Children’s book author Terry Deary stirred up some controversy last month when he said libraries have “had their day” but no longer make sense in today’s world. He cites the lack of compensation for authors and damage to bookstores, who have to compete with an institution giving away the book for free:
“People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense.”
There’s no doubt that libraries have played an important role in society in democratizing access to information and reading, and fostering a love of reading in children. Libraries are also an important source of sales for small presses in particular. They do buy books, and they can be a significant customer for publishers.
At the same time, libraries also foster an expectation that books should be available for free and can potentially undercut an author’s sales. They’re absolutely indispensable and important for people who can’t afford to buy books, but I have to admit that I cringe a bit when well-off people borrow from the library instead of buying the book. Here in the US those print circulations don’t result in extra income for the author, though there are some different approaches when it comes to e-lending.
More broadly, as we move to to a world of near-universal Internet access and with it an unprecedented amount of information online for free, are libraries as crucial as they used to be? What role should they play in an electronic era? Should they continue to lend free e-books to customers and what should the economic balance there be?
Art: In der Bibliothek by Maurice Leloir