Library scheme to help literacy

Every library in Essex will have a designated space to help literacy levels by the end of June, as part of its new plan to reshape the service in the county.

The draft council plan details how Essex County Council intends to transform the library service over the next four years – including at its cornerstone how to help children and adults improve their reading in new literacy corners.

The authority has also pledged to develop a planned programme of building improvements that will consider upgrade and cosmetic improvements and to develop its mobile library offer to support service outreach and community engagement.

And a new online library platform will see a “more user-friendly interface, and enhanced functionality such as online bookings for special events and activities”.

The platform will also provide a more personalised service including bespoke recommendations based on borrowing habits.

Data from 2017 showed the areas which are recording the worst levels of literacy in Essex.

In Castle Point 62 per cent reached the expected reading level by KS2 and in Basildon 65 per cent reached the expected reading level by KS2.

The Essex average was 67 per cent while average for England was 66 per cent.

More than 2,000 people and organisations responded to the survey as part of the Essex Draft Library Plan – there was more than 90 per cent agreement to support children to be school-ready and develop their reading skills.

The launch of Everyone’s Library Service, scheduled for April 2022, will see the start of the new re imagined library service, and especially the rollout of the of the Everyone’s Literary scheme that was started in Clacton at the end of February.

Councillor Louise McKinlay, cabinet member responsible for libraries, said at the Essex County Council people’s and families policy scrutiny committee on March 10: “The aim is that by the end of June every library will have a literacy corner.

“That is a physical corner and I suspect these will morph over time as we get feedback and improve on them.

“But we are very much looking at providing a space where we can promote literacy not just for little ones.

“But I can start with children thinking about the word of the week, digraphs and how they can learn to read and write and what that means for school readiness.

“But then also what is needed for additional support for adults and to really be able to use these places – this is the visible side of the literacy aspect.

“In time we will be delivering services from these corners which will be very targeted particularly in some of the more deprived areas where we know school readiness and good levels of development are lower than they are elsewhere.

“So we need to make sure we have the tools to be able to do it.

“It is not just to encourage people to go to the library but we are taking that next step further and thinking about the additional support that some of these communities may need and giving them the information they may need.”

Campaigners have said the 2,000 responses received by Essex County Council for its recently closed consultation into the future of the county’s libraries, have proved right its concerns about a lack of publicity for and access to the consultation.

A spokesperson for Save Our Libraries Essex added: “Some campaigners have given a cautious welcome to the draft proposals, particularly as plans replace the current set up with so-called ‘community libraries’ – or more appropriately charity shop libraries – appear to have been dropped.

“However, campaigners still seek an assurance from the council that any takeover bid for a library will be rejected, and demand that library spaces are not reduced or new charges introduced, and that the half a million books cut over the last decade should be replaced.”

Essex County Council had planned to close 25 of its 74 libraries in 2018 before local outcry and a star-studded campaign from famous authors convinced the authority to change its mind.

Essex County Council has committed to keeping all 74 libraries open.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter