I have been an avid reader all my life and I have no doubt this is in large part due to my early introduction to reading, encouraged by an extended family who indulged my love of books.
I have fond memories of visiting my local library as a child, devouring every new title, and saving pocket money to buy books at the local newsagent.
In many ways children’s books are timeless – if the plot is intriguing enough to engage young minds, then every new generation is hooked.
But children’s books are more than just stories. They are an opportunity for developing brains to express emotions, empathise with characters, increase vocabulary and their understanding of the world. And importantly, reading stories offers precious bonding time with a parent or carer.
Ninety per cent of brain development occurs before the age of five and there is a significant body of evidence that shows reading for pleasure has a huge impact on educational success and personal development.
That’s why it’s vital that children are introduced to books and reading at a young age – certainly pre-school, when they are curious, hungry for information and need regular stimulation to develop communications skills. Reading with babies and toddlers can shape how well or otherwise children perform academically.
Our public library network plays a unique and distinct role in this area. Libraries are a fantastic place to reach children at a young age and foster a love of books. Crucially, libraries offer free and easy access to books for everyone, regardless of age, social demographic and level of education, ensuring equality of opportunity – a fundamental ethos of public libraries.
The promotion of reading, literacy and learning is a strategic objective of the national strategy for public libraries in Scotland and early years programmes are a core part of the service. Bookbug and Rhymetime sessions for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers offer families time to talk, play, read and sing together, with free book gifts and fun activities for babies and young children from 0-5 years.
Read Write Count is a Scottish Government-led project delivered in partnership with SLIC, Education Scotland and the Scottish Book Trust aimed at tackling educational inequalities and raising attainment in early years and beyond. Libraries have been given resources to encourage local families to be more engaged in their child’s learning and education.
In January 2016, working with the Scottish Government, we launched a pilot project, Every Child a Library Member, to explore ways to provide automatic library membership for every child. We are now planning an established programme with every baby born in Scotland given library membership by the local registrar.
Introducing children to the magic of books isn’t just about fuelling their imagination. Books open up a whole world of opportunity and a brighter future underpinned by better literacy, educational attainment and personal wellbeing.
Pamela Tulloch is chief executive at the Scottish Library and Information Council