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happy valentine's day, terry deary

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



( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 14th, 2013 11:03 am (UTC)
Seems to me that one of Deary's errors is the assumption that if there were no libraries from which to borrow his books, the same number of people would buy them. ("I'm making £6,000 when I should be making £180,000" or whatever the figures were.) As a regular library user, I grab all sorts of things off the shelves that I would never dream of paying £10 or £25 (hardcover) to read.

When he says 'what other form of entertainment do we expect to get for free?' -- what about the radio? Having access to a radio tends to create in people (in me, anyway, when I was a kid) a love of music and a desire to discover new bands/songs and either buy their albums or go and see them in concert. You hear a song on the radio, so don't OWN it, but you have been exposed to it and might later buy it for yourself or for someone else as a present. Every Christmas/birthday I buy and give a lot of books to people -- none of them are borrowed from a library. Could it be said that libraries could work a bit like radio: instilling in people a general love of literature that ultimately benefits authors in other ways?
Feb. 14th, 2013 11:21 am (UTC)
I'd agree with you! Although I think often people remember libraries instilling a love of reading in them during childhood, and I wonder if children and parents get more out of printed books collected in a building than other adults do. I know parents who use libraries as a way to get out of the house, come in contact with other humans, and give their kids access to way more stories than they could ever buy. I've seen the way toddlers rummage through book stacks, it's an experience that can't be recreated digitally. When I was a kid, I read at least 20 books a week, possibly more. I loved comics, but I could only convince my mother to buy about one comic book a week, which I read in about 20 minutes. I would've have LOVED to have had huge stacks of comics to work my way through. I don't want to slip into nostalgia arguments, but I still think there are lots of kids who would love big stacks of comics.

I don't get to the library so often now outside of work gigs; I just don't have time, and when I do, I end up paying more in fines than if I bought the book. When I'm there, I mostly see adults using the internet services. I don't know if this is more widely representative of libraries in Britain, but my gut feeling is that perhaps libraries could have more internet portals for adults, and focus more on building up their children's sections, expanding them, making the space more of a parent-toddler friendly zone. But perhaps I'm saying that because I'm biased and make children's books. Perhaps this is already happening. I don't know if it's the best answer, but it's something I've been thinking.

(no subject) - bandersnatch_02 - Feb. 14th, 2013 11:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jabberworks - Feb. 15th, 2013 08:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 14th, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jabberworks - Feb. 15th, 2013 08:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 14th, 2013 11:12 am (UTC)
Money money money, is all you need...
I think I'd be able to absorb Deary's missive a lot more readily if the 'money' factor hadn't come into it. Describing 6 grand as chump change was insulting. £6,000 is the sort of sum that can be the slim margin between someone being able to eat for a year, or a library being able to pay for books and resources for quite a substantial amount of time. The Guardian's article seemed to be more about Deary feeling short-changed and it being entirely due to libraries and their outdated outmoded ways, but I find little evidence to back up the notion that libraries rob authors of a huge revenue stream. For many on low incomes and for many like me who put together book blogs and review sites in their own time, with no payment, purely for the love of books and sharing, libraries are essential and without them we'd have very little to actually write about or review.

I suspect that I'm going to have to agree with the pool of folk who think this is a smashing way to drum up some publicity or to get talked about, rather than anything structured or with the intent of changing how authors are rewarded for their hard work. Creative folk in any walk of life do deserve to be paid for what they do, no one's arguing against that but if you're coming at the argument from a fairly lofty position and then start quibbling about money when you're clearly not anywhere near the breadline, your argument is instantly as effective as sending a paper plane against an aircraft carrier.
Feb. 14th, 2013 11:47 am (UTC)
Great piece Sarah. Several things about what Terry said me angry: that libraries are impoverishing authors - libraries do actually buy the books, they don't get them for nothing and libraries are guaranteed sales for things like Horrible Histories. Libraries pay pretty much RRP for the books AND authors get PLR and often increased sales. Libraries are giving out books for free - well, only sort of as we pay for library services in our taxes. Libraries are causing bookshops to close - no, that's Amazon. And where does Terry's website direct people to buy his books? Yes, a nice direct clickable link to Amazon. He also falls into the common assumption that a)everything is online and b)everyone has a computer and internet access. He offers no evidence to back up his assertions (because there isn't any) and no alternatives to the public library service except 'let them eat cake'. I can only hope and pray that he doesn't turn his attention to school libraries. Oh, and wonderfully,at a Youth Librarians Conference in 2010 he praised the public library service.
Feb. 14th, 2013 12:01 pm (UTC)
Anne's the expert on this, but if I recall correctly, the Victorian emphasis on libraries (and museums) came out of this genuinely wonderful view that people had the ability to improve themselves and their situation if given the resources to do so. Knowledge - be it a book or a dinosaur bone or an old urn stolen from Egypt - should be accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy dilettantes who had the free time & money. Everyone should be able to wander in, poke about, read a book, draw their own conclusions, discuss, grow, etc. I love this so very, very much.

