In a passionate speech about the need for libraries, best selling teen author Cathy Cassidy argued that books and empathy were needed now more than ever in a world which can seem frighteningly confused and unfair.
The Puffin author was the guest speaker at the annual ‘Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award’ being held in the Houses of Parliament. The Award was set up to recognise the contribution made by pupils who work in their school libraries and to give them the recognition they deserve, both within and outside their school community.
Addressing the audience in the Atlee Suite of Portcullis House, Cassidy said:
‘Reading for pleasure makes us smart, gives us a quiet confidence that no reading scheme can. We need free choice, the option to choose a picture book about unicorns one day and a book on engineering or world politics the next. We need the freedom to explore and learn without restraint. Libraries give us power, as the Manic Street Preachers song says – and they are under threat.
‘Libraries are closing countrywide – we have become a nation that does not value culture, learning or the freedom to read widely. If we can’t buy something, we can’t have it. Libraries matter more than I can say, and if we stand by quietly and allow them to be closed, our country will be the poorer for it.
‘Without libraries where will tomorrow’s dreamers, creatives come from? How will a child climb out of a difficult childhood into a brighter future without the ladder that library books can provide? Libraries treat us all as equals. They level the playing field, give everyone a chance to follow their dreams. We must not allow them to be taken away.
‘Why do we need books? To connect, to understand, to help us open up our hearts and minds, to make sense of the world around us. We need books to see that in spite of our differences and our uniqueness, we are all linked and have so much in common. Books help us to see, and see beyond the surface – and we need that empathy more than ever these days, in a world that can seem frighteningly confusing and unfair.
‘My school visits often start and finish in the school library, often with a coffee, a biscuit and the company of wonderful student librarians who know more than any adult could about how to draw young people into the world of books and learning. Those schools are a joy to visit; but some schools have downsized their library to make room for banks of computers. Some have terrifyingly closed their school library altogether. Many new build schools have no library at all. These are the school that ask me, as a visiting author. “What can we do to improve reading in our school?” The answer is plain. Love your library. HAVE a library!’
The School Pupil Librarian of the Year was Victoria Langford from St Hilda’s CE High School in Liverpool. She won £500 worth of books for her school library.
Details of the Award can be found here www.libpupilaward.co.uk
(photo: Victoria Langford, Cathy Cassidy, Barbara Band).
Sufiya Ahmed is the author of Secrets of the Henna Girl (Puffin) and was the PLAA 2017 guest judge. The Award is a joint venture between the CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) and the School Library Association.