|My local library at Merthyr Tydfil. Photo by Shaun Gibbs|
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Deary things that the whole system of public borrowing is an outdated method of doing things, and that, at the end of the day, authors "need to eat".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,
Selfish & stupid, shortsighted & sad. Mostly selfish. Terry Deary gets avaricious & anti-library:bit.ly/15de7Ve
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) February 13, 2013
It's clear that Terry Deary doesn't understand that readers are grown, not born. Libraries now = sales later.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.
— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) February 14, 2013
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!