March 7, 2019 is World Book Day, and fewer children than ever are reading. Budget cuts and library closures are serious threats to childhood literacy—and marginalized communities have been impacted the most severely.
Image Via Cagle Cartoons
Libraries offer more than just books—if books are ever ‘just’ anything. Just a whole world small enough to fit into your backpack? Just a $2,000 plane ticket for the low low price of $0.00? Just a work of art as enduring as any hanging up in a museum (and one that you can take home without being arrested)? Libraries are a safe community space offering accessible resources, like adult education, language classes, and research databases. These programs are open to seniors, children, and disadvantaged members of the community—an opportunity that exists regardless of socioeconomic status when so few opportunities do. Will libraries in wealthier communities have more funding? Yes. But libraries remain an integral community feature.
Or, rather, they would if they were staying open.
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In the U.K., the number of library book loans dropped from 255,128,957 in 2011 to 157,387,109 in 2018—a shocking 38% decrease that, unfortunately, isn’t as shocking as book-lovers might think. In the wake of 700 library closures since 2010, Library Campaign chair Laura Swaffield said there was only one surprise: “that the decline in book loans isn’t even larger.”
When the libraries go, so do the librarians: over 700 full-time library employees faced termination last year alone. While 3,000 volunteers have taken their places, this is a stopgap measure and not a solution. The problem is the drastic budget cuts, and—like so many other problems—money may be the only solution.
It’s either the solution, or it’s yet another problem. Given the £2 million proposed cuts for 2019, it looks like the latter. In the U.K., only 25% of eight to eighteen year olds read daily. If that statistic sounds dire, it gets even worse: that’s a full 20% drop from just four years earlier. As libraries lose money, children lose interest in reading—because some of them lose access to engaging, affordable books. This phenomenon, “book poverty,” describes the grim reality for disadvantaged young people: one in eight poor U.K. children doesn’t own a single book. Childhood literacy is widely known as “the single most important factor” in the success of a child’s education; yet when it comes time for budget cuts, it’s considered one of the least important criteria for funding.
Image Via Cagle Cartoons
Featured Image Via K-12 Insight.