city to talk about one book which leads to talking about reading in general.

What opportunities does the digital world create for the promotion of literature?
Authors now have immediate access to their readers and don’t necessarily need traditional publishers. Through social media we share events and engage with authors across the world. We have had an author event with Madeline Miller skyping from her apartment in Boston, USA. We are also working with Dacunha Global exploring the possibilities of creating an online space to share stories and discussions.

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Words by Neil Gaiman and illustrations by Chris Riddell

What role do libraries play in encouraging new generations to enjoy literature?
We begin introducing stories to children with Bounce Rhyme Times and Storytime’s in every library at least once a week working with parents to build their confidence reading to their children. We run programmes like the Summer Reading Challenge and Bloodaxe Challenge with gifts and certificates.

children in library on ipad
Libraries run programmes for children from 0 to 18

How do you attract more people to libraries?
Our Reading Cafes encourage people through the door and then we can encourage them to join, sign up to a learning course, borrow books until they are a regular user.
We work with many partners to reach new audiences, like DC Labs on digital media – creating music from potatoes! We have a 3D printer and hold coding clubs.

By Emma Ayre

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