The Victorians get a lot of flak (especially from Thames Water, who like to dig up the "aging Victorian sewers" that have worked for two hundred years and replace them with cheapshit plastic tubes that are already broken), but they did quite a bit of awesome as well.
Kathryn Evans
Feb. 14th, 2013 12:27 pm (UTC)
Thinking it over
Libraries pay PLR which is a little like a license fee for radio/tv is it not? Tax payers pay for them because we believe they are important. Terry Dearies arguments are disingenuous. Let's just take these two:

1. He doesn't get free food so we shouldn't expect free books.

Firstly - he doesn't get free food because he can afford to buy his own. If he couldn't, he might well get free food - that's what civilised democratic societies provide benefits for.

Secondly - library books are not free, we pay taxes to keep libraries operational because that's what civilised democratic societies do.

2. Libraries are responsible for the decline of high street book stores.

Just wait a minute while I finish laughing at how ridiculous this is....okay

I'd be interested to see the evidence for this given that when I grew up there were plenty of book shops and plenty of libraries living happily side by side. What there now is, that there wasn't then, is the internet. More specifically - Amazon. Who don't play fair in the UK quite frankly - small indie book shops have to pay taxes and rates, they can't off-set their profits to tax havens.

But yes, I'm happy to think over his arguments to see if I'll change my point of you at all...

PS Thanks to all my writer friends who aren't HUGELY rich and are happy to have there PLR and wouldn't dream of complaining that a library loan has stolen a sale - I like you guys A LOT

Feb. 14th, 2013 12:55 pm (UTC)
Librarians' bums and other thoughts
Great post Sarah. I am an aspiring author; my partner is a librarian - albeit a university librarian rather than working in a public library. He manages huge budgets - all spent on books (some electronic, some physical) - libraries have to pay for their books.

And, reading a library book that I've found by browsing, is very likely to make me go and buy other books by that author. That's a huge privilege for an author. Try before you buy. There are very few other creative mediums that allow that to happen (apart from the obvious one, music).

ps - his bum is very nice

Feb. 14th, 2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
Channelling the anger
I am struggling to not start calling him offensive and rude names. He of course has a right to his views but the problem is he should recognize his views are not mainstream and because he is a successful author those views will resonant, if he were a sensible, reasoned man he would be careful in what he says. The reason is the close minded politicians will now jump on his words and say "even the authors think libraries are finished". Thats what politicians do, they listen only to those who agree with them. The real world is full of shades of gray, nuance and context but the political world is full of ill informed rhetoric, spin and sound bites and he has given the politicians who are too lazy to understand libraries or are ideologically opposed to libraries a massive weapon against them. I come from the same very poor part of Sunderland that he does and I'm very angry that he has helped to rob future generations of children the right to books and knowledge, fine buy them kindles and ipads, the e-books still cost a lot of money, and I think having physical libraries would still be cheaper to run. The future of e-book lending is uncertain and I think paper books will be with us for a long time yet, just as radio is still here. He is a grown man and should know better. I can only conclude he does but he revels in the notoriety. I hope he feels good about himself when the close the libraries.
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
Not a parent, a librarian, a published person ...! I follow your blog because I am interested in books and illustration and I think you write entertainingly about them (and I like your pictures. I assume it's OK for adults to admit to enjoying illustrations created for kids, here in the post-Potter world..?)

This was actually the first mention of Terry Deary's comments that I've come across so of course I had to go and read up. I do agree with you that abuse is less effective than counterargument, although I suppose abuse is understandable when librarianly voices are so much less carrying than Deary's (when they are even allowed to comment at all, what with local council restrictions and worries about losing their jobs, poor dears)

As a small business owner though, I had to laugh at this: "children should be kicked out of education at 11 to go to work" - as what, exactly? I can tell Terry is a writer being deliberately provocative, not someone who might find themselves having to supervise a workforce of 13 year olds, right there. :-D

And as an internet professional, I'm reading "They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age." and "People expect to get the book for free. It doesn't make sense" and I'm thinking : isn't that the model that Wikipedia works on?

Wikipedia is donation funded, and I bet there are vastly more people using Wiki than there are going to the cinema (the cinema! Now there's a 20th century concept if you want!) The vast success of free-to-reader internet content is challenging the accepted model of paid content (newspapers, music...) I don't recognise this idea that if libraries weren't providing free stuff, people would pay for it. That seems to be the opposite of the direction a lot of stuff is going.

And we have the whole Open Source movement, where people create stuff and deliberately give it away - sometimes for entirely selfless motives, and sometimes because if you give people something that is really useful, they then come back to you (and others in your industry) to buy extra stuff, and in software/web, this often seems to be a better and more successful model than simply charging for everything.

For that matter, I'm reading this blog as a paid Livejournal user, but I could perfectly well be reading it on a freeby, and I'm not paying *you* a bean for all your interesting thoughts and art - although if I need to buy presents for kids, I bet I'm more likely to choose them some Seawigs than I would be otherwise...

