Have you seen this article? It’s by an English bestselling children’s author, Terry Deary, claiming that libraries are obsolete and a waste of taxpayer money. Further, he claims, every time a book is checked out of the library it’s costing the author a potential sale. He blames the closing of bookstores on libraries, and asserts that because of “compulsory schooling”, the goal of providing “the impoverished access to literature” has been achieved and therefore libraries are nothing but a drain on taxpayers and publishers. He makes a wholeheartedly absurd comparison to the car industry (having never, apparently, heard of car rental or used car sales.)
What is this I don’t even.
Confusingly, in the past he has also said of public schools that “I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street.” Which sounds pretty similar to his indictment of libraries, frankly. Apparently nothing at all good came from the Victorian era, in Mr. Deary’s estimation. While reform of schools is certainly an important topic, sweeping opposition to all forms of publicly available education seem more pre-Victorian than modern to me.
So Mr. Deary looks at every time a book is checked out (and for him that’s more than 500,000 times in the past two years, he’s a popular author) and sees a lost sale. He’s ignoring the fact that not everyone can afford every book they want access to. And what options are left to those who can’t pay for the books they need? Used books are great, and cheap, but they no doubt don’t satisfy Mr.Deary because he’s not getting paid for that sale. Not even as much as the library is paying him. As is the case when you borrow a book from a friend. That leaves shoplifting, ebook piracy, or not reading. None of those options benefits anyone at all.
I am lucky enough to be able to afford about 5 books a month. But I read more than 80 a year. These numbers do not match up.
What libraries do is create readers. People who do not love reading do not buy books. You can’t expect someone to help prop up an industry they have no stake in. Telling someone who has little to no interest in video games that they’re responsible for killing the video game industry because they bought a single used copy of ‘The Sims’ would be pretty nonsensical. You can’t sell to people outside of your market, they’re not buying.
But libraries help create that market. Through author events, through librarian recommendations, through literacy programs for adults, and just through the overwhelming crowd of free books available without the supervision of a teacher. Visitors can read whatever they want without judgement, and find whatever genre it is that really lights a fire for you. Books need to be sold a little harder than they were once upon a time, they have more competition now, and libraries do all that hard work. Those brick-and-mortar bookstores that keep closing? I miss them too. But because of companies like Amazon bullying publishers so that it can massively undercut prices and using those bookstores as unpaid-for showrooms for their product, those bookstores are having a hard time. If they’re gone someday, the library will be the only showroom left.
Another bestselling English author had something to say about the subject of closing libraries not so long ago:
The book is second only to the wheel as the best piece of technology human beings have ever invented. A book symbolises the whole intellectual history of mankind; it’s the greatest weapon ever devised in the war against stupidity. Beware of anyone who tries to make books harder to get at. And that is exactly what these closures are going to do – oh, not intentionally, except in a few cases; very few people are stupid intentionally; but that will be the effect. Books will be harder to get at. Stupidity will gain a little ground.
I think Mr. Pullman has the right of it.