Earlier this week the best selling children’s author Terry Deary (of “Horrible Histories” fame) made the controversial statement that “libraries have had their day.” He considers that libraries are old fashioned, symptomatic of Victorian patronage, and cause damage to the book selling and publishing industry. He, for one, would not be the slightest bit upset at their demise.
Needless to say, he hasn’t found much support for this view from his fellow authors.
Terry Deary’s argument appears to be primarily financial. For each book borrowed, an author receives a maximum of 6.2 pence under Public Lending Right. If the author sold the same book he would receive around 30 pence — therefore (he argues) libraries are damaging an author’s income to the tune of 23 pence per book borrowed. His error is to assume that every book borrowed from a library is a lost sale — but that is never going to be the case. It’s very unlikely that all of the borrowers of his books would actually buy that book if the “luxury” of being able to borrow it was teken from them. In fact, I suspect that very few of them would.
Mr Deary says “The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches.” If he really believes that, then I have to assume that the last time he bought a car, he didn’t bother to take it for a test drive first! The joy of being a library user is that you can test drive the work of any author, most especially authors you would never otherwise consider. In my own case, the first Hemingway I ever read was a library book, the first William Faulkner, the first Graham Greene, the first Julian Barnes. I’m not saying that these authors would now be totally absent from my bookshelves if I hadn’t first borrowed their books from a library, but it was most certainly the library experience that bought them to the foreground of my attention. A library is the best shop window that an author can have.
I wonder how many of Terry Deary’s avid fans had their first experience of his writing from a library book. Far more, I think, than he realises. I also wonder if he knows that, if it wasn’t for libraries, it’s possible that many of his readers would have never known that his books existed at all.