15 February 2013

"Libraries are no longer relevant" says Terry Deary. "Rubbish", says I

I'll preface this by saying this is a rather lengthy post, so give yourself some time to read through it. Otherwise, just read this article and pop a comment in at the end with your thoughts. Enjoy!

Merthyr Tydfil Library. Photo by Shaun Gibbs
My local library at Merthyr Tydfil. Photo by Shaun Gibbs
When I was about 8 or 9, I used to love going to the library and checking out a ton of books, devouring them in an evening or two and then going back for more. One of my favourite discoveries was the Horrible Histories series; short books that made the dreary facts about history fun. Since then I've bought about two dozen of the books in the series and remain a big fan of the series. All this stemmed from a chance encounter in my local library.



So Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories series, one of the most successful children's education books in the UK, has been going around saying that "libraries have had their day". That in itself sucks, but what sucks all the more is that is sounds like his little outburst is motivated purely by money.

Deary things that the whole system of public borrowing is an outdated method of doing things, and that, at the end of the day, authors "need to eat". Fair enough, but it sounds like there's more to it. According to The Guardian, the amount of money Deary would have made off his books if they had been bought rather than borrowed is £180,000. Though he says that's not his reason for his feelings against libraries, there isn't much else to his argument.

It should be pointed out that, while I don't know the US system for public lending, that under the UK Public Lending Rights Scheme, Deary gets paid for each library book of his that is borrowed, up to a max of £6,600. It's small change compared to £180,000, but he's still getting paid.

Whereas most authors are trying to stop libraries being shut down, Deary is actively in favour of their disappearance. He goes on to ask, "Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?" These are prolific authors; well respected ones too, both in the genre community and in the wider literary world too. People like the ever awesome Neil Gaiman and N.K. Jemisin, who hit back at Deary with,


Deary asks why authors would allow their work to support the very thing that's "cutting their throats"? Because authors understand the importance of allowing someone to discover an author through borrowing books - someone who might fall in love with your first novel and subsequently go on to buy your entire back catalogue.

But it goes deeper than that. They do what they do as a job, yes, but also because they have a passion for the craft, for seeing someone immerse themselves into a world in which they've created. This is a passion Deary seems to have forgotten. In his eyes, you either buy a book or you don't read at all.

Given that in 2011, the Literary Trust found that 14% of UK children don't read for pleasure, it's worrying that one of the UK's most well known children's authors would be attempting to increase this figure by telling them "buy my stuff or get out".

By this same sentiment, Deary is also against any kind of book borrowing, bringing with it worrying parallels with the DRM eBook issue (a bad idea if I saw one). Publishers like Tor and Angry Robot offer DRM-free books because they know that part of the integral charm of reading is in the sharing of a good book.

Under Deary's rules, I had no right to discover his books all those years ago, because I hadn't paid out for them. Under his system, the fact that I went on to buy another 20 of his books where I otherwise wouldn't have is irrelevant. In his words, I had "cut the throat" of his publisher, the bookshops that sell his books, and Deary himself as the author.

I say that's complete and utter rubbish.

Have libraries had their day? Share your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree!

30 comments:

  1. i picked up Small Gods, randomnly, in Dowlais library, when I was about 10. I'm 28 and have bought about 30 Discworld books since. SORRY I ROBBED YOU OF INCOME MR PRATCHETT

    In short, this guy is a moron. a Boob. a nincompoop if you will. It's very rare that I find myself agreeing with Neil gaiman but there you go.

    this guy would probably have a fit if he knew that someone somewhere is probably letting people download his books as PDFs on the internet. for free.

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    1. Ha; best not tell him! I've lost a fair bit of respect for the guy.

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    2. Mr Collins, I hope you do realise it was Terry DEARY who said this, not Terry Pratchett?

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    3. Maaike, oh is that what the confusion was about? I had been wondering how Terry Pratchett came into the conversation.

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  2. I think most if not all of my favourite authors as a child were discovered because of the school or public library.

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    1. Were it not for my TBR tower, I'd still be discovering new authors that way.

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  3. It's BS for another reason: libraries aren't cutting booksellers' throats, Amazon is.

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    1. Hear hear. I'm guilty of overusing Amazon, and it's something I need to stop doing.

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  4. Wow, what a shame. Greedy jerk.
    I want my books in libraries! As you said, that's how some people find authors. Read one book at the library and buy the rest.
    And he gets paid when a book is checked out? No such system here. I get paid for the initial sale and that's it. Tell Deary he doesn't have it so tough!

