Guys. Let me guess. If you're reading this blog post, you're probably:
1. Involved somehow in publishing
2. A published writer, illustrator or someone aspiring to be published
3. A parent who is impassioned about books for children, perhaps even with your own book blog
4. A teacher or librarian
5. My family
(If you don't fall into one of these demographics, give me a wave down in the comments box!) This is my point: whatever I'm going to say about libraries now will be preaching to the choir. If I write, 'Hurrah for libraries! Save Libraries', you'll feel a vague warm fuzzy feeling, think Good for her, she's one of us, and move on to the more interesting news about Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend.
I'm actually losing track of what Terry Deary said because I keep getting pieces of it through different media sites (The Bookseller, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Alan Gibbons, outraged tweeters) and hearing it back repeatedly, usually with nasty names and swear words included. But the thing is, I'M HEARING ABOUT IT. People who aren't even really into books have probably heard of Horrible Histories. The guy's prompted so many people read and care about history who might not have otherwise; I think he's earned his chance to say something and have us think about it. There's been a lot of good stuff said about libraries, but recently there's also been a huge amount of nostalgia, and people repeating the same things. I haven't heard a lot of creative solutions. Not because the ideas aren't out there - I bet loads of people are coming up with great ideas - it's just that the media doesn't work that way. People who aren't interested in the library debate aren't going to trawl through lengthy articles on literary blogs. The media jumps on people who say outrageous things. And outrageous things are never the things that make us feel 'that person is part of our club'.
Say that you're an aspiring author or new author, and you have ideas to get people reading that challenge the current library set-up. Perhaps your ideas even involved drastically changing libraries as we know them, or closing down certain buildings. It would be career suicide to put the idea out there... well, if anyone even noticed what you said. If somehow you did manage to create a few waves, you'd never get another library booking, librarians wouldn't want to stock your books, book people would snub you at parties (if you were even invited) and no one would ask you to speak at conferences. Deary didn't have to worry about this, he knew people WOULD listen, because he has clout, and he doesn't need events or bookings to make his books sell. And he also knew that if he toed the party line about saving libraries, all the library-friendly people would nod and say, 'good ol' Terry' and it would make very little impact on anyone outside the circle.
Now, I need to go back and read what he's said very carefully. The point that immediately raised my hackles was the implication that all people can afford books. No they can't, especially kids, they can go through hundreds of books a month if they're avid readers and few parents would support a habit like that. I doubt he's saying 'books only for the rich', that doesn't seem like something he'd say. But the points he made about libraries taking business away from bookshops made me think, what? And what he said about the cinema and telly not being free, so why should books be, was an interesting point. I don't get to go to the cinema and watch a film for free just because I don't want to own it, and I don't go to the supermarket for free food. I suspect , in the end, I will not agree with Deary about this, but I'd like to think about it some more. Maybe he can slightly alter some of the ideas I take for granted.
One of my best friends works like this; sometimes when I say something that everyone else is saying in the politically-left-leaning book world, he'll come back with something very contrary that sounds totally preposterous, often just to get a rise out of me. But usually when I talk with him about it, I'll find out why he's said that, and very often it will slightly alter my own opinion, even if I don't come to agree with him, or agree with him entirely. It's one of the reasons he's a best friend, and why I find working with him boosts my creativity so much.
What I'm saying is this: you don't have to agree with Deary, you might hate what he says. In fact, I'm almost sure you do, since you're one of the above demographic. But let's be civilised in our response; libraries have been a pinnacle of our civilisation. And contrary to what Deary implied, a lot of good things have come from the Victorians: women's suffrage, worker's rights, mass education (I'm repeating now what my friend said to me but I'm not going to make him jump publicly into the debate). And we can be glad that we CAN give a response, that Deary has the discussion going again in the media, and there's more chance the media will listen to you if you tackle what he's said. Thank you, Terry Deary, for that. I've seen several good responses already, but I've also seen a lot of name calling. Library friends, don't do that. You know Deary isn't anti-reading; Deary's the guy you want to invite to your panel discussions. We need more than only hard-working but invisible yes-men.
There are very practical reasons we still need libraries, but in what form? That's where we need you to come in with your ideas. Let's give people a safe space to share them without making them feel their careers are at stake if they say something odd. In fact, let's say more odd things. Let's get everyone talking.
Edit: Here's an interesting response comment from Terry Deary, as linked by Trevor Craig below in the comments.
Edit 2: A thoughtful article on the same subject by Shoo Rayner