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Neil Gaiman backs petition against decline of school libraries

Neil Gaiman, reading
Neil Gaiman is among the authors who pointed out that England is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation where the literacy of 16- to 24-year-olds is below that of people aged 55 and over. Source: Shutterstock

Popular author Neil Gaiman is among more than 150 signatories who petitioned against an apparent decline of school libraries in the United Kingdom, urging secretary of state for education Justine Greening to take action on the matter.

The letter released by Dawn Finch of library and information association CILIP urged Greening to make an “urgent intervention” to curb the drop in school libraries and qualified librarians, or consign “consign a generation to a lifetime of low attainment and mobility”.

CILIP says an estimated some 30 percent of the school librarian workforce has been lost, The Guardian reported.

“Since 2008, the provision of adequately staffed libraries in schools and colleges with up-to-date learning and reading resources has declined sharply,” the letter says.

Other signatories included children’s laureate Chris Riddell, the authors Cressida Cowell, Philip Pullman, Antonia Fraser and Malorie Blackman. and the poet Roger McGough.

While school libraries were not a statutory requirement, the letter pointed out figures from a split-site state secondary school, which has lost its school librarian since 2014.

It said between September and November 2014, 1,508 books were loaned to children when the school had a full-time librarian on each site. But during the same period this year when there were no librarians, children borrowed only 48 books.

“These figures represent a 97 percent decline in books issued to children at that school to support their learning and development,” the letter read.

“In the same period across the UK, the usage of ebooks and electronic resources in schools, in particular, has flatlined and even in the last year begun to decline – it is not the case that use of books is being replaced by technology. It is the case that children are not receiving the support and encouragement they need in order to become readers.”

According to The Guardian, the authors pointed out that England is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation “where the literacy of 16- to 24-year-olds is below that of people aged 55 and over”.

“If a child cannot read well by the age of 11, the negative impacts on their attainment last for the rest of their lives,” the letter stated.

“Unless action is taken urgently to address these historically low levels of literacy, there is no way that HM Government can achieve the stated objective of delivering a future-ready ‘advanced skills’ economy.”

The authors said before they can read to learn, children and young people “must first learn to read, to research and successfully to navigate today’s information-rich world,”

“The urgent need is with us now – we must act now to counter the loss of school and college libraries before we consign a generation to a lifetime of low attainment and mobility.”

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