Written evidence submitted by The R eading Agency (LIB 030)
This submission comes from The Reading Agency, an independent charity with a mission to inspire more people to read more. We specialise in working with the public library network because we believe it is vital that everyone has an equal chance to become a reader.
We work extensively with all 152 English library authorities, helping them improve the social impact of their reading work and save money through:
· Major programmes shared across the network, like the children’s Summer Reading Challenge and adult literacy Six Book Challenge.
· Brokering library partnerships with broadcasters, publishers and others to improve the public’s reading and learning experiences in local communities
· Training, research and advocacy
· Innovation and new thinking in key areas such as reading and public health
Knowing that the Committee will receive a large number of responses, we have focused our submission on the specialist areas where we can provide most evidence and experience. Our Director, Miranda McKearney OBE, gave oral evidence the last time the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee tackled libraries, and would be delighted to do so again.
Our main points are
· Closures are a major concern, but other less visible cuts, especially to staff, opening hours and the materials fund, will also erode the effectiveness and appeal of the service.
· It is important to distinguish between different types of closures. Not all change is bad.
· The issue of cuts should be addressed in the context of a strategic plan for the whole library service with the right mixture of local, regional and national planning.
· There is a pressing need for a national vision for improvement working alongside and informing local authorities’ responsibilities. Libraries need the same kind of attention as museums had through the Renaissance programme, and interventions such as The People’s Network.
· Evidence shows the profound social problems posed by low literacy levels. Local communities will suffer if libraries’ ability to support reading and literacy is damaged.
· Damage to libraries’ reading service will withdraw vital support for communities in other important areas, including health and well being.
· The 1964 Act unfortunately does not define comprehensive and efficient, so libraries’ support for reading and literacy has never been properly defined. We set out a definition of a 21c reading service. Digital provision will be vital to the future relevance and appeal of libraries.
1. Library closures in the context of cuts
In the current circumstances we believe it is unrealistic to argue against any cuts to library budgets or changes to the way library services are provided. Without cuts libraries would still need to change to meet changing social needs and lifestyles, including digital demands.
The issue of cuts should be addressed in the context of a strategic plan for the whole library service which focuses on the needs of local communities. There needs to be the right mixture of local, regional and national planning. There is a pressing need for a national vision for improvement working alongside and informing local authorities’ responsibilities. Wales has an interesting model.
Libraries need the same kind of attention as museums had through the Renaissance programme. The People’s Network was a national intervention which profoundly improved the local service.
1.1 Less visible cuts
Library closures are the focus of most public campaigning. But the library service consists of more than buildings. We urge the committee to look at the impact on local communities of cuts overall. Many local authorities will avoid closing any libraries because of the resulting public outcry. But cuts to staffing, opening hours and material funds can result in library services becoming a shell which cannot begin to provide a comprehensive or efficient service. Staffing cuts can also erode the library service’s ability to tackle disadvantage, when outreach and community liaison posts are lost. In the short term the service may look viable, but in the medium to longer term its effectiveness and appeal will be eroded.
It is often difficult for library supporters to know how best to engage with local politicians. We suggest a list of questions such as whether library cuts are proportionate to other cuts; whether the authority has a strategic plan for the service and what it consists of; whether local people have been fully consulted and a needs analysis done; if buildings are being shut, whether a service is being provided somehow for the affected community; how communities running libraries might still benefit from the central, professional support of the council’s library service.
We hope more councils will explore radically different ways to run the service in order to preserve as much of the front line service as possible, e.g. by removing the costs of running separate library authorities as in London where Kensington, Westminster and Hammersmith are merging services.
1.2 Staffing cuts
Working with every library service, we are constantly made aware of many staff cuts, and are particularly concerned about the loss of children’s experts. In the area of reading support, many services are saving money by creating new posts merging adult and children’s reading support.
Libraries’ support for children’s reading is critical, and a major recent success story. Working individually and as a network, in the last ten years library authorities have together transformed their work to create a lively, socially engaging offer to the public with a proven impact. There has been a focused explosion of baby rhyme times, reading groups, author events, summer reading holiday activity, children’s book awards and festivals. 77.9% of 5-10 year olds now use libraries  and children’s borrowing has risen for 7 years running.  Careful strategic planning is needed to keep up the momentum of this work.
1.3 Not all change is bad
To create a library service for the 21c, change will be necessary and it is important to distinguish between different types of closures. Whilst some local authorities are cutting library services disproportionately and taking deeply damaging decisions, others may be closing under-used libraries in the context of a coherent plan for the future which involves reshaping provision in line with changing population patterns and public need.
1.4 Case study in what must not be lost: libraries’ Summer Reading Challenge
"Before the Summer Reading Challenge my son was a very reluctant reader, but now he seems to have found a new enthusiasm for reading which has carried on into the school term. His teacher has noticed how much his reading has improved." Parent, Cornwall
The Reading Agency started The Summer Reading Challenge eleven years ago by combining all public libraries’ summer holiday reading activity into one big shared scheme with massive economies of scale. The Challenge costs £1 a child. By using a shared scheme, local authorities achieve key outcomes for children at a sixth of the price of running their own holiday activities
The Challenge now runs in 97% of UK local authorities and last year involved 780,000 children. 55,000 children joined the library to take part.  Children are challenged to read six books of their choice over the holidays and are rewarded with incentives along the way. They are supported by expert staff and motivational teenage volunteers.
