World Book Day took place on March 1st and whilst there were a whole melange of events, lectures and readings to celebrate the written word across London, the way that most people experience it is the last minute panic of helping your child haphazardly throw together a costume that mildly resembles a famous literary character for school (pro tips: Harry Potter just needs glasses and a drawn on scar and graphic novels don’t count so sadly Batman’s out). Whilst this often unremembered scholastic equivalent of Halloween might seem a little forced, any tactic to help kids get into reading from a young age can only be a good thing as there are some ominous black clouds on the horizon for literature in 2018 (along with quite a few other issues but let’s stay focused). In all of the pageantry of this year’s World Book Day, a study was quietly released that revealed that Public Libraries across the nation have suffered a drastic reduction in stock, with stock having been reduced by nearly a full fifth since 2010, from 78.4 million in 2010/11 to 63.3 million in 2016/17, a reduction of 15.1 million, or 19% and the total lending stock has fallen by 7.7 million.
These cuts are emblematic of how libraries across England have been struggling against ever encroaching cuts. In what seemed like a particularly cruel irony Northamptonshire council announced the drastic move of shuttering 21 libraries (whilst a further 22 would only be open one day a week for eight hours) on World Book Day itself. The move was made following a consultation with locals, and follows protests and petitions from thousands of residents, along with world famous authors including the Northampton dwelling novelist/genius/oddball Alan Moore and His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman. Public libraries seem to be undergoing a protracted rear-guard action in the face of a rather stark economic reality; problems compounded by the fact that Carillion, that vanquished corporate behemoth, was (for a reason that presumably made sense to someone somewhere) responsible for the management of library services in several London boroughs through a non-profit arm called Cultural Community Solutions, which has caused chaos due to Carillion’s collapse.
This is not the end of the bad news for books to bubble up around what should be the time of year where they are most celebrated. The results of the annual National Literacy Trust survey (also released on World Book Day, a March 1st that will clearly live in infamy) found that over half of children at Key Stage Two are not being read to at home. This is particularly disheartening information, as not only does it hold implications on how increasingly glowing screens are expanding to take on the role of unofficial babysitter for more and more children, but also because studies have shown that children are encountering more and more fake news online and a staggering 20% of children aged between eight and 15 believe everything they read online is true, and 35% of UK teachers say pupils have cited fake news or false information found online as fact in their work.
Reading comprehension, a big part of the Key Stage 1 and 2 curriculums, is particularly important for preparing children to become critically literate. It helps children accurately understand and interpret information by making connections between what they read and what they already know, working out what is important, and spotting the difference between fact and fiction. Other curriculum areas help to build the foundation skills needed to develop strong critical literacy skills, such as reading a wide range of texts for different purposes, learning about inference, and identifying how language structures and presentation contribute to meaning. If libraries continue their steady wane and children are left to fend for themselves on an internet engorged with lies, damn lies and Donald Trump’s tweets then humanities future won’t bright, it’ll be spray tan orange.