011711-neil-gaiman.jpgThe newly launched Arts Council of England magazine Create, for all the issues around its basic premise, has garnered material from some very significant creative figures, Neil Gaiman being one of them. He took the opportunity, in the course of a long interview with Toby Litt in the magazine (available to read in full here), to speak about writing, reading, and libraries, and the importance of the latter in education and general development.

After recounting his love of libraries from his first experiences of them at age three or four, Neil Gaiman noted “I’ve probably been in about six or seven hundred libraries over the years, some of them that I researched in, some of them I took my children to; a lot of them I’ve visited for events, for launches, for opening graphic novel sections. I’ve seen so many wonderful libraries.” And he cited some significant recent successes among them: “The new Birmingham library has been getting numbers through its doors that are very similar to the Tate Gallery. They invested in a huge, glorious library. It’s a beautiful, beautiful space. And they did it just before the cuts came in. It’s been a Tate Gallery-level success.” Or there is Australia, “where libraries are an enormous success, because nobody seems to have thought it necessary to cut the budgets. One of my favourite libraries in the world is in Melbourne, which has a grand piano!”

Given that, it’s no surprise to learn where Gaiman stands on the issue of library closures – and even the potential social knock-on effects:

For me, closing libraries is the equivalent of eating your seed corn to save a little money. There was a recent report published by Save the Children that showed that among low-income white boys in England, 45 per cent were not reading well – meaning they should understand the meaning of what they read – by the age of 11. Which is a monstrous statistic, especially when you start thinking about it as a statistic that measures not just literacy but also as a measure of imagination and empathy, because a book is a little empathy machine. It puts you inside somebody else’s head.

Gaiman has certainly spoken on the issue at length many times before, but he definitely minces no words on it here, and he chose a very appropriate forum for it. After all, the Arts Council’s magazine is all about making the case for creative and arts spending, and libraries are one of the most directly beneficial instances of culturally directed spending around.


  1. The case of illiteracy is not just a reflection of reduced imagination and empathy, it’s a measure of how far the Tory-led government in the UK has succeeded in its aim to degrade the lot of ordinary people in its aim to produce a poorly-educated, low-paid workforce. Stafford Beer famously coined the phrase, “The purpose of a system is what it does” – illiteracy, inequality, social degradation are the effects of our political system – this is what it does, this is what its aims are.

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