Sandeep is proud to work as an ambassador for Nottingham as a UNESCO city of literature. 70% of us read for pleasure, and literature is a key cultural export of the UK. Sandeep grew up in a house without books, and left school with few qualifications. She went to university as a mature student, and believes passionately in the power of libraries to positively transform lives. She spoke about the literary history of the city of Nottingham, which includes Lord Byron, JM Barrie, Graham Greene and DH Lawrence. The city is home to many libraries and bookshops, and has a tradition of public education. Despite the climate of austerity in the UK, Nottingham has not closed its public libraries, and instead is planning a new central libraries. This positive environment for literature, books and reading was recognised by UNESCO and led to the designation of “city of literature”. However Nottingham has a lot of poverty, and high levels of inequality. By age 11, 15% of boys and 10% of girls are two stages below their expected reading level in school. While there are many BAME families in Nottingham, the low literacy levels are more closely linked to child poverty, not ethnic background.
Sandeep spoke about the value of reading for pleasure for children’s educational attainment and future job prospects. Much work has been done to encourage reading and literacy, for example the “book start” programme where all new parents are given a book pack to read with their children. The Dolly Parton imagination library gifts a book a month to children under 5 in the most deprived areas of Nottingham. Young ambassadors review books, interview writers and promote books and reading across the city.
Nottingham’s new central library will be a national centre for children’s learning and literacy, and young people will help design the space where they can socialise and learn. Information literacy development will be a crucial aspect of the new service.