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Authors against libraries are short-sighted

Authors against libraries are short-sighted

In the past few months I’ve seen a number of authors on-line getting angry about their books being available in libraries, particularly electronic libraries, for people to borrow for free.  On Wednesday Terry Deary, author of Horrible Histories, spoke out calling for the closure of libraries.  Authors like Deary are not only incredibly selfish but amazingly short-sighted.

In the Guardian article titled ‘Libraries have ‘had their day’ says Horrible Histories author‘, Alison Flood quotes Terry Deary repeatedly.

Deary… point[ed] out that the original Public Libraries Act, which gave rise to the first free public libraries in the UK, was passed in 1850. “Because it’s been 150 years, 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. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that,” said Deary…

“People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free…

Authors are paid when books are borrowed from libraries:

Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000…

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?”

Bookshops are closing down, he said, “because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly?

This is the first I heard of libraries giving away books.  I thought libraries lent books out, silly me!

I look at my house and visualise every book I’ve ever read…  NO.  If I had bought and kept every book I’ve ever read, this house would be packed with books from floor to ceiling with no room for people.  Without libraries, second-hand bookstores could make a resurgence, selling everything from pulp to collectables, AND AUTHORS WOULD STILL NOT GET PAID.  Thought of that, have you DEARY?

Deary goes on:

“Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” he asked. “…Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

I don’t pay for a TV licence: I only have free to air TV.  Libraries are similar to free to air TV and radio in that these are services available to the public with no direct cost.  I used to hire DVDs from a video store because I didn’t want to buy everything I wanted to watch; these days DVD stores are too thin on the ground.  The remaining services, TV, radio and libraries, help to level the playing field between the wealthy and the impoverished, providing information and entertainment to those who can access a TV, radio or library.  Of the three, libraries are the most equitable: I’VE SEEN HOMELESS PEOPLE READING.  I’ve never seen a homeless person watching TV.

When my children were little I used to buy them books but I couldn’t afford many.  If my children had been limited to reading what I could afford to purchase they would have grown up with a perception that reading was dull, limiting.  Instead they grew up with access to wonderful libraries.  My son as a toddler repeatedly borrowed an oversized illustrated book about a frog who blew bubbles; it was GORGEOUS.  I couldn’t afford that book, much as I would have loved to buy a copy to keep.  My daughter brought home Finders Keepers by Emily Rodda from the school library; this was how our family discovered Emily Rodda’s science fiction and fantasy books for children.  I have borrowed the entire Pern series by Anne McCaffrey from libraries and still only own one of the novels, although I’d love to have the full set.  (I would not love the mass market paperback editions available now as the text size is too small.)  I’ve read pulp SF from libraries for which I would never pay good $.  I’ve been on waiting lists for that amazing new novel that I just can’t afford, no matter how much I’d love to jump the queue by buying my very own copy.

When I was a teenager visiting St Helens, Tasmania, the library there was my sanity-saver during the school holidays.  There was a sign on the wall that said:

Library in times of no money
is better than
Money in times of no libraries

If libraries are closed, the next generation will grow up with very limited or no access to the wealth of knowledge, culture and fiction.  Literature will once again become the province of the wealthy Literati who have been nurtured, cultivated to relish literature and to make the purchase of books a priority within a budget that includes a reasonable portion of disposable income.

Libraries offer other services to the community: free access to the internet, a community hub providing dissemination of information, local news and a place for local groups to meet.  Without libraries, the poor will be even more disadvantaged while the wealthy won’t bat an eye.

Terry Deary pays for his TV so he thinks everyone should buy all the books they read.  There’s no selfish motivation here – he just wants MOAR MONEY.  He only received £6,600 for ONE BOOK last year and he thinks he should be getting £180,000 PER BOOK.  He argues that we have compulsory schooling to give children access to literature and yet Deary is also an outspoken critic of schools, which he believes serve no function above keeping children off the street.  It may be that Deary is a scandal-monger whose real intention is to grab a few headlines so he can boost his sales.

Deary argues that the average family can ‘choose’ to purchase everything they read.  I’ve seen many people’s houses and bookshelves over the years; most families seem to use ‘THE bookcase’ as a decorative feature with a few books, trophies and photographs.  A few much-loved books may be in the children’s bedrooms but the thought – THE VERY NOTION – of walking into a bookstore to purchase a book won’t cross their minds.  Libraries are a portal to the world of reading.  It’s not until the young have discovered books that they WANT to read, books that entrance them, authors that speak to them, that they take that next step and start purchasing books.  Quite often purchase of books is directly linked to love of an author, especially when that author is about to have a signing…

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


  1. As I understand it authors in Australia don’t get paid the same stipend they do for electronic books that they do for paper versions. I think this is an unfair situation because I think we will see the disappearance of the paperback (albeit slowly) and the eBook will fill that market.

    The newly rolled out state-wide eBook lending project in SA makes ebooks available to anyone with a smart phone. And while ereaders and tablets may be luxury products, even the working poor are likely to have one.

    The small stipend they get from borrowing is a good compromise I believe.

    Now as for closing down libraries – yep he’s an idiot. The publishing game of the future will be all about discovery and being noticed and libraries will form an important part of that process.


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