What’s that saying? A week is a long time in politics? It’s a long time in the book world, too. This time last Saturday I was blogging about National Libraries Day and what a fun time I’d had celebrating it. Soon after that, on Twitter, Fiona Dunbar was ‘tweeted’ by a woman saying she’d seen Fiona on Sky News that morning talking about National Libraries Day and that, in her opinion, libraries were a thing of the past, reasoning only old people use them & young people all have iPads or buy their own books. She went as far as to say she resented paying taxes towards libraries. There followed a bit of a heated exchange between a few of us defending Fiona and libraries which resulted in the woman blocking Fiona and me from seeing her account. It was my first blockage ever; I now know how Joey Barton must feel every day! Never mind, I thought afterwards; everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Then a few days later none other than the Horrible Histories creator himself Terry Deary caused controversy with his take on the libraries debate. Now Terry Dreary has always been ‘one of the awkward squad’ as one newspaper report phrased it. He never does school visits, for example, as he detests schools as institutions. This week, it transpired, Deary has said during an interview with his local paper that libraries weren’t much cop, either.
Here’s what he said in the Sunderland Echo that started the whole thing off. The key sentence was: ‘Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we all live in an electronic age.’ I disagree with his opinion by fair dos – that was his viewpoint and the whole e-book v paper book topic is something I seem to end up debating with people time and time again. Yes, let’s discuss libraries. Yes, let’s put forward ideas.
The original remarks were then picked up by the Guardian and Deary elaborated. This is where everybody (me included) got their knickers in a twist. Reacting to negative comments he’d had from other authors to his initial stance in the Echo, Mr Deary went on the attack. ‘Why are all authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?’ His point being that the Public Lending Rights (PLR) authors get from their books being loaned out is nothing compared to what they’d get if the same numbers were sold in bookshops (FYI the maximum an author can earn in a year from loans is £5-6,500. 313 out of 23,190 registered received that maximum in 2013 (I was not one of them). However, for every books sold at the RRP in a bookshop I get about 30 p compared to 6p in PLR).
So yes, I do get much more for a book sold than loaned. However it’s still a skewed argument. For a start, the libraries have to buy the books in the first place so I get sales then and I would like to think that children who borrow a book by me from the library will go on to buy it if they like it enough. Secondly, readers have got more chance of finding my books in a library than a bookshop these days and I don’t think that would change if libraries were closed, especially if ‘aliceinsunderland’, a bookseller, is anything to go by. Please read ‘aliceinsunderland’s comments in this Telegraph blog. On second thoughts, in case it’s taken down later, I’ll do it for you. ‘Aliceinsunderland’ criticised Alan Gibbons and others for daring to contradict the author. ‘ They simply want to resort to childish name-calling and abuse. No wonder they write for children. Who is Alan Gibbons anyway? I’ve never been asked for one of his books. Maybe he and Gaiman and Almond need the publicity?’
‘Who is Alan Gibbons?’
‘No wonder they write for children?’
‘Maybe Neil Gaiman and David Almond need the publicity?‘
Where do I begin here, ‘Alice’? Do you really work in a bookshop? In that case, shame on you. That’s a dreadful attitude to have and way more scary than Twitter woman’s or Terry Deary’s. A librarian would never think a children’s writer somehow inferior to any other type of writer and nor should a good bookseller. They know it’s children’s writers who feed the child’s imagination so that the child grows up to be an avid reader (and hopefully a book buyer as well as book borrower). To help you in your ignorance, Alan Gibbons writes award winning books for young adults, Neil Gaiman’s books have been made into films (Coraline etc) and David’Skellig’ Almond won the Carnegie Medal. They’re not publicity-seeking no-marks, Alice. They’re passionate advocates for children’s rights to access to books – all books – not just theirs. Librarians and good booksellers already know that, Alice, and so should you.
Aliceinsunderland’s comments continue to nag at me so I’m adding this bit to yesterday’s blog. I’d just like to point out that children’s writers (and writers in general) spend almost as much time these days supporting independent bookshops as they do libraries. Whenever I undertake a school visit I always encourage the school to order their books through an independent bookseller if possible. Last year, in partnership with Jane Streeter of the wonderful Bookcase in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, I instigated the help of my fellow SAS buddies to work with their local indie on Independent Booksellers Day. The Society of Authors, of whom I am a representative, has even joined in a campaign to support them. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, A-i-S. ‘Now wonder they write for children’. Huh! We wish we could get some writing done. We’re too busy helping save things to write.
Sheesh. I need a lie down.
Read this report here in the Telegraph but check out ‘Alice in Sunderland’s response in the comments.