The latest enemy of libraries is… an author!
Terry Deary’s recent comments about libraries came out of the blue. The author of the Horrible Histories children’s series had told the Sunderland Echo: “”The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back,””
He then continued in the same vein to The Guardian and said: “Because it’s been 150 years [since the Public Libraries Act], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers.”
Deary’s books were borrowed more than half a million times during 2011 and 2012, according to reports.
Many supporters of reading and literacy (how can anyone not be a supporter of reading and literacy?) have been rallying around the British library system for the last four or five years. These loyal supporters are mostly authors, which made Deary’s comments all the more unusual, and it’s a shame the publishers never have a word to say on this issue.
Several people have reacted angrily to Deary’s comments. Author Neil Gaiman tweeted: “Selfish & stupid, shortsighted & sad. Mostly selfish.”
David Almond, artistic director of Bath’s Festival of Children’s Literature in Bath, tweeted that Deary’s comments were “ignorant twaddle.” (Excellent use of twaddle – an ideal word for Twitter)
Libraries have been a target for budget cuts and closure since the 2008 financial crash. Local authorities have been forced to look for places where costs can be reduced and the arts have been No.1 on every accountant’s list. Except libraries are not really part of the arts (in my humble opinion), they are part of the essentials.
Here are a few reasons why libraries must not only survive but thrive.
Not everyone who wants to read should be forced buy their books. If you are unemployed, retired, a student on the tightest of budgets, or a mum with four book-addicted children or simply counting your pennies, then your local library is a god send. Let’s just ignore the thoughts of an author who has sold trillions of copies of his book and probably has a secure financial future.
Libraries are a lot more than just a repository of books. Most libraries offer a wide range of multi-media, such as internet access, newspapers and journals, e-books, DVDs and audio books. They usually stage events – author readings, story-times for toddlers, writing workshops and so on. A library is a cultural hub for a community.
Libraries have changed and continue to change for the better. They have embraced e-books. You can reserve books online and extend a loan with a click of the mouse. I can return a book to any of the branches in the city where I live, not just the branch where I took out the book.
My daughters and I visited our local library on Friday. Not because we need more books, Lord knows we have enough in our house. We had been running around town doing chores and a stop at the library seemed a break from the mundane. One child headed off to the young adult section, the other browsed the early reading books. I looked at the travel section. We went to the library because the library is a fun place.
One daughter came away with another Artemis Fowl novel, the other took out two fairy books and a book called Scaredy Squirrel, which has been fun to read aloud. I took out a travel guide for holiday planning and a book called A Great Silly Grin by Humphrey Carpenter that details the boom in British satire during the 1960s. I turned away the travel guides and there was this yellow book with an eye-catching cover design. I had to pick it up. This particular book is 13 years old and still going strong.
Deary simply does not understand that we’re in this together. If you are connected with books in anyway (the writers, the illustrators, the publishers, the bookshops and internet sellers), then every library closure hurts us all. Libraries purchase books from publishers, libraries inspire readers who go on to buy their own copies – it’s one huge interlinking web where everyone benefits eventually.
I am very aware that we must use our local library or run the risk of losing it. A little used library runs the risk of being swept away by bean counters more interesting in balancing the books than getting people to read them. Don’t give the suits the opportunity to close your local library.