There's quite the storm brewing in the world of libraries.
Terry Deary, who you'll probably know if you're British, and probably won't if you're not, has caused quite a to-do with his recent statements about the future of libraries - namely, that there isn't one.
|Photo by Jeffrey Beall|
Reaction has been very strong and pretty effective, for the most part. Local groups and influential authors, thinkers, and doers have leaped to libraries' defense, pointing to their role in child education, social and cultural growth, adult education, etc., etc. The image of libraries as just as place for books is outdated, and to close them is to remove a vital social leveler providing access to resources, education and information that not everyone has at home.
Terry Deary's argument is something new, though. Rather than see libraries as a cultural thing, or as a part of the education system (itself not a thing he particularly cherishes), Deary seems to take umbridge that libraries provide books for free.
Talking to The Guardian newspaper, Deary explained:
"If I sold the book I'd get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?"
Now, in the UK, UK authors get paid when you borrow their book. It's called Public Lending Right and it's a good thing. As far as I can tell, Deary's argument is that then 6p or so he gets when you borrow his books is way below the royalties he'd get if you bought it. Why, libraries are undercutting bookstores. They're rivals, and they're cheating!
No. Firstly, to see libraries as just big rooms with books in is to ignore to the point of idiocy their role in local communities working with children, mothers, families, adults, the elderly - you name it - to run courses, workshops, act as information hubs, and to provide space to work and read. In a way the economic argument does have some sense in it - libraries do provide books for free - but the sense is simply this: is makes sense to make reading material available to those who can't buy it themselves. It also makes sense to make it available to those who could buy it themselves, and may well do later on. But to see the libraries as bookshops's competitors? To think they've had their day? No.
|Public library on Henley Street. Stratford, England. |
Photo by ell brown
When I moved to America, do you know what I did? I registered at the library. I've used it. I've bought books that I first read there. One of the woes of living in Japan was not having an English language library to hand. I used the Birmingham library system growing up, and the Bristol one when I was a student.
There may well be a larger conversation to be had in Britain about the role of libraries and where the funds should come from - in fact, it would probably help boost their public image and help correct some misunderstandings about what they are and what the do. But to support their demise simple because they have the gall to give things away for free is bordering on miserly and ignores the real-world uses of libraries for so many people.
If my books ever made it to UK or U.S. libraries, I would be overjoyed. If I got paid for it? More so. if I didn't? I really do think I would be OK. I know what getting children to read means. It means they become readers throughout their life - and that is something you can't put a price on.