YESTERDAY children of all ages came together to appreciate reading and celebrate the 19th World Book Day.

The main aim of World Book Day is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. And of course libraries play a crucial role in this aim as they provide the environment for children (and adults) to have access to a world of literature.

I am a regular user of our local libraries – unfortunately my current list of fines can verify this!

When I was a Swindon Borough Councillor I served as the Cabinet Member in charge of Libraries and in the last Parliament I was the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Libraries.

Each year I get an opportunity to see the fantastic work that our libraries do in providing educational opportunities to youngsters with the Summer Reading Challenge. It is free, fun, inclusive and provides the chance for local youngsters to build their literacy skills – a key-building block to creating a well-educated society. Research has shown reading for pleasure is vital for children’s life chances and children who use libraries are twice as likely to be above average readers.

But libraries also go further. One of the most valuable services a library can offer is access to the internet. This is particularly important to job seekers, people in rural communities and pensioners who may not always have access at home. Furthermore the library service does a fantastic job in some parts of our town in outreaching to communities who do not have a library nearby.

However as incredible as our libraries are, That’s not to say that they do not face challenges. The number of people using libraries in recent years has declined rapidly, largely as a result of easily accessible (and fairly cheap) books online through Amazon or tablets. As part of this challenge local councils and communities have to create ways to modernise and ensure their long-term sustainability.

A good example is the Old Town library, which was moved from a small, tired shop unit to within the modern, refurbished Arts Centre. This not only saved money on things like rent, rates and electricity, but also resulted in membership and usage increasing significantly. Other ideas include town and parish councils having more control and ownership over the running of local libraries – this is the same principle that has been successfully applied to street cleaning in certain areas of the borough.

I am 100 per cent supportive of our local libraries. Going forward, I hope Swindon Borough Council will be able to deploy innovative ideas to ensure their future sustainability. I also hope that residents will understand the reasons for doing so. In the meantime I would encourage everybody to use their local library as the best way to support their future.