“A LIBRARY outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in a desert.”

Those are the words of Dunfermline-born Andrew Carnegie. A man who put his money where his mouth was by funding lending libraries across Scotland. As a condition to funding, councils had to adopt the Public Libraries Act, applied in Scotland from 1853.

Fast forward to 2022 and cuts to library services and school librarians are a constant threat for many communities in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Andrew Carnegie would be appalled, and so should we.

Why? A community needs hundreds of daily interactions to thrive. As high streets are slowly uploaded to the cloud, and bank branches vanish, there are fewer and fewer places for connection in our villages, towns and cities. Countering this are libraries.

Libraries build communities. They bring generations together in a space in a way few other places can manage from babies at Bookbug Sessions, through teenagers at after school clubs, to older generations engaged in community groups.

Even in a forecast second tunnel of austerity, closing libraries or cutting school librarians shouldn’t be on the table. They are a symbolic place. They signal that we, as a society, believe in meritocracy. They show that we believe everyone can and does have the ability to read themselves to a better life. As Dr Seuss said: “The more you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, the more places you go.”

Dr Seuss’s words are the most pertinent for the children libraries serve. It feels like a no-brainer that children should have access to books, and especially young children as that is often when a lifelong love of reading is formed.

The natural response of some might be to point out that children have plentiful access to books at school but that is a dangerous assumption to make.

The Primary School Library Alliance recently reported that 25% of primary schools in Scotland do not have a designated library area, the highest proportion of the UK's nations. Furthermore, 48% of UK schools that had no dedicated library space said that their pupils’ reading is restricted by limited library resources and availability of books.

With that in mind, I delved into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by the UK in April 1990, and ratified by all UN member states, except the USA and Somalia, in 1992) to see if there was a strong argument in there for protecting local libraries and school librarians.

It didn’t take long to find evidence to support the argument. Here are 5 Articles which support my case:


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Article 6: Life, Survival and Development

"Every child has the right to life. Governments must do all they can to ensure that children survive and develop to their full potential."

If we are truly doing all we can to ensure our children can develop to their full potential, we must provide them with free access to books through libraries and by other means. By the time they reach eight years old, every child born in Scotland will have received 16 books from Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug and Read, Write, Count programmes. This can be a vital intervention. For some families these books will be the only ones their children own. When you can’t afford to heat your home or put food on your table, buying books is naturally a long way down your priority list. That is why our Christmas appeal is so important.

Article 13: Freedom of Expression

"Every child must be free to express their thoughts and opinions and to access all kinds of information, as long as it is within the law."

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader,” said American women’s rights advocate Margaret Fuller. Thoughts and opinions aren’t formed in a vacuum. They need fuel. Libraries are a nutritious buffet for a young brain. Where else can you "access all kinds of information" from the internet, to books, audiobooks, magazines and films?

Article 17: Access to Information from the Media

"Every child has the right to reliable information from a variety of sources, and governments should encourage the media to provide information that children can understand. Governments must help protect children from materials that could harm them."

It is one thing to expect the media to provide information children can understand but it means nothing without access. Libraries provide more than just books. There are magazines, comics, safe internet access, films, music – the list goes on. Magazine subscriptions for children are expensive. Library cards are free.

Article 27: Adequate Standard of Living

"Every child has the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and social needs and support their development. Governments must help families who cannot afford to provide this."

If we truly care about supporting the social needs and development of every child, no matter their economic circumstances, then free access to books, events, films and music are vital. Anyone who’s read to a small child, knows how quickly they can tire of the same stories. If you didn’t have access to a library, imagine the cost of keeping your child’s imagination fired by stories.

Article 31: Leisure, Play and Culture

"Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities."

Reading is not only play but one of the most relaxing hobbies there is. Local libraries are the cultural hubs of the communities they serve, and often safe havens in schools. Where I grew up, the only warm cultural venue outside of school was a 45-minute bus ride away. By investing in our libraries, we are saying that we value cultural activity for everyone. It’s a powerful message. It says a lot about who we are, and the country we aspire to be.

Danny Scott is the Head of Social and Digital Marketing at Scottish Book Trust and the author of Scotland Stars F.C., a series of six football-filled chapter books aimed at young readers aged six to eight. Find out more about the books at: discoverkelpies.co.uk. Follow Danny on Twitter @ASimpleDan.