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UPDATE 1-INTERVIEW-Libraries a vital sanctuary-UK Children's Laureate

(Updates website and tour information)
/ Source: Reuters

(Updates website and tour information)

By Simon Falush

LONDON, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Public libraries are treasure troves for the imagination and resources that pay for themselves many times over by educating and enriching, so closing them to trim budgets is self-defeating, British Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson said.

Donaldson starts a nationwide tour of British libraries on Monday which will begin at the northern tip of Scotland at John O'Groats and finish in the far southwest corner of England at Land's End.

During the six week tour she will perform her work and watch children act out scenes from her books, drawing attention to their vital place in the life of local communities.

Some 125 libraries in Britain were closed down or handed to volunteers to run last year, according to author and libraries campaigner Alan Gibbons who derived the information from press reports.

He estimated that another 244 are at risk as local authorities look to balance books after central government grants have been slashed to try and cut a large deficit in public finances.

Donaldson, author of over 150 books including "The Gruffalo", said that savings accrued from closing down branches would be outweighed by much larger costs incurred from higher crime that these facilities help to reduce.

"Something like 50 percent of prisoners are illiterate, so it doesn't make sense to be shutting down the places which are stimulating and encouraging a love of books," she said. "It's a false economy."

"I want to celebrate libraries. They are places in which you can develop your imagination, free yourself from circumstances."


Libraries can offer a sanctuary for young people who may live in deprived circumstances, or even those who are victims of abuse and neglect, Donaldson said.

"I have read a number of autobiographies where reading saved someone from a grisly background, giving them the ability to discover there are other worlds and other possibilities."

Speaking over coffee alongside her paediatrician husband Malcolm ahead of the tour, Donaldson gives some clues as to how she comes up with stories like "A Squash and a Squeeze" or "The Monkey Puzzle".

"The bath is the best place to come up with ideas. You gather your ideas just walking along, seeing life. If you've put in a little bit of grist, the bath is where it all comes together."

Strumming a guitar, Malcolm who will act as musician and driver for his wife during their tour in England, Scotland and Wales and is putting together a tour in Northern Ireland next year, said that he'd also like to take their tour of libraries to France and Germany.

The pair are certainly well equipped to do so, performing the Gruffalo in French, German and Scots English to Reuters.


The spark for Donaldson's career as an author came from the couple's days busking around Europe in summer holidays. The songs they wrote evolved into stories.

Donaldson will use the tour to promote acting and role-playing as a way into discovering the joy of reading, and improving technique.

"I'm very keen on children acting and getting into reading through drama, they can act out small parts of the story, and it really helps with putting expression into reading, and understanding."

Donaldson is creating a website called t hat launches on Sept 10 as a resource for teachers, which has a selection of books that work well, and suggestions about how to use them.

But it is the very act of going into libraries that Donaldson thinks is one of the most powerful ways to motivate children to read books, and it is vitally important that schools give their children the chance to visit them.

"Often libraries will be the only place that there's a space where children can read, with so many independent bookshops disappearing," she said. (Reporting by Simon Falush, editing by Paul Casciato)