The fight to keep Lancashire's libraries open
PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 February 2017
As a new school library opens in Lytham, authors from across Lancashire speak out about the value of books and lament the loss of county libraries. Paul Mackenzie reports
World Book Day will be an international celebration of the written word. Authors, bookshops and libraries across the globe will stage events and more than 15 million £1 book tokens will be given to schoolchildren all over the UK.
But while March 2nd – the event’s 20th anniversary – will see books fêted, more libraries are due to close in Lancashire this year, following those which shut their doors for the final time last year.
Lancashire County now runs 47 libraries. At the start of last year the figure was 73. And although statistics are not available for the numbers of school libraries in the county, the picture nationally is not positive.
Late last year children’s laureate Chris Riddell and his eight predecessors sent a letter to education secretary Justine Greening urging her to better protect school libraries. The authors’ letter was prompted by research which suggested that 280 school librarians lost their jobs between 2012 and 2014 and that more than half of UK schools feel their library is underfunded.
Now, authors from across Lancashire have spoken out in support of libraries.
Award-winning children’s author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce said: ‘Once libraries are closed they will never be re-opened. It’s an assault on social mobility. I doubt anyone thought social mobility would decrease in our lifetimes – and it shouldn’t – but closing libraries will have that effect.’
The Liverpool-born author of ten children’s books and writer of the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony was one of a number of authors who attended the opening of a new library at Hall Park Primary School in Lytham. The nearest public library to the school closed last year and the next closest, at Ansdell, is also earmarked for closure.
Cottrell Boyce was at the school, along with other writers and performers, to mark the opening of the library and to share love of books. He spoke in the school assembly about his life and career which he began as a writer for Brookside and has also included collaborations with Michael Winterbottom on films such as Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People and A Cock and Bull Story. He has also adapted some of his own novels for the screen; was commissioned to write sequels to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and worked with Oscar winner Danny Boyle on the Olympic opening ceremony.
After a lively and amusing assembly he spoke exclusively to Lancashire Life. ‘We educate children so they can go and learn for themselves and libraries are the perfect place for them to do that,’ he said. ‘Without that space for them to explore and develop and to find their own way, we are just teaching them the curriculum.
‘In a library you can stumble upon things you didn’t know about, challenge yourself and find things you didn’t know you were looking for. You can’t do that on the internet. On the internet you find the things you were looking for.
‘A library is a place where children can be relaxed and calm. Just by putting books on shelves and having a chair in the room children can discover that all the stories belong to them – all the world of knowledge and everything humanity has found is theirs.’
Among the other authors to visit the school for the library opening was Mark Powers, who lives in Manchester and whose first book, Spy Toys, was released in January. He said: ‘At a time when libraries are being closed all over Lancashire, this new school library is absolutely vital in giving local children free access to books and will help encourage a love of literature that will last them all their lives.’
And Jacqueline Leonard, whose daughter Aleisha used to attend Hall Park school, gave pupils drama lessons based on scenes from the Frank Cottrell Boyce book, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth.
Jacqueline, whose cv includes appearances in Peak Practice, EastEnders and Coronation Street, said: ‘I think for a child’s imagination books are magnificent. They throw you into a different world. When you read a book everyone pictures it differently, it’s individual to you. Everyone’s Heathcliffe is different.
‘I think it’s a dreadful shame that libraries are closing. I have fond memories of being at Lytham library with my daughter and her excitement at choosing books. They are places to meet people and socialise and it’s really sad that they are being closed.
‘School libraries are more important than ever now and this one is magnificent. It’s a lovely experience to sit and read a book and a lot of children don’t get that opportunity at home so school gives a great chance to develop a love of books and reading.’
Joseph Delaney, the Preston-born author of the Spook’s series, said: ‘Reading is the key to academic success, an expansion of the mind and a love of books which can give lifelong pleasure. Libraries play a vital role in this and closures deny people access to what should be their right. As a child, my parents sent me to the Harris Library in Preston every Saturday morning. I borrowed two books which I’d read before the next visit. That resulted in a love of books which eventually led to me becoming a writer. My parents could not have afforded to buy me those books. How terrible if there had been no library! That may well be the case for some children and adults today. Libraries must be kept open.’
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: ‘We currently have 47 libraries open, which reduced from 73 in 2016. Whitworth and Brierfield Libraries are staying open until later this year, with further decisions still to be made at this time.
‘St Annes will need to close temporarily for essential work. During this time Ansdell Library will remain open until this work is complete and St Annes has reopened.’
* What do you think about library closures? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.