We were delighted to hear that 11-year-old George Hamerton was keen to attend the Speak Up for Libraries Rally and Lobby, so delighted in fact, that we invited him to be our Junior Reporter for the day.
Many thanks to Mrs Tyler, George’s headteacher at Condal Primary School in Hampshire for allowing George leave to take up this opportunity…
Here is George’s report on the day…
On Tuesday 9th February, I travelled to London to take part in the `Speak Up For Libraries` (SUFL) campaign. I was lucky enough to make a speech alongside many famous authors and members of Unison and CILIP. As the Junior Reporter, I had time to interview some of the delegates before the lobby started. I found out many interesting reasons why they were there and the cuts that their libraries are undergoing.
I spoke to people from: The Wirrall, Croydon, Camden, Greenwich and many more. I found out the situations that some of the libraries are in:
- Greenwich Libraries are campaigning to keep their Mobile Library service because they get around 280 customers a day (30,000 a year, 20,000 of these are children).
- People spoke of wanting to keep their library staff because when staff leave, they are not being replaced.
- Camden used to have 14 libraries, but now they only have 9 and one fifth is partially run by volunteers. They also lost their mobile library service and their book budget. As well as this, new staff are on short-term contracts.
In many authorities, library staff are now called Customer Service Assistants.
After some networking, we made our way into the lobby, where the guest speakers made their point.
The guest speakers were Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy, Philip Ardagh, Dawn Finch, Eve Ainsworth, Jake Arnott, John Dougherty and representatives from Voices for the Library, The Library Campaign and Unison.
Cathy Cassidy told us 1:3 children do not own a book.
Dawn Finch said libraries have approx. 260,000,000 visits a year and thousands of people have been lead to a better life via the library.
What I noticed was that many of the guest speakers grew up in a working-class background where there wasn’t enough money to buy books and the library was a safe haven; a place to escape.
I also learnt that libraries are not just for families with young children, but also for vulnerable groups. For people with mental health issues, for the visually impaired, the elderly and the unemployed who require access to computers to look for work.
I was also lucky enough to have the chance to speak. I felt confident to make my opinion clear as I feel strongly about public libraries. My main point was children’s literacy skills suffer when public libraries close and there is no access to a school library. I am lucky at my Primary school as we have a school library, where I am Chief Librarian.
After the rally, we walked across Parliament Square and visited the Houses of Parliament to lobby our MP (lobbying your MP is easier than you might think). Sadly, I couldn’t see my MP on the day, but the helpful staff at the House of Commons assured me that my MP will contact me to make an appointment to see him.
Because we had some time to spare, we went to watch a debate on the EU referendum. It was very interesting. After our long day out, I was glad to have some rest.
I will be giving a presentation to my whole school – this will seem fairly easy after speaking at the lobby on Tuesday!
I would like to thank The Library Campaign for inviting me to be Junior Reporter for the day, and also all the guest speakers for making me feel welcome and giving me such support. It was an incredible experience.
And here is the speech that George delivered on the day to a packed room at Central Hall Westminster:
I am here today to support the ‘Speak Up For Libraries’ campaign to save our libraries.
I agree with our government that all children aged eight and above should own a library card, but what is the point when libraries are being closed all over the UK? Since David Cameron came into power over four hundred libraries have shut and there are more proposed cuts to come.
There is no legal requirement for a school to have a library. Think of those children who have no access to either school or public libraries.
Where will they access knowledge?
Where will they access a world of brilliant children’s literature?
When I was younger I went to rhymetime and storytime at our local library. This is an important part of early years speech development.
I am one of up to 1,500 children at my local library to finish the summer reading challenge each year. It is proven that children’s reading skills get worse over the long summer holidays and the summer reading challenge is a chance to increase a child’s reading ability. Without libraries there will be no summer reading challenge and children’s reading skills will be set back.
What the government is doing is wrong and we need to stand up for what is right.
And we feel it is important to share the support George had from his school. Here is the Headteacher’s message in a recent school newsletter. The headteacher, Mrs Tyler, wrote,
I feel I should mention George H, one of our Chief Librarians (Year 6), who was asked to attend a meeting in Westminster to discuss the future of libraries nationally and the decision to shut many libraries across the country.
He was given the opportunity to speak to a delegation of library professionals, school librarians, library users, and authors. George spent time asking delegates a variety of questions and his own presentation took a different angle to the other guest speakers, speaking about the loss of rhyme time/ storytime sessions, there being no legal requirement for schools to have a library, the summer reading challenge, and all children having library cards.
George is now contacting our local MP to seek his views on the future of libraries.
I am always talking to the children about the importance of them having their own voice and speaking up for what they believe in.
What an example of democracy in action!
Thanks for joining us on the day and for speaking at the rally, George.
You made an outstanding junior reporter and speaker on the day.
Alan Wylie was so impressed that he refers to you as amazing George.
We look forward to hearing how you get on with your MP.
Thanks for speaking up for libraries!