(Peter James, Miranda McKearney and Neil Gaiman. Photo by Robin Mayes)
On 14 October we held our second annual Reading Agency lecture at the Barbican Centre. Neil Gaiman gave the lecture which focused on the importance of reading for pleasure and how vital libraries are in the 21st century. Author Peter James also launched our author fund at the event.
Miranda McKearney, our Director, gave the following speech before introducing Peter and Neil.
The powerful experience of reading
Isn't it extraordinary how those little black marks on a page or screen magically become the powerful experience that is reading? Extraordinary too, for those of us who spend so much time reading to realise that for many, many people, reading is a difficult, unattractive experience. 35% of adults don't read for pleasure and last week's deeply sobering OECD research showed that we rank 22nd out of 24 countries in terms of our young people's literacy skills.
We are committed to building a fairer society by helping everyone have an equal chance to become a reader. We create programmes that help people become confident and enthusiastic readers, and right now we're experiencing powerful feedback from the children completing our Summer Reading Challenge with libraries. This challenges them to join the library and read six books, combatting the damaging drop in literacy skills in the break from school.
We're expecting around three quarters of a million children to have participated in the 2013 Challenge. The theme was Creepy House and it has succeeded in dramatically changing attitudes to reading amongst many, many children - as you can see from these quotes.
"I use to hate reading now I love it thanks to all the Summer Reading Challenges."
- Child from Essex
"At first I hated reading but now I love it!! Let's get reading cause I want more."
- Boy from Malden
I particularly love this one:
"The librarians are so kind to you and make you feel so welcome... they make the library so good to work in you never feel angry it is always a quiet environment to work in and every one helps each other and I have read 6 books"
- Child from London
Research, experimentation and new thinking
To ensure the charity's effectiveness, we do lots of research, experimentation and new thinking. Our annual lecture is part of that - a platform for fresh thinking on the future of reading. We introduced it last year to celebrate our tenth birthday, and got off to a cracking start with an amazing contribution from Jeanette Winterson. Tonight we couldn't be more thrilled that Neil Gaiman will be giving our second lecture.
I want to say a big thank you to this year's lecture sponsors - you have been just great: Bloomsbury, Public Library Online, Solus, 3M Library and Salvo design and print. Thank you.
And how great to have such a rich mix of all of YOU here tonight. We're especially pleased to have some of our Ambassadors here: model Edie Campbell writer Adele Parks, alongside leaders from publishing, education, culture, government and supporters like the Arts Council and Paul Hamlyn Foundation who we're so proud to be funded by.
I particularly want to welcome a truly starry host of authors, and the mighty crowd of librarians here, most vital of public servants. And perhaps most important of all - five young people from our Reading Activists programme - the readers and library users of the future. Reading Activists works in deprived areas to build young people's enjoyment of reading, and new skills as they become volunteer reading champions in their community.
We're honoured to welcome Prince, Syed, Jerry, Mabel and Olivia who have been star volunteers in libraries in Lewisham, Enfield, Kent, Croydon and Tower Hamlets.
(Above, Reading Activists with Neil Gaiman, Miranda McKearney and Liz Cleaver. Photo by Robin Mayes)
Tonight is part of an urgent debate about how to build a nation of readers and library users. We hope you'll all join in - tell us on twitter what you'd like to see in your library of the future using #ReadingAgencyLecture.
Peter James and Neil Gaiman
I'm very grateful to Peter James, the hugely popular crime author, for being here to launch our new author fund. This creates a kind of intravenous writer to reader vein to plug the deeply generous financial and in-kind support of authors straight into growing our reading programmes with libraries so that more children and young people get the chance to become enthusiastic readers. There's something very wonderful about the symbolism of writers supporting young readers in this way, and we're so grateful to the Arts Council for their support from the Catalyst scheme which has helped get the author fund off the ground. We've been extremely heartened by Peter's support and we're looking forward to working with many other authors on changing lives through the author fund.
There are lots of great things about being the Director of The Reading Agency, but they don't get much better than having the job of introducing Neil Gaiman! Neil is totally the man of the moment - Coraline and American Gods are on the shelves of just about everyone I know. The 2,000 tickets for his gig tomorrow night sold out in 24 hours. So you'll probably already know that Neil's the first author to have won both the Carnegie and Newbery Medals for the same work - The Graveyard Book, that he's scripted episodes of Doctor Who, and appeared as himself in The Simpsons. He's a quite extraordinary author who has won more awards than I have time to list. Without more ado, ladies and gentleman, please welcome Neil Gaiman! (Above, Neil Gaiman. Photo by Robin Mayes.)
Read extracts from Neil's lecture more information on Peter James launching the author fund. You can also watch and read the full lecture.
Articles appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, The Bookseller and The Yorkshire Post and on the BBC website. The Guardian have published an edited version of the lecture.
Catch up with what people said about the lecture on social media via our #ReadingAgencyLecture storify.