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  • "Apologies for being long-winded. Councils are required by the 1964 Libraries Act to provide a certain standard of library service. The Secretary of State has duties under the Act to intervene if they fail to do so. Getting rid of the Act will mean no obligation whatsoever to provide a library service available at a local level. In a nutshell ..."
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Closure of libraries ‘will be damaging to children’

Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett

First published in Bentham

Playwright Alan Bennett says the closure of public libraries will be damaging to children.

The world-famous writer, who has a home in Clapham, is backing a campaign to keep local libraries open.

He spoke of the “magic” of learning to read at an early age, and repeated his earlier comment that the proposed closure of libraries was tantamount to “child abuse”.

“Although obviously I’m concerned about senior library users, it’s the damage that will be done to children if libraries start closing that concerns me,” he said.

“Closing a public library is child abuse really, because it hinders the child’s development, it delays its capacity to read and to learn and, once that damage is done, it can’t be undone. I don’t think people have pointed this out enough.

“It’s not just the leisure facilities offered by libraries, it’s something much more.”

North Yorkshire County Council is planning to shut 18 of its 42 libraries.

In Craven, the affected libraries are in Bentham, Ingleton, Gargrave and Embsay.

The county council is also planning to axe its current fleet of mobile libraries and focus instead on super-mobile libraries equipped with internet technology.

In February, Mr Bennett unexpectedly turned up at the libraries in Bentham and Ingleton to show his support during a national read-in.

He also allowed local campaigners to use his quote, “closing libraries is like child abuse”, on protest posters.

Speaking to the BBC last week, Mr Bennett spoke of the importance of books in his own childhood.

He said: “I’d learned to read quite early, about when I was five, simply by watching my brother really.

"I could read ordinary comics like Beano and Dandy, but he was three years older and he’d graduated to Hotspur and Wizard, which were proper printed stories.

"I used to lie behind him on the hearth rug and look at what he was reading and couldn’t really understand it, and then one day it suddenly made sense and it was almost a magical moment really.”

The county council’s corporate director of adult and community services, Derek Law, said Mr Bennett’s child abuse statement was “a bit strong”.

He added: “If you ask any families involved in child abuse, they would say it’s a strong comment.”

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