PORTSMOUTH is set to become the first city in the UK to automatically issue free library cards to all schoolchildren.
With the support of schools across the city, the council will hand out 23,000 library cards to children aged between five and 16 years old.
It comes after results from a National Literacy Trust review showed that three in 10 children do not have books at home.
The scheme is all part of The News Read All About It campaign to improve literacy in schools across the area.
Author Dame Jacqueline Wilson said: ‘I practically lived in my local library when I was young and if I hadn’t read all the magical books there, I wouldn’t be a writer myself now. I do hope the children enjoy using their library card.’
Each school has been sent enough library cards for every pupil.
Children’s author Ali Sparkes was at North End library to launch the scheme.
She said: ‘I love that the cards are personalised with the children’s names printed on them.
‘This makes the cards special and is hopefully something the children will respond to.
‘They will be recognised as members of a community of young readers, which will really bed them into the wonderful world of fiction.’
Libraries and engagement manager at Portsmouth City Council David Percival said: ‘We know that children who regularly use libraries are much more likely to be better at reading, so we’re making sure every child has the chance to discover what we have to offer.
‘I’m thrilled we’ve been able to make what was once just an idea into a reality.’
The scheme was launched in schools this week.
‘It means children can use their cards in any of the nine libraries in the city.
Schools Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘I’m delighted to support Portsmouth’s drive to ensure all children and young people have the chance to foster a lifelong love of reading from an early age.’
Evidence from the National Literacy Trust shows children who enjoy reading are five times more likely to be above average than below average in reading tests.
There are 7,500 active library card users in the city aged between five and 16. The new scheme will see a further 15,500 young people with their own card.
Councillor Lee Hunt, cabinet member for culture, added: ‘This new initiative hopes to build on the strong links found between reading and higher attainment.’