Malorie Blackman fears for the future of libraries.
The celebrated British author who served as the UK’s Children's Laureate from 2013-2015 told attendees at the 2023 Hay Festival, a literature and arts fest held in Wales May 25-June 4, that libraries should be “ringfenced and protected” to ensure that all children have access to books.
“I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it wasn’t for my local library,” Blackman said. “Libraries being closed and librarians being laid off, it’s such a wrong thing to do. This government’s always talking about social mobility, equalizing, making a level playing field between people. Well, one of the things that should be ringfenced and protected then is libraries.”
Public spending cuts have shuttered more than 800 libraries in the UK since the early 2010s. Blackman criticized her government’s lack of knowledge about the power and importance of libraries. She recalled appearing on a panel with a Member of Parliament “who said we don’t need libraries anymore because we have Amazon." The notion is inherently discriminatory, she said.
"First of all, not everyone has a smart device to read the books, the books are not free," Blackman said. "Libraries are a great equalizer in that you can be rich, you can be poor, you can be in between, but they are available to everyone."
Blackman also bemoaned the idea of abandoning smaller community libraries for large centralized facilities, saying the move would ostracize large segments of the population.
“The idea of having a central library that needs a bus journey or train journey to get there—I couldn’t have done that, I did not have that bus fare, I walked to my library and back and I was happy to do so. I just think there are an awful lot of people in places of power who don’t have a clue. And that makes me despair quite frankly.”
The author of almost 70 books, including the Noughts & Crosses series, told the Hay Festival audience that she grew up in the library, and the experience was fundamental to her becoming a writer.
“They saved my life. They are the reason I became a writer,” Blackman said. “The librarians got to know me, and they recommended books like Jane Eyre, saying read this. And so, it just breaks my heart that they’re not available.”
Photo: The Hay Festival