|Author Terry Deary|
Recently Terry Deary, a successful British author, argued that public libraries should be closed. This has sparked a rather interesting online debate about libraries and their relationship with authors, communities, and the public's money.
Deary, who writes quite fun and interesting history books for children, said that the whole concept behind public libraries is obsolete and damaging. He said, “We've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that."
You can read Deary’s argument here. In it, he condemns libraries for injuring the publishing industry, closing bookstores, and taking money out of authors' pockets.
Several other authors have responded to these comments, usually in ways that are heartening in their support for libraries. Science fiction author John Scalzi wrote lovingly about his lifelong relationship with public libraries in this article.
Alan Jacobs, who writes for The American Conservative (not exactly a bastion of support for publicly-funded agencies) wrote an essay that specifically counters Deary’s argument that compulsory education has made libraries obsolete. “I was not the beneficiary of a very good education in the Birmingham city schools,” he writes. “Most of what I now know that I consider worth knowing I learned not at school but at these libraries.”
(An aside: no matter how you feel about this issue, you must check out some of the priceless dissenting comments to The American Conservative article. I especially like the one that says, “As far as I can tell [libraries are] mostly crappy government bureaucracies that provide work for the unemployable whackjobs who come out of Universities. Welfare for half-educated feminists.” I beg to differ: I am a highly educated unemployable feminist whackjob.)
Captain Underpants book in your child’s hands, and you might end up with a student who likes books - even school books.
There are plenty of other things in Deary's argument that I would challenge, including the idea that libraries "give nothing back" to authors. (Does he not realize that we buy all these books? With real money?)
But that's enough of my opinions. If you have thoughts about this issue, now’s your chance to let us know. Do libraries cost more than they give back? Are they obsolete? Are there things libraries should be doing differently? Join the debate; tell us what you think in the comments.