In yesterday’s Guardian, children’s author Terry Deary declares that libraries have had their day.
“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.”
Deary makes some valid points. Authors do need to make a living.
But in my experience, public libraries create lovers of books — the very people who habitually purchase books, which then supports authors, booksellers, publishers.
When I was a child, my parents didn’t read to me. Books weren’t a part of their experience. Newspapers, newsmagazines, on the other hand, were always around, planting the seeds of my lifelong habit as a news junkie.
Books? Not so much. I remember reading a Harold Robbins paperback once, and learning far more about sexual deviancy than a child should know. But that was the book that was lying around in the house and I wanted to read.
My parents are intelligent people but they did not grow up in a culture of literacy. Both my grandmothers were illiterate.
When I was six years old, something called a bookmobile used to magically appear down the street from my house. Every two weeks, this big white trailer with the words Kitchener Public Library on its side would remain parked for a few hours. I would wander over and sit in that little trailer and read. And the librarian was there to help me choose what to read. Then I would take a few books home.
I developed a love of reading and of literature through public libraries. This love of reading led me to journalism school and to do a master’s in English literature. Not only do I write books now, I own many, many books by many, many authors.
I hate that authors make so little money. I hate that I have to struggle to pay bills so that I can have the privilege to write fiction while someone skilled in biology or in mathematics has the potential to make a good living doing what he or she loves.
But do libraries contribute to this? I don’t think so. Very much the opposite. Libraries handed me, someone who does not come from a legacy of literature, the gift of books. A gift that I continue to share both by writing and devouring books.
What do you think? Do libraries diminish the value of books by offering them for free?