Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Building a Literate Nation: The Key Role of Public Libraries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Building a Literate Nation: The Key Role of Public Libraries

Article excerpt

From the UK experience, there must be a central role for public libraries in the planning and delivery of national strategies for literacy. If they argue their case for a fully integrated involvement in national policies they have a unique and highly influential contribution to make to other important social policy areas such as lifelong learning and community regeneration. However they need to be better funded, more assertive, and more skilled at integrating and marketing their contribution. Edited version of a paper given at the Western Australian Local Government Librarians Association conference March 2003

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From a British perspective, there must be a central role for public libraries in the planning and delivery of national strategies for literacy.

Over the last nine years I have become an active and enthusiastic advocate of the potential role for public libraries in the drive to deliver a sustained breakthrough in literacy standards and increased literacy participation in our most disadvantaged communities.

This view was reinforced in particular by the National Year of Reading, a campaign the National Literacy Trust ran for the Department for Education in partnership with national and local government, business and the media, in order to promote reading in support of national literacy goals.

The public library potential

I have also become convinced that provided the public library sector successfully argues its case for a fully integrated involvement in national policies, then libraries have a unique and potentially highly influential contribution to make to a number of other important social policy areas such as

* early years

* lifelong learning

* social inclusion and economic and community regeneration

In other words, in order to deliver the full potential of these important policy priorities, we must improve the coordination and integration of planning and delivery, and ensure that we fully realise the special contribution of librarians. We need libraries to play a central and influential role, and by an influential role is not meant, as a marginal soft end contributor.

However to do this public libraries must be both adequately funded and more skilled at marketing and integrating their particular contribution. Libraries and librarians need to be more assertive about their potentially powerful contribution. The sector is far too modest about its current and potential influence.

This presentation refers to

* the state of literacy in the UK and why literacy is uniquely important

* why systemic perspectives to policy planning and delivery are needed

* the role of libraries in promoting literacy, and in particular in communities of economic and social dislocation

In doing so I shall share the questions I have been asking about the influence of UK libraries in the drive to create a fairer, more literate community, and highlight some of the excellent initiatives that UK libraries have developed to support reading promotion and educational goals.

Mine is an outsider's perspective, as a critical friend. I do so to suggest how we can build on the higher profile and increased political popularity of libraries, to ensure that for literacy and wider learning--and the other policy strands already mentioned--libraries can move from the edge to the centre of policy planning and delivery. To state the obvious, if we can secure such centrality it will eventually deliver more resources, more power and more influence.

The new strategic framework for the public library service.

To contextualise this paper, there has been a highly significant development in England. In early 2003 the UK government published, after a long period of consultation with the sector and its stakeholders, an important report Framework for the future: libraries, learning and information in the next decade. …

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