Sunday, March 10, 2013

In Defence of Libraries and the Truly Horrible Author

I don't know if you've come across it but Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories, has recently said that libraries are obsolete and should be shut down. 
The controversy started when Deary supported his local council about Libraries Facing Closure saying “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." (Sunderland Echo, 12/2/2013.) In an article in The Guardian, Deary was further quoted as saying: "This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that." 
It's taken me a few days to finish gulping like a grounded fish. 
I actually have a few of Deary's books in the house. I thought they'd be fun for the kids when they were a bit older. But now... I'm not entirely sure what to do with them. Ritual burning? 
Of course, I'm biased. I love libraries passionately, madly and unreservedly. 
I believe they are completely crucial to... well... civilisation as we know it. 
To many of the values I hold most dear - equality, democracy, analytical thinking, life-long-learning, wisdom.
I love public libraries, school libraries, state libraries, national libraries, hospital libraries and university libraries. I've worked in a fair variety of them and I know all the hundreds of services libraries offer and heartily appreciate each and every one. 
Yes, the world is changing quickly, yes digital books and articles are wonderful, but libraries will always have their place. The busiest, most fast paced library I ever worked at was mainly digital. It had a teeny-tiny collection of books, about half as many as my parents, but subscribed heavily to online databases. As a librarian I gave up to six hours of classes a day on how to use the databases (each one had different tricks and search strategies) and how to assess information. And did you know that when you join your public library you also gain access to dozens of online databases? They're brilliant. Use them. And if you don't know how - ask your friendly librarian!
As a librarian it is gratifying that so many people are coming out in defence of libraries. As a reader who experiences a shiver of anticipatory delight when entering a library, it engenders a lovely feeling of solidarity. As an author I can truthfully say I would prefer not to make another dime from writing rather than witness a wholesale shut down of libraries. 
Yes, there's a lot of information out there, but a lot of it is just plain wrong. The onslaught of information today is one of the reasons libraries and librarians are so important. Everybody should know how to check the validity of information, to know to check the sources, the original studies, to look for bias and skewing. And yes, schools should play their part in this, but it's a joint effort.
Deary is - surprise, surprise - also an opponent of both schools and historians. (Um, history degree here, and... Grad Dip in Primary Teaching- seriously, the man is so anti-me I might just have a big placard saying 'shoot me now, I'm obsolete'.)
I strongly believe in a world where everyone has equal rights to information, education and books. Not just the rich, not just established middle-class folk. Everyone. I believe homeless people should be able to sit somewhere warm and dry on a miserable day and read a book or a magazine or go on the internet. Or hey, just sit. I believe migrants should be able to read books in their own language and borrow books on writing and speaking english. I believe kids from unstable homes should have somewhere safe and (reasonably) quiet to sit and do their homework. I believe people without money should be able to walk into a library and access great literature, escapism, job information, transcendent joy. Books offer hope, they offer pathways to better things, they open the imagination to new ways of thinking and better ways of being, they contain solid, life saving information and clues for amazing breakthroughs. 
And in the egalitarian society I fervently believe in, books and libraries should be accessible by everyone, happily funded by everyone who can and enjoyed by all. 


  1. what a ... well, none of the words I have are appropriate.

    Not to mention the complete idiocy of claiming that compulsory schooling fills the role of the library, only to be anti-public school. I mean, really? How does he live with that level of cognitive dissonance?

    (of course, I ask that daily about our American politicians and the people who vote for them, so....)

  2. It's a disturbing idea not having libraries. I've used them for many years as a place to hide. There are books there too!

  3. Hi there Kirsty, but I think as ever you can't trust what you read in the papers... or perhaps rather it's not wise to just listen to the main idea. he didn't say they had to close he said: 'They either have to change and adapt or they have to go."'

    And that strikes me as true and self-evident... and it's already happened hasn't it??

    Of course libraries have to change in the digital age. We all do. But I totally support them as they evolve. I do love libraries too but must admit I rarely visit our local one now.