British Libraries Are Fighting Back! And It’s Children Who Are Leading the Charge

At last great news for libraries!

And it’s the children who are putting their giant stamp of authority on the matter.

Not only are there six writers of children’s books amongst the top ten most borrowed authors of 2011/12 but children’s fictions titles were borrowed a staggering 81.8 million times over that period.

Not only that figures released this week by Public Lending Right show that, over the last seven years, children’s fiction borrowings have increased by almost 8 million.

Any commercial entrepreneur would see this as rich pickings and capitalize on it.

At a time when the future of libraries for many communities has been under threat this surely underlines the vital role that the resource makes in terms of encouraging a love of reading.

But it also underlines another essential purpose – the much needed lifeline that the Public Lending Right Scheme itself provides for authors and illustrators.

Administrated by a small but highly efficient team in Stockton, (in fact the PLR team itself is under threat of closure much to the chagrin of the writing community as the government deliberates over whether to transfer the management to another body) payments from the Public Lending Right Scheme were established exactly thirty years ago.

The annual payments have become an increasingly vital lifeline for writers as, for many, both publishers advances and royalties have dwindled.

Five years ago the Society Of Authors said the average writer’s earnings had dropped to less than 25% of the national average wage with the top 10% of writers earning more than 50% of the total income available to writers.

This makes sorry reading for a nation with writing in its DNA.

It means that talented writers who have the ability to invest in the reading ability and cultural development of the people are being forced to subsidise their income by working in another capacity – if indeed they can find that work – and in some cases, not writing at all

In February, PLR will make payments totalling £6.4 million to 23,190 authors. This year’s rate per loan is 6.20 pence, a slight increase on last year’s figure of 6.05 pence. It is a source of income that writers do not share with publishers or agents. It doesn’t discriminate according to sales figures or celebrity status. No author can earn more than £6,600 per annum from the scheme – which effectively means that the pot can benefit writers who work in niche fields too.

But it relies on the existence and management of libraries and it relies on book borrowings. Shutting libraries might save councils money but it is a a short term answer which will have long term devastating consequences.

The figures here speak for themselves and the children have spoken.

If books were cabbages and borrowers were customers, sellers would be smiling.

As a writer of books for children I have seen the excitement and hope that the world of books can bring to young people – a world which might never have been opened to them without a library.

Long may libraries continue, long may the PLR scheme continue and long may its administration stay with Dr Jim Parker and his small, efficient team in Stockton.

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