The children’s laureate, Chris Riddell, has said a drop in the number of younger children visiting libraries is of great concern, expressing his views in a hand-drawn statement responding to new government figures.
The findings, part of a Department for Culture, Media and Sport report into children’s activities, reveal a 26% decline in the number of five to 10-year-olds who had used a library in the past seven days.
In 2010, 18.7% children aged five to 10 had done so, compared to 13.8% in 2014.
Within that age group, the number who had made a trip to their library at some point over the past 12 months had decreased from 76.4% in 2010 to 67.7% in 2014.
Riddell, an author and illustrator, said: “A drop in younger children visiting libraries is of great concern. As children’s laureate, I am passionate about the role of libraries, both in schools and in the wider community. They are unique places where children can begin their journey as readers, as well as being creative hubs.
“Some of my favourite events have taken place in libraries, and over the next two years I intend to visit as many libraries as I can.”
He added that he supported the Reading Agency’s summer reading challenge, which encourages children aged four to 11 to read six books over the course of the school holidays.
There was a smaller drop in the number of five- to 15-year-olds who had used a library in the past week, down 6%, and a 7% decrease in those who had done so at least once in the year.
But the number of 11- to 15-year-olds who had visited a library in the past week had gone up 15%. This is despite a 1% fall in the numbers who had visited in the past year.
The apparent decline in interest in libraries comes despite an overall increase in the number of libraries, including those transformed from public libraries by community and volunteer groups. There are 3,450 libraries in England, according to the most recent figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, up 2% from 2010.
But Diana Gerald, chief executive of reading charity Book Trust, said the figures were “amazing”.
She said: “Over recent years children’s use of libraries has been consistently high, and even with all the other modern attractions libraries are still visited by 70% of under-15s - that’s quite amazing.
“In these austere times, libraries have never been more important as a way for every child to access books and reading.
“Book Trust research shows that reading helps close the poverty gap and is actually more important for a child’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. Well-resourced libraries remain a gateway to equality of educational achievement and an affordable source of great pleasure. All children should have easy access to a library.”
Cressida Cowell, author of the bestselling How To Train Your Dragon series, which has been adapted for film, said reading was “the most important thing you can do for improving literacy and communication skills”.
She added: “Libraries are particularly good for children experimenting and trying books that they might not have expected to like.
“A great librarian can truly make a difference in thousands of children’s lives.”
I’ve been a schoolteacher. Right after college in 1969, like a lot of guys, I taught school as an alternative to serving in Vietnam. I was married with a week-old daughter on graduation day. I taught grade school English in Cleveland, Ohio for six years. After that, I ran, eventually owned, a longstanding bookstore in downtown Cleveland. It felt something like Three Lives in the West Village. I went on to found an alternative weekly paper like the Voice, also in Cleveland. It lasted 12 years. Twenty-one years ago I moved here, armed with an idea and a prototype for a national book magazine. Like a Rolling Stone for books. I never raised the huge amount of money I needed. I then worked for a media company, editing a couple of neighborhood weeklies, more than once using my editor’s space to talk about city kids and reading. Between the editorial jobs, I taught English for a year here in Manhattan at a Catholic boys’ high school with mostly minority kids. I was terrible at discipline. But sometimes when we found a book or a story we liked, it all came together.