The amount of money spent by public libraries on children's books is expected to fall next year - just when the National Year of Reading is due to begin.
Despite the Government's declared commitment to reading as one of the most important aspects of education, spending on children's library books is likely to drop by 10 per cent, even though in most libraries children's issues make up one third of all books borrowed.
The figures, showing a drop in expenditure by public libraries on children's books from pounds 17.2m to pounds 15.9m, were calculated by the Library and Information Statistics Unit. They represent a drop of almost 10 per cent in spending for next year, based on advance budget plans, although a spokesman for LISU said these figures may change. This year the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, committed his department to more funding for literacy. At the Labour Party conference he promised to make next year (1998-99) the National Year of Reading, to provide a pounds 50m fund for teaching reading initiatives, and a campaign urging parents to read with their children at home for at least 20 minutes each day. While Mr Blunkett can declare his wholehearted backing for drives to promote reading, the very places where children of all backgrounds can acquire books - libraries - do not come within his remit. They are the responsibility of town halls and Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary. Growing numbers of parents and librarians have voiced concern at the drop in spending on children's books. Jennifer Madden, principal children's librarian of Kirklees Metropolitan Council, said local authority funding was being cut across the board. "The money for children's books, for all books, is just leaching away," she said. "All we can do is try to pull kids up the agenda and try to make sure that spending on them is in proportion to their number in the population." Guy Daines, head of professional practice at the Library Association, said they were very concerned over the cuts being made especially when the Government was emphasising the importance of education. …