ALL Scottish children could automatically become library members to help improve literacy under a new Government scheme.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is backing the £80,000 scheme which will see year-long pilot projects in every local authority to enrol children at key stages of early development.
They will either be issued with library cards at birth, aged three or four, or when they reach Primary 1.
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Yesterday Sturgeon, who has insisted her Government will improve education for Scots children, joined a P1 class at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library to promote the initiative.
She said: “Libraries can empower communities – often in our most deprived areas where we know that young people can have lower levels of literacy and numeracy. Access to books and learning materials will help us to make sure that every child has the opportunity to get excited about reading.
“Our libraries are often the hub of a local community – providing vital access to information and resources that people would otherwise not have.
“Now, thanks to £80,000 Scottish Government funding, every local authority in Scotland will trial methods to give children automatic membership to their local library.”
The idea was first floated by Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust, after he visited The Library of Innerpeffray, in Crieff, Scotland’s oldest free public lending library dating back to the 1700s.
Lambert said: “As part of Book Week Scotland last year I talked about my visit to the library and they have records of who took books out dating back to the 1700s. It showed shepherds who had walked to borrow books. It was a window into Scottish culture and a service libraries have provided to communities for a very long time in Scotland.
“I’m totally bowled over and delighted that this huge step forward has been taken.”
Under the pilot schemes, libraries will also work with schools and communities to promote the services they offer.
The First Minister spent time with a P1 class who are part of Glasgow Life’s pilot project which will target 2,000 pupils in six areas with lower literacy issues. From September 7, every baby registered in the Glasgow area will be given a library card by the registrar under the Every Child a Library Member scheme.
Councillor Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life, said: “Not only is reading vital to improving literacy levels but it also opens up a number of opportunities throughout young people’s lives, developing valuable life skills, signposting them on to education and employment pathways and supporting our future generations to grow and prosper as active citizens.”
But Lambert believes that local authorities will need to reissue the cards when children reach primary school age and the services must be promoted at grass roots level.
He added: “It’s all very well to hand over a card but they have to use the thing.
“There has to be promotion at local level to convert receiving it to library users.
“The pilot schemes will be assessed and evaluated over a year and decisions will be made after that.
“There was a similar kind of scheme targeting eight-year-olds in Wales. It was shown that it’s not just about about benefits to the child but the whole family.
Fifty per cent of families became library users again.
“I hope that will be shown at the end of this pilot and that more funding may then be put in place for libraries.”
Gruffalo childrens’ author and former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson (pictured below left) said: “I am very glad to hear that these pilot schemes will be promoted and to encourage schools to take the children to libraries.
“I’m not really an expert on the effect of reading on literacy, it’s more important to feed imaginations and to get inside other minds.
“Sometimes I think that not reading books is the reason we have things like sectarianism and people running off to Syria. If teenagers had read more books, would they have been so gullible?”
Earlier this year Dumfries and Galloway Council launched its Every Child a Member initiative, in which every family registering a birth is offered a library membership for their child.
There are over 600 libraries in Scotland, receiving 28 million visitors last year. More than 20 million books are lent out every year.
Gruffalos, Ladybirds and Other Beasts with Julia Donaldson is at the Udderbelly,George Square, Edinburgh, 11.30am daily, until Monday August 31.