I read an interesting article in The Guardian today in which Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories series, claims that libraries ‘have had their day’ and that the concept behind them, namely offering the impoverished access to books, no longer applies in an era of compulsory education. I have a feeling his views are only shared by a tiny minority of people.
I find Deary’s argument that libraries are killing bookshops rather odd. He claims that bookshops are closing down “because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell”. Both libraries and bookshops have co-existed alongside each other for a long time and if libraries really were killing bookshops then this would surely have happened quite a long time ago. I don’t have any statistical evidence of this but I am pretty sure that a lot of people who use libraries also buy a fair amount of books which is why both have been able to co-exist. The authors whose books are the most frequently borrowed from libraries – like Deary himself – also manage to sell a lot of books. Some people may initially borrow a book by a certain author and then later buy their own copies. Therefore, libraries may in fact increase business for bookshops.
Deary argues that authors need to make a living and they make less money from royalties earned under the Public Lending Right scheme than they do if they manage to sell their books in shops. However, rather than attacking libraries, he should be focusing on the real problem in the publishing industry which is eBook piracy. If somebody borrows a book from a public library then the author at least gets something in terms of royalties whereas they get absolutely nothing if files of their work are freely circulating on the Internet.
Deary’s view of the purpose of libraries appears to be rather narrow. As I mentioned in my recent blog post about why libraries are important, libraries are not just about borrowing books. They also serve as community centres which offer social and education services and many also hold important local archives. As somebody who has made a fortune from writing about history, Deary ought to be more than aware of the importance of this aspect of library services and it is a real shame that he is effectively advocating their closure.