Author of children’s bestsellers Terry Deary says they are a drain on taxpayers and authors that no longer makes sense
By Alison Flood
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 13 February 2013 14.38 GMT
Libraries “have been around too long” and are “no longer relevant”, according to Horrible Histories author Terry Deary, an apparently lone literary voice to believe that libraries have “had their day”.
Deary, a bestselling author who was also the seventh most-borrowed children’s writer from UK libraries last year, was speaking as his local council in Sunderland became the latest authority to look into the possibility of closing branches to save money. But unlike other authors up and down the country, who have come together to protest the closures of their local branches, Deary was clear that libraries have had their day.
“I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant,” Deary told the Guardian, pointing out that the original Public Libraries Act, which gave rise to the first free public libraries in the UK, was passed in 1850. “Because it’s been 150 years, 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,” said Deary, who has received hate mail since he first aired his views in the Sunderland Echo yesterday.
But despite the negative reaction to his comments, the Horrible Histories author is adamant that the public attitude around libraries “has to change”. “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,” he said. “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.”
As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “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?” he asked.
Bookshops are closing down, he said, “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.”
Deary is calling for a public debate around libraries, and for an end to the “sentimentality” he believes has framed the issue so far. “Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” he asked. “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.”
Deary’s comments were described as “horrible” by his fellow author Alan Gibbons, a key figure in the campaign to save libraries. “Is the support of the vast majority of the artistic community for libraries ‘sentimentality’? OK, Terry, tell that to Lee Hall, author of Billy Elliot. Tell it to Jacqueline Wilson and Lee Child, Kate Mosse and Kathy Lette, Philip Pullman and David Almond. Tell it to the hundreds of authors, illustrators and poets who have joined protests. Are they just dewy-eyed romantics? No, they are convinced proponents of the effectiveness of libraries. They are backed up by numerous reports by the OECD and the National Literacy Trust,” said Gibbons.
“Some of us who have devoted enormous amounts of time and effort to the library cause, who have marched and petitioned, lobbied and demonstrated, argued with councillors and ministers, feel utterly betrayed by Terry’s words. Does he really want to line up with the philistines? Terry’s pronouncement is not quirky or eccentric or ‘just Terry’. In current circumstances it is downright irresponsible,” said Gibbons.
Source: The Guardian UK