Terry Deary, shock horror, supports his local council, Sunderland, as it looks into the possibility of closing libraries to save money. While authors up and down the land protest any and all cuts on libraries, he thinks libraries have had their day and are no longer relevant.
The concept of a free library came into being in 1850 and the idea of free books is now entrenched in our psyche. In Victorian times the impoverished had no access to literature, but now they do, via the compulsory schooling for which we all pay. Deary claims that books are entertainment, and should be paid for just as people buy cinema tickets and tv licences.
Authors, he says, are not “like Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They need to eat, and have to make a living.”
The maximum amount possible a writer can earn from the Public Lending Right scheme is capped at £6,600. Deary claims that if he sold a book he would get 30p per book rather than the 6.2p PLR offers. Therefore, instead of earning £6,000 from PLR for a title, he should be getting £180,000.
“But never mind my selfish author perception,” he says. “What about bookshops?” Bookshops are closing down because someone is giving away their product for free. Libraries give nothing back, but booksellers pass on money to both publisher and author. Libraries damage the book industry. They cost vast amounts of money when most are used by diminishing numbers of people.
I hate to admit it, but his argument makes sense.
OTOH, we do pay for library books via our taxes, though not at the going rate. Libraries do purchase the books they lend, so money goes to publishers. But publishers receive only one payment while the book is loaned and read until it falls to pieces. There is an argument that library users will risk reading an unknown author whereas they may not pay out good money for something they may not enjoy. Libraries help authors build a following. And not everyone can afford to go out and buy a book whenever they want something to read. I doubt very much that the habit of reading would rise if libraries were abolished. Would Mr Deary be as well-known as he is, if libraries had not promoted his books for all to sample? Probably not. I have to say that the libraries do good work and this country would be poorer if we followed Mr Deary’s suggestions.