'They're a safe space and refuge': best-selling author calls for more library funds

PUBLISHED: 08:24 03 January 2019

Jojo Moyes lives in Great Sampford. Picture: Stine Heilmann.

Jojo Moyes lives in Great Sampford. Picture: Stine Heilmann.


Best-selling Essex author Jojo Moyes has called for libraries to receive more funding, following Essex County Council's proposals to close 25 libraries, including ones in Thaxted and Stansted.

Ms Moyes, whose 2012 romance Me Before You soared to number one in six countries and is a New York Times best seller, described libraries as a safe space and refuge.

Her first book, Sheltering Rain, was published in 2002 and she has written more than 10 novels in her career.

Speaking to the Broadcast, Moyes, who lives in Great Sampford with her husband and three children, said: “My parents didn’t have a huge amount of money when I was small so the local library was a weekly treat. I would take four books out and then struggle to make them last a week, as I read so quickly.

“I can still remember how that library looked and the smell of the books on the shelves, and the joy of being able to travel anywhere through its pages. I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing if it hadn’t fostered in me such a love of reading.”

The novelist recently backed a campaign which urges Essex County Council (ECC) to keep Stansted Library open, by encouraging her followers on Twitter to sign the petition.

The former journalist said: “I feel passionately about the importance of libraries, they are one of the few places where you can educate or entertain yourself for free. They’re a safe space, a refuge, and a community space, and they are important for society.”

Moyes said that if a library shuts, the community “loses something it will never get back”.

“We no longer create spaces for the public good; everything is privatised. And in villages that are increasingly dominated by commuters, and full of households in which many people feel isolated, we lose a place where people can just exist together,” she said.

Traditional library use in Essex has collapsed in the last decade, with more than 100,000 fewer users than in 2008 according to ECC. Given this, how should libraries adapt to increase visitor numbers?

“I’m not sure I have all the answers,” Ms Moyes said. “I think given the loss of so many local pubs, you could potentially open up coffee shops within libraries, as people still like to meet up (especially mothers with small children). From my own experience, book events are always a draw. But mostly libraries need funding so that people don’t have to wait six weeks for the newer books, which means that many people buy them cheap online instead.

“I think the lure of other forms of entertainment is always strong. But cuts to funding mean that opening hours have been cut, book budgets have been cut, and staff just trying to keep the thing going have less energy with which to organise events and classes which might pull people in,” she added.

In May this year, Ms Moyes pledged £360,000 to fund Quick Reads for three years, a scheme which provides accessible stories for people with low literacy levels. Quick Reads had announced that it was ending after failing to find a sponsor, before Ms Moyes’ intervention.

Asked whether libraries and schemes such as Quick Reads need more funding, Ms Moyes said: “Yes. The ability to read well is a fundamental building block for success, and it’s shocking that such a high proportion of adults in this country struggle. It’s also good for mental health – consider how you feel finishing a good book as opposed to scrolling through your phone for a couple of hours. Books are also educative, and foster empathy. And every child loves being read to by a parent, that helps bonding.”

Members of the public can have their say on the county-wide proposals for libraries during a 12-week consultation period, which will end on February 20.

To read more and take part in the consultation online go to www.essex.gov.uk/libraries-consultation.

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