Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Terry Deary and The Modern Library

SOURCE: Libraries 'have had their day', says Horrible Histories author

Terry Deary - author of the Horrible Histories series of children's books has declared that libraries are "no longer relevant" in the modern world.  Claiming that he was " not attacking libraries" but rather "attacking the concept behind libraries", Deary went on to justify library closings by claiming they are putting the book shops and publishers out of business by giving away a product for free.

"...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."

"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?"

I'm not quite sure where to start with how horribly out of date and inaccurate Deary's views are.  But since I was asked for my opinion on this matter, I'll try and walk through this.

1. Public library books are a privilege, not an entitlement 

Most public libraries collect most, if not all, of their funding through local taxes.  By paying taxes in your locality, you support the library and earn the right to use it.  Most libraries are strict about making sure you live in their locality before letting you partake in certain privileges (i.e. checking out materials, using the computers for an extended period, etc.) so the chances of someone freeloading off the system are virtually nil.

2. Public libraries do more than just check out books

Deary complains that books are the only entertainment people expect to get for free.  Clearly, he's never been on The Pirate Bay, where all manner of games and movies can be downloaded along with book scans.  Ignoring the thieves, Deary's view of libraries is antiquated.  Libraries do not just loan out books.  They loan out all manner of materials, including music CDs, audiobooks, magazines and yes, even movies like Roald Dahl's Matilda, which Deary name-dropped in his example of a movie people would pay money to see in a theater and then expect to get for free from a library.  Ironic considering that Matilda is about a library-loving girl who is happier reading than watching TV.  And that's ignoring the value libraries have as a cultural and educational center, offering free classes, technical resources and after-school programming among other services. 

3. Public libraries boost book sales 
There's been countless studies that have proven what most library users will tell you - being able to give new authors a try through checking out library books has led to them buying more books.  A 2011 Library Journal study confirmed this. Amazon also confirmed that their ebook sales went up after they started making their ebooks available for libraries to loan out. 

4. Public libraries make books accessible to people who couldn't buy them in the first place.

Deary seems to have fixated on one group of people being library users - the thrifty sorts who won't pay for what they can get for free.  Ignoring my first point for the moment (i.e. these people have paid for the privilege of using the library), Deary forgets another important category of library patrons - those who can't afford their own books. 

Be it the economically disadvantaged or children and teenagers whose parents won't buy them books for one reason or another (Parents like Harry Woodworm from Matilda are sadly real, I'm sad to say) there's a lot of people who depend on the library for reading material that aren't costing the book shops, the publishers or Mr. Deary one red cent because they don't have any money for them to take.   

In conclusion, Deary's views on libraries are as set in the past as his Horrible Histories books.  The fact of the matter is that everyone profits from the existence of public libraries, from the kid at the story time to the publishing executive.  Libraries do far more than give away books and even if they didn't there's no evidence that they are hurting book-sellers and authors.  Indeed, the reverse seems to be the case.   

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