Radio silence much?
Yeah, we’ve been a bit busy over here, so the blog’s been a bit neglected. I’ve got Warm Bodies and plan to start reading it tonight (woop!). Otherwise, I’ve been working hard on my resolution to read at least one book per month that’s not related to the book club. I did that with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in January (review to come; I’m so behind) and a sequel to a book I’ve already read (I believe I’ll be reviewing the first book at some point).
Why have we been so busy? you ask, and rightfully so. I can only speak for myself, of course; I believe Meghan may be involved with some international espionage. I’m now the head editor of the South Carolina page at I Need A Library Job, so that’s been a bit hectic. And of course, I’m busy job searching and really trying to focus my efforts in that direction.
I swear, one day I won’t have to job search anymore. On that day I won’t know what to do with myself.
Ah, but I haven’t started this post just to update you on my life (riveting as that may be). No, my friends; I write because of this atrocity:
Oh, Terry Deary. I can only hope that you’ve done this as some sort of reverse-psychology. “If I spew the same rhetoric their saying, perhaps they’ll see the idiocy of sentiment!” Please, let this be a mastermind plot that’s secretly in support of libraries. Otherwise, you’re just horribly dense.
Yes, dense. I could use other descriptive nouns or adjectives, but I’m trying to keep this blog suitable to all audiences. So let’s go into the actual article.
Terry Deary told the Guardian that libraries are “no longer relevant”. (You know my librarian-senses are rankling at that, but I shall try to remain objective, or at least coherently subjective.) Deary believes that libraries should close branches in an effort to save money, even as other authors are rallying against this. According to him, libraries “have had their day”.
I think the most coherent way to go about summarizing this is to string together Deary’s quotes, interspersed with my erudite comments:
“I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant… 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. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that”.
I…it…really? According to this, the entire purpose of a library is to provide free reading material to people who don’t want to shell out money to support authors. I shall continue to shout it from the rooftops: libraries ARE NOT merely repositories of books. They provide access to information. And it’s not free; they’re supported by tax dollars. And libraries pay for the books that circulate, which don’t hold up forever and need to be replaced (one of the issues behind e-book prices, but that’s for another post).
Deary claims that his opinions aren’t merely based upon selfish financial concerns:
“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?… [Bookshops are closing down] 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? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century”.
Libraries are killing the book trade? Is that really what you believe? Because I know I’ve bought more books because of what I’ve discovered at my public library than I would have otherwise.
But let’s not take my word for it, let’s look at something Neil Gaiman did. In 2008 Gaiman convinced Harper Collins to offer the e-book of American Gods for free online for an entire month. Wanna know what happened? While the book was available for free, book sales increased. Yes, increased. They then fell after the free period was removed. (For a longer explanation, read his explanation here.)
So no, Deary, offering a book for free will not kill bookstores. Your argument is invalid.
Deary then gets off his high horse about the poor bookshops and continues on about his own finances taking a hit.
“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. It doesn’t make sense… Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed… Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?… We can’t give everything away under the public purse. 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.”
Here’s the thing: libraries haven’t existed this long out of “sentimentality”; they’re still around because they work. And if Deary honestly thinks that a diminishing amount of people are making use of libraries, he likely hasn’t stepped foot in one for many years. Libraries are being used more than ever, especially since the recession started. Don’t believe me? Check out the stats on the American Library Association page. Think this is a trend in the US and not the UK? You’d be partially correct. This article shows that library usage has gone down in the UK. But guess what? So have the number of open branches, which appears to affect the usage numbers. There was also a decline in book-borrowing and library purchasing of books. What did increase was the number of volunteers, needed to keep some branches afloat after necessary staff cuts due to budget problems. Why get volunteers and not just close down the libraries with the cuts?
Because they’re important, because people use them, and based on the stats they’re not just using libraries for borrowing “free” books. (Physical visits to libraries decreased less than book borrowing, which shows people are going to the libraries for other reasons.)
In closing, Deary, I truly hope this is some sort of double-play, that you don’t actually believe all the crap you’ve spouted, because otherwise you’re an ignorant fool.