Children are revolting! (with just cause)

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ―  attributed to Cicero

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― attributed to Cicero

The children of Braunton in Devon are revolting! Media sources report that children from the village primary school have been seen wielding banners demanding the retention of the village library. Petitions have been signed and the young revolutionaries are said to have the full support of their teachers. Will the authorities be quaking? I doubt it, but maybe they should.

I love books and have done so since I was a child. I was fortunate in having a number of inspiring teachers – (thank you Mrs Evans, Mr Passey, Mr Needham and others) – who pointed me in the direction of books that inspired, informed and challenged my thinking. So was a passion born that has remained with me and continues to excite. Sara and I live in a house full of books, we never travel anywhere without carrying something to read and whilst shopping is my bête noire I can browse a book shop for hours. As a teacher I have always seen books as the tools of my trade, but they are so much more than this. They are a source of pleasure, relaxation, knowledge and stimulation par excellence. I spend far more money on books than I do on clothes (some would say that this is a noticeable failing), but I like to think that in years to come my grandchildren may be reading my books, though I suspect they will not want my old socks!

Whilst buying books is a great pleasure, I am aware that for many people, and especially children, this may be seen as a luxury that they can’t afford. I would actually always dispute the notion that books are a luxury, but we must accept that there are many families who do not have the financial ability to build a library. This then is one reason why libraries play such a critical role in the educational health of a nation.

There has been considerable investment in libraries in England in recent years. Last year I visited the newly opened Birmingham City library, a wonderful repository of information and knowledge that will undoubtedly serve the people of that location very well. Whenever I visit London I arrive at St Pancras station only a brief stroll away from the magnificent British library, and I will often take an early train in order to make time to visit and enjoy some of the treasures within those hallowed portals. But the truth is that investment has been made into libraries in our large urban conurbations, whilst those serving rural communities are being at best neglected and often closed. Nationally  146 libraries, mainly in rural areas closed between 2010 and 2011, and in 2012 this figure was surpassed with the demise of a further 201.

It is then hardly surprising that the children of Braunton have instigated their protest. They are angry that a facility that has offered not only books, but so much more is to be taken from them. As one of the protesting pupils Izzy Nicholson states:-

“If it were to close then lots of children would be left with nothing to do as there’s lots of stuff going on in the library after school. If it shut then they’d do less healthy things like staring at a screen”.

Braunton library, like so many others these days provides a range of activities for children and families. School holiday events encourage children to get involved in community activities and instil in them a sense of belonging and social responsibility. They have access to all of the world’s literature through a library loan service and information through both paper and digital technology. And all of this free of charge.

Michael Rosen, the fifth British Children’s Laureate (2007 – 2009) in campaigning for the retention of libraries argues that:-

“Books are portable, durable packages where we can read slowly, toing and froing across the pages at a tempo that suits ourselves. Libraries are the treasure-houses that store these ‘packages’ and it’s here that we can browse for free, to find the books that we want or need to support our lives and interests”.

He expresses concerns that reading is being seen by education policy makers as a technocratic process and that they have failed to understand the immense value that books can offer to every individual:-

It’s clear that they [education policy makers] think ‘reading’ is about ‘doing literacy’ ie learning how to ‘decode’ print. What they don’t seem to understand is that literature is one of the main ways in which we can engage with difficult and important ideas in an accessible way”.

It will, of course be argued that the children of Braunton could travel to nearby Barnstaple to use the library there that is (currently) not under threat of closure. But of course, in order to do this they will need to be taken there by an adult who can make the time and has the interest to make the journey. So, I am all in favour of revolting children, those who are standing up for their own education and who value an opportunity for learning, social participation and community engagement of which they may well be deprived. Long live the reading revolution!

Don’t just take my word for it. Click on the link below to hear the views of some real experts. (With thanks to the children from St Oswalds Roman Catholic Primary school.)