If you have any interest at all in libraries, you’ve probably come across an article quoting children’s author Terry Deary’s opinion* on the future of libraries – namely that there isn’t one. Unlike the glut of other authors who are supporting the campaign to save libraries, Deary believes that libraries “have had their day” and are “cutting [the] throats” of authors and that this “is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature.” Deary claims that he isn’t attacking libraries, but rather the concept behind them. I would argue that he doesn’t understand the concept behind libraries at all or how they fit into a successful society.
1. Libraries introduce readers to new books, which is good for authors.
I would argue that very few people only find new books by buying them. Many people end up buying a large portion of the books they own because they have already read that particular book or have already read a book by that author or part of that series and enjoyed it. Books are expensive to buy, difficult to resell, and hard to judge based solely on a cover blurb. If readers were forced to purchase every book they read blindly, there would be much more balancing of cost vs. potential enjoyment, which could lead to many readers simply choosing not to buy books. When readers are allowed to “test drive” books first by checking them out in the library, they are able to explore and learn more about their own reading tastes, therefore making them more confident in buying books. Deary was the seventh most borrowed children’s author in UK libraries last year. That means that thousands of children were introduce to his books. It’s likely that many of those children would not have heard of Deary or read his books without access to a library. Deary might think libraries are the enemy of author’s profits, but he’s wrong. Libraries aren’t the enemy, obscurity is.
2. Libraries offer more than books.
Deary’s argument seems to be based on a rather outdated view of libraries. While the library might have originally starts to connect individuals with books, that is far from their only purpose now. Libraries offer multiple items, including movies, magazines, CDs, databases, computer programs, and even items like seeds. Additionally, libraries provide a myriad of services. They offer job hunting seminars, tax prep, tutoring, crafting programs, movie nights, ESL classes, computer classes, printing and copying needs, access to the internet, game nights, and music programs. They serve as museums, meeting rooms, art galleries, archives, study rooms, and cafes. The roles a library can play in a community number in the hundreds and only a part of them have to do with lending books.
Additionally, Deary claims that we do not expect other entertainment subsets to give out their materials for free, but it’s a faulty comparison. For one, as I mentioned before, libraries do offer movies, music, and games for lending. Also, when comparing books, songs, and movies on a strictly cost basis, books will lose. If I want to see a new movie, I can do so for $5. If I want to buy a new song, it will cost me $1-2. If I want to buy a new book, most of them are going to cost me considerably more than that.
3. We do have a responsibility to offer access to information and literature.
Though some might not agree with this claim, I would argue that we do still need to fulfill our responsibility of allowing all users (“impoverished” or not) access to reading material and needed information. For many individuals, the library is the only way they are able to access the internet, to find materials to read, or to get the information they need. To deny anyone the ability to do this is incredibly classist. An informed society is a better society and libraries are needed to keep society informed. We can’t simply rely on the internet, because the internet isn’t curated or verified. And, anyway, relying on the internet is pointless if individuals can’t afford to access it and not longer have libraries to do so.
In an era where literacy is much, much lower than it should be, libraries provide a vital service by connecting readers to books and offering tutoring and other literacy services. American isn’t the only country with this issue; the UK has problems, as well. If 15% of the UK adult population is reading below the level expected of an 11 year old with libraries in existence, how do you think they would fare without them? If only 40% of England’s 10 year olds have a positive attitude towards reading now, how many of them will have one if they have to pay exorbitant amounts to do so? Reading and literacy are both linked to education, personal, professional, and societal success more than almost any other factor. Why would anyone want to make it harder for individuals to do it?
4. The concept of receiving a service for tax money isn’t exclusive to libraries.
Deary argues that libraries are offering a service for free at the expense of tax payers and this is a negative thing. However, that is the entire point of paying taxes. We are able to use roads for free because we paid taxes. The workers who built those roads are paid royalties every time I drive over them. We are able to receive schooling because we paid taxes. Teachers aren’t paid every time a student asks a question. In the UK, citizens like Terry Deary are even able to receive healthcare for free because they paid taxes. Society is getting a valuable service in exchange for a small portion of the money they make. In the UK, authors are even paid a special royalty for the books that are purchased by libraries. It isn’t as if the library is paying $20 for a book and the small percentage that goes to the author is all he will get. The author receives 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600.
5. Libraries are not killing bookshops.
Deary attempts to back up his claim that libraries are harming bookshops by stealing their sales. This argument holds very little water considering both libraries and bookshops have existed for hundreds of years side by side. Independent booksellers are definitely hurting now, but that isn’t because of libraries. It’s because of chain stores or internet sellers like Amazon. It’s because e-books are becoming more popular. And, ironically enough, it’s because book pricing issues caused by publishers and authors makes it difficult for small shops to compete. Getting rid of libraries will not help those bookshops, but it will hurt the community.
Luckily, there are many other authors, bloggers, librarians, and politicians out there who do not agree with Deary and are willing to fight to preserve the much-needed libraries. For more reading, check out: