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Author Says UK Libraries Should Close Because He Says So

A guy who writes kid’s books is raising a brouhaha, at least in Britain–home of the dying public library, by claiming that libraries are “outdated and harmful to the publishing industry.”

His claims are certainly interesting, which must be true because people have found them of interest. Here are some of his juicy quotes:

This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

Okay, not the Victorian age. Got it. Can’t argue with you there. How are we different? Because now we don’t want to allow the impoverished access to literature? Excellent point. Wait, compulsory schooling takes care of that? Can the adults keep getting books from their school libraries after they graduate? What kind of crazy system do they have over there!

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.

The only reason books aren’t public property is because we make laws that allow you to keep the copyright for a while. That’s a benefit to you the state doesn’t have to grant. Blyton, by the way, published into the 1960s. So all writers up until now have been middle-class women indulging pleasant hobbies? There haven’t been any writers making their living by writing until you came along? When did writers start making a living from their writing? The Victorian era? The 1960s? The 21st century? Can you please give us specifics?

According to the report in another article, he had a few more interesting claims:

Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age. They either have to change and adapt or they have to go.

“Victorian” is stuck in the brain. I’m glad to know we’re in an electronic age. The UK has only been in the electronic age since 1891, which was, um, a decade before the end of the Victorian era.  I’m getting confused. How is this related to libraries?

I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straightened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.

Are fewer people using libraries? Do you have some statistics on that? I know you write children’s books for a living, but some basic statistics shouldn’t be beyond your ken. Gushes of antisentimentality don’t count as evidence.

The book is old technology and we have to move on, so good luck to the council.

The book is a VERY old technology and still going strong because it’s such a good one. Do we HAVE to move on? Why? Because you say so? Evidence, please?

In a later article, with the puzzling headline “Horrible Histories author Terry Deary defends library remarks,” he goes on without really defending anything:

You wouldn’t believe the abuse I’m getting. Personal, vindictive and spiteful abuse from authors who are descending to playground insults.

The angry remarks hurt his feelings. It’s almost like he called for the abolition of a beloved public institution used by millions that’s been around for a couple of centuries while making provocative, unsubstantiated claims. Why would people get upset about that?

No-one is even reading what I’m saying. I never attacked libraries, I said we need to think about people’s access to literature. I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.

Like “looters.” Glad we’re not resorting to name-calling. Actually, you said that libraries hurt authors, publishers, and booksellers. That’s pretty much an attack on libraries.  Instead of getting your feelings hurt, why not offer some evidence to support your claims?

People are entitled to their views but I wish they would just discuss them with me rather than try to poison me with spiteful remarks.

I don’t know where we get the bizarre idea that people are “entitled to their views.” That doesn’t even make sense. Are people entitled to views that are completely wrong? You think libraries hurt authors, publishers, and booksellers? Prove it. Until you have proof, you’re not entitled to believe anything. And even if you can prove that, which I doubt, you then have to prove there’s not a compelling reason to keep libraries around anyway. Good luck with that.

But one letter I received said “I just read what you said about libraries. Well done, it’s about time a proper debate took place”.

I’m always up for a proper debate. I’ll even make myself a cup of tea first so we can be all English and civilized about it. (That’s the England of Miss Marple, by the way, not the England of football hooligans).

If you want a proper debate, Mr. Deary, then instead of making provocative claims and then “defending” them by “saying many of those questioning” you are “employing “playground insults” and were not properly considering [your] arguments,” why don’t you instead try offering some arguments. Crazy, right!

I haven’t seen one argument offered in these news accounts. Did you provide some actual arguments and evidence that didn’t get reported? Or was it pretty much provocative, unsubstantiated claims like in the news?

Once you provide some arguments and evidence, some people will be happy to debate you. But for a debate, you need to have a better argument than libraries should close because you say so.

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Comments

  1. Snoozy says:

    Don’t worry Mr. Deary, I promise I won’t buy your book for the library, I wouldn’t want to hurt your chance to make a living.

  2. annoyedlibraryworker says:

    The “you wouldn’t want to be’” series would seem a reasonable alternative for this dreary man’s horrible histories.

  3. GetAClue says:

    I am enjoying a cup of tea at the moment. As I do several times a day. It makes me happy and mellow and puts me in a decidedly British way. There is no need for taunting this impassioned soul for simply expressing an opinion in such a public manner. We should support his ideology and, as both scholars and gentle persons, help him to prove his hypothesis in a truly enlightened and scientific manner.

    He is correct. Libraries are old technology, outdated, unused, and unnecessary. We should honor his insight and brilliance. Nay, we should celebrate it! And we should immediately allow for proving beyond doubt that his mind is superior to the rest of ours and he sees what the rest of us deny and distrust.

    Starting at once no broken institution that wastes taxpayer’s dollars simply feeding the ever growing greed of the gluttonous middle class shall buy his books. Not in print nor in electronic form. When his monumental private sales and vast fortune prove his theories that libraries have only harmed his bottom line, librarians should bow before him in apology and close all libraries immediately.

  4. MedLibrarian says:

    If less people are using libraries, that means more people are buying books rather than borrowing them right? So why does he care that they are still open?

  5. me says:

    We wouldn’t want to hurt publishers. They’re so noble and all, that’s a way to get public sentiment on your side. I don’t understand how (certain) authors and publishers keep pulling out this tired trope. We all know that readers will support authors they enjoy by purchasing their books. Apparently once an author gets a following and doesn’t need libraries for the purpose of “discovery” of their books then they don’t want them around anymore.

  6. Horses for Pie says:

    “Are fewer people using libraries? Do you have some statistics on that? ”

    Fewer people are using libraries. Taking Part shows that usage of libraries has been declining for a number of years. The rate of decline has slowed, but decline it does.

    The decline in library usage is a long term trend. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to face up to.

    • That might be true in the UK. It is categorically and demonstrably untrue in the United States, where public library use has been growing for many years and continues to grow. I don’t know the facts in the UK; I do know them (they’re readily available!) in the US–and “the decline in library usage” simply does not exist.

    • me says:

      Our library’s usage statistics have increased every year since 2000. In, fact the 2000 to 2012 comparison is something like triple the traffic (with stagnant staffing numbers of course!).

    • Cheryl says:

      I would argue that while library loans ARE declining in many libraries, library usage isn’t.

    • Ben says:

      On a library blog, you should really back up a claim like this with a study rather than just reasserting Deary’s point. I imagine the study that you mean to cite is the one done by CIPFA. While it does show a 6.7% persistent decrease in physical library visits between 2006 and 2011, the fact that there was a 79.3% increase in web visits between 2006 and 2011 has been largely ignored, especially since the increased web traffic more than makes up for the loss in physical visits in raw numbers.

      Furthermore, a well-documented phenomenon in American libraries is the increase in library usage during a recession. Perhaps the UK is similar, and the latest decreases across the board (including web visits) are just a reflection of more people getting back to work.

    • Joe McQuaid says:

      Yes. Fewer people in the UK are using libraries. Because hard-pressed councils keep closing them. (Are there no work houses/). In my library, we can’t fit enough chairs and tables for the growing onslaught.

  7. RPGLibrarian says:

    Here are some statistics.

    1) One hundred million households in the USA do not have broadband access as of Fall 2012.
    2) In 2010, 46% of households that make less than $25,000 per year did not have a computer. That number shrinks to 25% for households that make between $25,000 – $50,000.
    3) Comparing urban to rural Internet use, one is twice as likely to use a dial-up connection if one lives in a rural area. 10% of households who live in rural aras do not have access to broadband at all.
    4) The Internet is responsible for approximately 21% of economic activity in the USA.
    ((Source: http://mashable.com/2012/02/05/digital-divide-infographic/))

    That is also a lot of households that are not contributing to the economy through the Internet. Assuming that these people also do not have e-readers, that is a lot of households who will be unable to buy ebooks. I imagine a good percent of those households would not be able to afford regular books too.

    That being said, according to the Pew Research Center (http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/01/22/library-services/), 77% of Americans over the age of 16 surveyed indicated they consider free access to computers and to the Internet to be very important. This is slightly lower than what they consider to be of prime importance: borrowing books (80%). Surprisingly enough, 55% of those surveyed actually went into the library, and 25% used the library’s website.

    If we get rid of “Victorian” concepts like poverty and ensure all people have equal access to information from their homes or mobile devices, then we can get rid of “Victorian” concepts like libraries. Until then, someone please pass me a top-hat and turn on the gas-light.

  8. pete pappentick says:

    The number of Public libraries in Denmark is declining also but the institution is defended by those who see them as vital because they provide places for people to meet and interact as equal members of a community.

  9. Mark says:

    No, anyone is entitled to an opinion (or several) regardless of the merit thereof. What he is not entitled to is my acceptance of his opinion; that must be earned using testable observations and reason.

    Others have provided data, but reason also seems scarce here. The wheel is old technology too, not to mention shoes, bowls, houses…. Ought we to get rid of all these old things and move on? *Writing* is old.

    Another puzzle. Books owned by public institutions *are* public property.

    I am inescapably reminded of a line from Clarke’s _Against the Fall of Night_. Over the repair desk hangs a sign: “State your problem. Please think clearly.” Sage advice, that.

  10. Scare says:

    People can get books from school. Oh wait, no, we should sue them – see http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/apr/11/horrible-histories-school-terry-deary that states “Author Terry Deary says he wishes he could sue schools that use his books in lessons.” and my favourite, he believe public schools are unnecessary and out dated as well http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/aug/12/schools.historyandhistoryofart

  11. cool librarian says:

    Libraries have to be open to debates about their usefulness. Hopefully the debate will be well-informed however.
    I have been a librarian for 35 years and the demand for library borrowing has certainly decreased in the last 10 years, and presumably the internet is responsible. I am pleased that the community has access to a huge amount of information online, but at the moment, there is more in-depth, value-added information to be found in books, on nearly any topic you care to name. I hope that the majority of communities will continue to support free access to quality non-fiction book collections, in the public and academic sphere. Not to do so would drive down the quality of education, including self-education, available to people who can’t afford to buy every book they could profitably use (which is most of us). I don’t necessarily feel the same about recreational reading, I think public libraries could reasonably make a charge for that, on their own behalf or on behalf of authors. Regarding authors, I do believe a lot of book sales come from libraries and they are ill-advised to be stabbing libraries in the back. Will readers buy every book they would like to read if they can’t borrow it from a library? Doubt it.

  12. MIchael COllins says:

    Sounds like Mr Deary is at it again…

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6120942/Horrible-Histories.html

    More than this, though, Deary is profoundly opposed to schools. That is, to the institution of school itself – to the extent that he will never accept an invitation to give a talk in one.
    “I get 200 requests a year and the answer is no,” he says. “I detest schools with a passion. I’d rather cut off my left arm and eat it with Marmite than go into a school. And I don’t even like Marmite.

  13. I Like Books says:

    I brought a CD from the library to work, and showed it to a coworker. He said “I didn’t think anyone used libraries anymore.” Well, evidently he doesn’t, or else he would have noticed the walk across the parking lot to get to the door. The thing is, people are widely similar in considering themselves normal.

    I believe, with the Boston library, that the future of democracy is contingent on an educated citizenry. Your neighbor’s vote affects you, and it’s hard enough to get him to read a book when they’re free; it would be perverse to make him pay for them.

  14. Anon E-mouse says:

    Most of the world’s classic literature is freely available on the Internets. Books take time to read. As a very literate person, librarian, book collector, I have already accumulated more books than I have time to finish, and I am unlikely to buy much more. Used books have migrated from the formerly widespread used book stores to grocery store and free (“Take me, please!”) exchange shelves. The supply of books exceeds the number of readers. Video, on the other hand, is still in fashion, and even though costs are declining, can still charge a bit for instant streaming access and other benefits.
    Without libraries as a showcase for books, I would imagine that publishing would decline even more rapidly than it already is. If I am willing to wait a few months, I can get any bestseller for one penny plus shipping on Amazon. How can libraries be hurting publishers if this is the reality? The closing of libraries will only mean that the video/gaming complex will be the only reality that consumers know.

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