A dedicated literacy area has opened at Stansted library this week.

And similar dedicated literacy areas for libraries in Saffron Walden, Thaxted and Great Dunmow are due by the end of June.

Dedicated literacy areas have materials to support reading and writing for adults and children, printable take-home resources, and creative writing prompts.

The change is part of a four-year plan for Essex libraries, called Everyone’s Library Service 2022-2026.

The dedicated areas come at the same time that libraries are getting a higher profile through schools.

This week, all Essex schoolchildren from Reception to Year 7 are receiving their own library card, and an Essex Year of Reading bookmark from school.

Parents and carers need to take the card to a library in the county to activate it.

The move is part of efforts to help boost schoolchildren’s reading levels across the county and to inspire a lifelong love of reading.

From next year, every child will automatically receive details of how to sign up for a library card, with their offer of a school place.

Essex library cards offer free access to thousands of books, including picture books, learning to read books, fact books, e-books, e-audio and e-comics.

Councillor Louise McKinlay, Essex County Council's deputy leader, said: “We know that 16% of adults in England have ‘very poor literacy skills’ and around 2% to 6% of children have significant reading difficulties.

“For adults and children this can lead to low self-esteem as well as their ability to access information that can have a serious impact on their life chances.

"We believe in giving everyone the best possible chance in life by making sure they have the tools and support available to help them achieve.

"These new literacy areas will make a real, positive, difference to our residents that need that extra bit of support.

"I am so pleased the first phase have now launched and I would urge residents to pop in and explore what they have to offer."

The Essex Year of Reading has been created by the Essex Education Taskforce to help children and young people affected by the loss of learning during the pandemic, and to ensure that every Essex child who is able, leaves school able to read at their age level or above.

Over £1m will be invested in the programme during 2022.

See https://www.essex.gov.uk/news/essex-year-of-reading

Save Our Libraries Essex

Campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) came together in autumn 2018 and successfully campaigned against plans to close a third of Essex's 74 libraries, gaining support from thousands of people including celebrity endorsement.

Following the closures U-turn in summer 2019, SOLE campaigned against plans for the voluntary takeover of many of Essex's libraries, describing them as 'charity shop libraries'.

Last month, SOLE said it still had concerns.

A spokesperson said: "It stands to reason that when a library has to give up space to share with other organisations and services, there will be less room for books, less room to study, and less room for computers.

'We have seen from past experience that any cuts to library services - such as cuts to opening hours and the cuts to book stock, which is down by nearly half a million over the last decade - is then used to justify further cuts and even closures down the line. That clearly remains a danger.

"And are our libraries expected to become profitable and pay their way?

"We have already seen library space hired out for private events during opening hours, such as when Colchester Library users were denied access to the quiet study and local history area.

"Libraries cost just a tiny fraction of the overall Essex County Council budget and are already excellent value for money."


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