My two cents on Terry Deary and Libraries…
…because apparently I can’t resist chipping in. Having read some of the evidence, including Deary’s response to this open letter by Trevor Craig, I don’t believe he is against libraries. It’s a complicated issue and he has raised some important discussion, if in a more violent manner than I suspect he meant to.
I’m ashamed of the people sending him hate mail and threats and vitriol. It’s our right, if not our duty, to question our system and ensure it’s delivering the best service it can for us (after all, looking around at this country right now, it clearly isn’t). I do believe the media picks and chooses what it quotes, and how it presents opinions. I suspect Deary has suffered from this and his words have come across sounding more blasting than intended. Maybe I want to believe this because his books were a fundamental part of my childhood (and, yes, I got some of them from the library).
I think part of the anger comes at the talk of money. Our society traditionally looks down on people discussing their monetary affairs in public, and I think the figures bouncing around make Deary seem insensitive, particularly to the more likely reader base at libraries – those who cannot afford to buy books.
What’s it to you?
This is roughly the conversation I had with my partner last night:
B: How many books do you and I read in a year between us?
S: Between 50-150
B: How many of those do we borrow from libraries?
S: One or two.
B: How many books do we buy every year?
S: Dozens. (A conservative estimate, I admit: we are serial book-buyers, of both the paper and ebook variety)
B: Now imagine we both lost our jobs, would we stop reading?
B: Would we stop buying books?
B: So where would we get them from?
S: The library.
And your point is?
My point is, I can weigh in on this subject if I want to. I can calmly say that I believe libraries need to combine with independent bookshops and community centres to form local learning and literacy hubs; creative spaces and courses; crèches and community groups; employability and self-esteem workshops; small scale lending or incentivised sales; discounts for volunteers. I think there are a lot of options. It’s not enough these days just to be a library in the traditional sense.
But my opinion doesn’t ring out because I’m not a famous writer, or a library worker, or someone who depends on libraries to improve my chances in life. I’m a fan of them, sure, I spent an awful lot of time in them growing up.
Whatever I or others need from them, I don’t believe anyone can say libraries are not necessary.
Literacy is arguably the most important skill in this country, the one that comes first. If I couldn’t afford to buy books for myself or my hypothetical children, where would I go? I’d go to the library.