Hmm, sorry, I seem to have had Several Thoughts there and gone on a bit. This is why your blog is good reading: it makes me think about stuff that is not my day job but still is quite chewy for the brain to work out. :-)
Feb. 15th, 2013 08:39 am (UTC)
Hurrah, thanks for the wave! (And for following!)
Feb. 14th, 2013 03:09 pm (UTC)
Let's ask him: does he get any money when libraries acquire his books?

There are a lot of other things taking business away from bookstores. Mostly other bookstores. We've seen the effect here with video stores, remember video stores? The big box stores rolled in and extincted the small competition with lower prices and bigger selection. Then, when Redbox and Netflix took the edge off the market, the big box stores closed. Now where can you go to rent a video? Where can you go to buy a book, now that B&N and Borders have shut their locations nearby?

I'm not a librarian, just a poor bibliophile, and I've read a lot of new books this year thanks to the library. Without it, I'd probably just reread the ones I have. I appreciate not stagnating in old ideas. I don't know Deary or his work but he sounds like a mercenary -- the sort of bottom-line driven personality who can only see the dollars and not the sense. (Chuckle)
Feb. 14th, 2013 05:09 pm (UTC)
Reply from Terry
I emailed him today and got a response back:

Feb. 15th, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)
Interesting response. Thanks.
Re: Reply from Terry - jabberworks - Feb. 15th, 2013 08:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 14th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
I'm a school librarian who used to work in publishing as a children's book editor. I enjoyed your post and think it's healthy to have a reasoned debate about libraries. But I don't think Mr Deary's comments are truly meant to contribute to this - I think he was trying to provoke for his own reasons. I can't believe an author with his experience would believe much of his own argument - libraries are killing off bookshops? Please. If libraries didn't exist, I'd sell the same number of books as were borrowed? Uh, don't think so. And my favourite - libraries are giving nothing back to the book industry? What about all the free promotion?

He's right to acknowledge his debt to his publishers, at least. They do work harder for their authors for sure. That's kind of their point.

And I have proofread a couple of his novels for a children's publisher in the past - the laziest pieces of writing I've ever had to correct in 10 years in the business, full of howlers and inconsistencies. I've been a bit skeptical about his credibility ever since. It's one thing to build a reputation for a sarcastic take on history, but one would hope he was at least doing his homework. Perhaps he feels there's no need for research once he'd finished "compulsory schooling".
Feb. 14th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
Well said!
Absolutely fantastic post. Thank you. My hackles rose at what TD said but I did want to approach his views logically and to wonder whether the iconoclast had any points. But where i most implacably disagree with him is in how new readers will be created. To turn a baby into a reader requires vast numbers of books; it requires the luxury of being able to make wrong choices with books; it requires gorging on books. And I simply don't see how that can happen without libraries.

Also, libraries are NOT free. Just as the NHS is not free. We pay for them through taxes. And authors are recompensed for library borrowings so we are happy when people borrow our books.

Libraries and librarians create readers and all writers need readers. All societies need readers. That's where he's wrong. Is he in a bubble where he won't allow or value the needs or experiences of others? Or is he simply an iconoclast, trying to get us to think differently?

Well, I simply don't know a different, let alone better, way to create readers in all areas of society than libraries and librarians.
Feb. 14th, 2013 10:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Well said!
Sorry - didn't mean to be anonymous. My name is Nicola Morgan and I'm a children's author and very very proud to shout for libraries.
Re: Well said! - jabberworks - Feb. 15th, 2013 08:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 15th, 2013 01:51 am (UTC)
-- Wave --
I have forgotten why I started to follow your blog. Perhaps via Philip Reeve, whose books I've read.
I keep following your blog, because I like your style (in art and in wit). Also, you seem to be a bit weird, which I like in people.

My compliments on this article.
I certainly do not agree with the what the article in the Guardians tells us mr Deary said.
But it did help me think about the future of libraries.

Looking back, I only started to use library around age 14, when I started to read books for school.
And I stopped at age 20 when the local library ran out of books I wanted to read. At which point I started to buy dead-tree novels.
Which I stopped once I switched to an eReader, at which point I started to buy ebooks.

Thus libraries have been very important to me in my teens, and helped me read more and more.

All in all this means I haven't borrowed a book from a library in over 25 years.
About 10 years ago I went to a library to look up some information, which nowadays is easily available online.

It also means I've lost sight of who uses libraries ( And I mean the ones in my hometown ) and what they use them for.
You know, I have no clue if I even know locals who borrow books from the library.

And I absolutely agree with you on civilised discussion.
Feb. 15th, 2013 08:27 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for your comments, everyone! Really interesting to hear what you have to say.
Feb. 15th, 2013 11:03 am (UTC)
I've only read the blog post, not the comments. Apologies.

I think that's a very good blog post, Sarah.

Thank you for writing it.

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Sarah McIntyre

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