Ahhh, the good old days... When libraries were the only places that held information, nobody questioned their existence. Now that we live in a world of information overload, too many people are questioning their value, and even speaking out against libraries directly because they [gasp!] cost money.
The latest big battle began on 12 February in a local UK newspaper, Sunderland Echo, with an article called "Sunderland libraries facing closure under £850,000 savings plan." The article quoted one author who was against the budget-driven closure, then it quoted another author, Terry Deary, who favors the closure:
Sunderland-born Terry Deary welcomed the plans and told the Echo the future of reading lies with e-books.He said: “Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age. They either have to change and adapt or they have to go.“I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straightened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.
Deary's main argument is that, when libraries buy books and lend them many times, they are taking money away from publishers and authors because they are cutting down on the individual sales of books. Here is the basis of his argument:
... 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," said Deary...
A firestorm followed. The Guardian article is not yet a week old, yet it has been shared on Facebook 3,115 time and Tweeted 815 times (and certainly there are more shares not measured directly from the site). The article itself has 359 comments. And of course, other media have picked up on it.
The best response I've read was in The Huffington Post on 15 Feb. The essay "Why Terry Deary Is Wrong: The Case for Libraries" was written by author and blogger Foz Meadows. She makes many points that specifically answer Deary's comments, especially on his belief that libraries take money from authors.
I share all of this here to point out, once again, that we need to constantly speak up for libraries and to explain their value to everyone who has a stake in them. While it's good that there are comments in our favor when articles like this appear, in a way, that's almost too late. If everyone understood why libraries still matter in the digital age, then fewer articles like this would be written in the first place.
This is but one more battle in the continuing war for libraries. We all need to be "armed" with facts, elevator speeches, and passionate soundbites. If you don't feel that you are good at coming up with your own quotes or arguments, there are a lot that you can use.
- "25 Writers on the Importance of Libraries" was gathered in response to Deary's comments.
- "Author Library Stories" are short video tributes by famous authors, collected by ALA's @yourlibrary campaign for you to freely use.
- "Library Stories from the General Public," also from ALA's @yourlibrary campaign, contains powerful stories to share.
- The New York Times' "Room for Debate" series had an installment called "Do We Still Need Libraries?"
- My Libraries Are Essential Facebook page has lots of quotes, links to articles, and images that you can share on social media. (The Toni Morrison quote below is one example.)
Please don't ever be afraid to speak up on behalf of libraries every time you have an opportunity to discuss them. If we want these institutions to continue to exist, it's vital.