Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why libraries still matter, damn it.

Brace yourselves:  I've been sick with a cold for most of this week, so I'm cranky enough for a good old-fashioned rant.

Libraries are irrelevant, huh? Tell that to the Founding Fathers!
My target is an article posted last week on The Guardian's website, in which a popular (by all accounts) children's author in the UK claimed that libraries are "no longer relevant."  Terry Deary reportedly said that libraries were originally conceived as a way to get literature in the hands of the poor.  Today, he says, 150 years after the passage of an act that created the first public libraries in the UK, "we pay for compulsory schooling to do that."

The irony is that, according to the Guardian article, Deary, who writes a kids' series called Horrible Histories, is seventh on the list of most-borrowed children's authors from UK libraries last year.  And unlike here in the United States, authors in the UK get a stipend from the government every time their books are borrowed -- about nine cents per borrow, if Google's currency converter is right, up to a cap of a titch over $10,059 per year.  Deary's books are borrowed often enough that he maxes out.  But, he observes, if each one of those borrowers was required to buy his books instead, he'd be making the equivalent of almost $275,000.

Granted, that's a pretty big difference.  But where Deary's reasoning fails is in assuming that everyone who borrows his books would, in fact, buy them.  I have to wonder how many of those kids have families who either can't afford to buy books or don't think it's important to have books at home.  I also wonder how many of those borrows are repeats by the same kid.

And if school libraries are also done away with, too, on grounds of "sentimentality," then reading assignments would be the only way anybody would be exposed to his books.  What do you think are the odds that teachers across the UK would assign books called "Horrible Histories" to their students as a classroom assignment?  And how popular is any book that a kid is forced to read for school?

He goes on to complain that people don't think twice about paying for other forms of entertainment, including movies and TV, but they expect to get books for free.  I guess he hasn't heard that libraries loan out DVDs, too -- and CDs, audio books, and e-books, as well.

Mr. Deary, I am here to tell you that public libraries are, in fact, still relevant -- and not just as a place for people to get their free wi-fi on.  When my kids were small, we made sure they had lots of books to read at home -- and yet, we would often go to the library in order to get more books.  When we lived in Denver and I was subsisting on unemployment payments while I attended paralegal school, trips to the library were a huge deal -- and not just for my daughters, but for me, too.  Even today, we visit the library for reference books, for knitting pattern books, and for pleasure reading.

No, if anything, libraries ought to be getting more funding, not less.

In fact, I'm involved right now in a group called Indie Authors for Hurricane Sandy Libraries.  As you may know, the East Coast of the United States took a pounding from Hurricane Sandy this fall.  Many houses, businesses, and government buildings -- including libraries -- were heavily damaged or destroyed in the storm.

My Indies Unlimited buddy and fellow indie author, K.S. Brooks, got the idea to recruit self-published authors  to send copies of their books to the libraries whose collections were damaged.  It's taken us a while to get responses from the libraries -- in many cases, because the libraries didn't have anywhere to store new books until the cleanup was done.  But we're getting requests now, and we've been fulfilling them as they come in.

If your local library suffered damage during Hurricane Sandy, please urge your librarians to contact us.  And if you're an author who would like to help out, please contact us, too.  The website is  Thank you!


By the way, y'all ought to be proud of me for not mentioning the word "greed" at all in relation to Terry Deary's comments.  Even though I was thinking it.  He ought to be glad he doesn't live in the US, where authors get nothing from libraries except for the royalty payment when the library buys the book.  Hmph.

Oh, speaking of knitting, I was going to post a picture of the sweater I finished.  Here you go.

See the mistake in the cable on the left side of the picture?  No?  Perfect!
And I've already started a new sweater project.  The pattern is called Harvest Moon.  Here's what it's supposed to look like when it's done.  And I found a big button with a ridged pattern that looks a lot like the garter stitch ridges in the collar and pocket edges -- it will look terrific here.

Okay, I think I've gotten into enough trouble for this week.  I'm going to go and knit now.

These moments of in-defense-of-libraries blogginess are brought to you, as a public service, by .


Greta Burroughs said...

You're right, Lynne. Our local library is only open 3 days a week now. It was a terrible loss to the kids who used to go to the library every afternoon after school. The summer reading programs were canned too.

Lynne Cantwell said...

That's horrible, Greta. My kids loved our library's summer reading programs. And some books are only available in print. How can people access them if the library's hours are so short? I just don't get it.

Unknown said...

Our library is thankfully open 7 days per week but I know a lot of libraries have been hit hard by budget cuts. On to those wonderful comments, so I guess he's against anyone getting educated.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Brian, I'm jealous. Most libraries around here are closed at least one day a week, and they're all closed on Friday nights. And yeah, that guy has an...unusual...concept of how kids get an education. ;)