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    1. Complacency makes people greedy, it seems. Nevermind that he's getting royalties from the magazines, TV shows and theatre productions based on his books too.

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  5. Thanks for crediting the photo Bro!

    I do still like a library, you just cant get that scene of power and majesty being surrounded by all those words. Plus you cant capture "that" smell of books on Amazon !!

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    1. No worries :) Agreed; nothing beats the smell of a full library :)

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  6. I must admit, I've never used libraries all that much, but I completely agree that they're a great place to find new books, and to discover new authors that you wouldn't necessarily have bought before reading.

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    1. I say fair enough for adult books, but kids books like the ones that Deary is famous for are even more important to have in a library so kids can discover things for themselves.

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  7. I do hope that libraries have not had their day. I admit to no longer using libraries as much as I used to but I'd hate it if we lost the resource altogether... and the PLR money is a nice little bonus too!
    Rosalind Adam is Writing in the Rain

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    1. As much as I agree that libraries are slowly fading away, I have a pretty low opinion of the man who stands by and says "good riddance". Especially when that man is an author.

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  8. I love libraries -- at least the local, public libraries. University libraries still scare the s**t out of me.

    I can say with absolute certainty that I discovered all of my favorite authors through libraries, up until the past two years. I can't afford to buy books at the rate that I read them. The first half of my Pratchett collection came from the used-books basement at the bookshop near my undergraduate campus. I can tell you that the author doesn't get any more royalties from that than s/he gets from me checking it out at my local library.

    Making books accessible heightens the chance that they'll be the first books I buy when I CAN afford to buy books. All those authors I love that I discovered through the library? The ones whose books I'd check out over and over again so I could read it again? Yeah, I bought those, and the new copies I bought are now quite well-loved. And I've bought other books they've written, as well.

    And the recommending feature on Amazon is no librarian. Dissing libraries is severely underestimating the value of a good librarian. For shame.

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    1. Case in point: recently bought the entirety of Butcher's "Codex Alera" after reading a few at the library. Those sales would never have happened if I hadn't been able to read a few "for free" through my library.

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    2. Completely agreed. What Deary seems to want is no sharing of books whatsoever, which goes against the nature of having books. This isn't the Middle Ages - the written word is no longer a jealously hoarded secret, but it's meant to be accessible to all.

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  9. Deary sounds like a right blowhard.

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    1. I couldn't have put it better myself, Suze :)

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  10. I wouldn't read across so many different genres if it weren't for our library. I love it, the atmosphere, seeing the young people there and visiting with my daughter. I'll fight to make sure they never go away though the politicians are cutting funding all the time.

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    1. It's a sad state of affairs, and in some towns the people aren't helping. I remember when I helped with the first World Book Night, and most parents refused to let their kids have a book and just said that "they don't do books". People need to have a word with themselves.

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  11. I read that article when it starting being passed around on Twitter the other day and I had my moment of anger followed by sadness at how short-sighted and wrong his thinking is. I think you are right in that the article seems to focus almost solely on money. Whether or not that was his intent it is the message that comes across. One of the things I find very wrong about his position is the assumption that those same people who borrowed his books would have bought them. There is no way to accurately predict that every book checked out from a library means a lost sale. All we could say is that it may have been a lost reader, which is something author's truly cannot afford to lose, and something they will lose without the existence of libraries.

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    1. Apparently, Deary has gone on to say that his words were taken out of context, despite numerous follow up articles where he has defended and enforced his anti library opinion. He's had a taste for the green and has gone a bit mad for it.

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  12. That really is so sad. I loved going to the library as a child. (Although I never knew authors still got money for books borrowed in the library!) In fact a few years ago, I only used to borrow books from the library. But it got me back into reading and now I buy more books than I ever have. Great post.

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    1. Thanks Hannah :) Until I read the Guardian article, I didn't know that authors get paid that way either. It makes me even more annoyed at Deary's attitude.

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  13. Ahhhh, this makes me mad. How can he not want libraries? Some people can't afford to buy new books all the time, let alone e-readers. In order for our less advantaged children to be able to read and have an imagination and learn things, libraries are essential! Thanks for posting about this.

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    1. My thoughts exactly, and it's in these under privileged areas that libraries are closing, so the one gateway for less well off kids to get books is closing, and he's standing by saying "Good".

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  14. I adore libraries! I still use mine very often.

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