Research shows the educational importance of the Summer Reading Challenge. The combination of fun, freedom, and creativity impacts significantly on children’s reading levels, range, motivation and confidence. Taking part helps prevent the ‘summer reading dip’ in achievement when children who do not have book/ reading opportunities at home over the long summer break from school traditionally lose ground in their reading. Children return to school better motivated and ready to learn. 
2. Impact of closures and other cuts
2.1 Literacy issues
Libraries’ support for literacy and reading in local communities has never been more necessary. The withdrawal of this support – whether through closures or staff and materials cuts - will damage people’s life chances and contribute to social problems caused by lack of engagement with reading. Those who argue that libraries’ support for reading is no longer needed in an era of mass paperbacks and new digital platforms seem to be unaware of statistics such as:
· 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties in basic literacy skills.
· 60% of the prison population has difficulties in basic literacy skills. 
· One in four children leaves primary school unable to read properly. 
2.1.1 Importance of libraries’ reading for pleasure role
There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to a person’s life chances. There are clear links between low literacy and economic and personal deprivation.  A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote. Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage.
· More of England’s working age population are at the lowest level of literacy than in 2003 (1.7m compared to 1.1m) and there are still 15% (5.1m) at or below the level expected of an 11 year old. 
· England’s reading achievement score for children has dropped from 3rd to 19th place and England is now outperformed by Russia, Italy and Latvia
· Only 40% of England’s ten year olds have a positive attitude to reading. The figure for Italy is 64% and 58% for Germany. 
2.1.2 Libraries’ role
Libraries have an extraordinarily wide demographic reach, and play a vital, socially equalising role by giving everyone in a local community access to reading materials, and specialist support to encourage reading for pleasure. Their work with readers builds people’s literacy levels, educational attainment and employability. It builds confidence, self esteem and well being, and provides vital lifelong learning opportunities for an ageing population.
In the last ten years a body research has confirmed how vital it is for children, young people and adults to enjoy reading. Enjoyment and motivation are essential to the acquisition of literacy skills. Reading for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school  and reading books is the only out-of-school activity for 16-year-olds that is demonstrably linked to securing managerial or professional jobs in later life. 
2.2 Impact on other social issues in communities
The impact for local communities of the loss of libraries’ support for reading goes far beyond literacy. It has implications for other social issues including community cohesion, employability, and health. In the interests of brevity, we take just one of these.
One in six people suffer from mental health problems  and there are huge associated costs  . Libraries’ early intervention work with reading is important for local people’s health and well being.
· Research suggests that regular reading is associated with a 35% reduction in the risk of dementia  . It can reduce stress levels by 68%. 
· Taking part in social reading activity like reading groups can combat isolation, and develop mental concentration and mental agility 
· Libraries help people develop the skills and confidence to manage their own health through health information, reading groups, mood boosting reading, and support for people who are housebound. 
3. 21c library services
It is a matter of great regret that "comprehensive and efficient" has never been properly defined. The evidence from research into libraries’ reading programmes shows that a comprehensive and efficient 21c service in the area of reading and literacy must go far beyond the provision of reading materials. Libraries are in the process of creating a really exciting 21c reading service which needs proper strategic development, especially since some of the necessary digital work can only been done nationally (e.g. the provision of a national catalogue).
The 21c library reading service should encompass:
· Reading materials of all kinds and in all formats, and in relevant community languages
· Advice and support from expert staff including signposting to other relevant provision
· Social reading opportunities using the library as a shared community space - including reading groups and author events
· Imaginative promotions and activities to support wider reading
· The opportunity for the local community to get involved in shaping the reading activities on offer, and to play a volunteering support role
· Digital provision including e-books and digital reading experiences (author chats, online reading groups, book recommendations etc.)
· Special activities for specific audiences – e.g. baby rhyme times to support early language skills; special services for visually impaired readers
· Community outreach supporting reading and literacy
We are currently working with the Society of Chief Librarians on a shared definition of the 21c library reading service, as part of a bigger piece of work to safeguard and develop the reading service. The strategy is also designed to create economies of scale and maintain the value of partners’ investment.
Few other organisations from outside the public sector have the overview of libraries that The Reading Agency has. We have the capacity to give challenging but positive input to the work of the Select Committee and would be delighted to do all we can to help.
 DCMS, This Cultural and Sporting Life: The Taking Part 2010/11 Adult and Child Report
 CIPFA October 2011
 Summer Reading Challenge Report 2011
 Summer Reading Challenge 2009 UKLA research
 Literacy Changes Lives, The role of literacy in offending behavior National Literacy Trust
 Evening Standard 31 May 2011
 Literacy Changes Lives National Literacy Trust 2010
 2011 Skills for Life Survey: Headline findings Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2011
 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, National Centre for Education Statistics, 2007
 Reading for Change, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2002
 Reading at 16 linked to better job prospects , Mark Taylor, University of Oxford 2011
 Psychiatric Morbi di ty Among Adults Living in Private Households in Great Britain, Office of National Statistics, 2000
 Paying the Price The cost of Mental Health Care in England, The Kings Fund, 2008
 Leisure activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly, New England Journal of Medicine 2003, 348:2508-2516
 Research by University of Sussex, www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/507087/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress , March 2009
 Reading the Situation, Book Reading and Public Library Use, The R eading Agency/BML, 2000, Reading Groups and P ublic Library Research, The Reading Agency/BML, 2002, A National Library Development Programme for Reading Groups, The R eading Agency, 2004
 Public Library Activity in the Areas of Health and Well Being, Hicks, D., Creaser, C. et al, MLA, 2010