Yes it’s true, libraries don’t earn money. They don’t make anything. They
have nothing to sell. They are a loss leader. Libraries cost money. It is a given.
They will always be expensive. All social, recreational, and learning facilities
are. And down the years, responsible, intelligent and creative national and local
authorities have got the point.
But now, these services, if not at the bottom of the league table, are in the
I remember like it was yesterday… back in the mists of time, an over-excited
7 year old going to bed early every second Wednesday night because there was just
one more sleep to ‘library day’. And I remember the next morning at 10 o’clock, a
crocodile of mixed infants trailing the 400 yards from school to spend two hours in a
huge mahogany furnished room, surrounded by books.
Of course, libraries are no longer the places they were – the stuff of comedy
legend. Deadly silent, presided over by a severe matron in bat-wing spectacles,
people daring to talk in whispers, pensioners with nothing to do all day who arrived
to read the morning papers then quietly dozed off at a corner table, readers rationed
to a maximum of two books for fourteen days.
These days libraries are exciting, vibrant, interactive places. With coffee
areas, noisy children’s spaces, all sorts of learning tools, computers, internet access,
CDs and DVDs and downloads.
And they are more important than ever. People who like books but can’t
afford to buy paperbacks at £8.99 from book stores or online, can borrow a dozen
from the local library to read for three weeks. For absolutely nothing. There’s no fee
to join a library, no membership requirements other than to take care of the books
while they are on loan.
I am a screenwriter and crime novelist. I write the Jack Shepherd private eye
thrillers set in Bristol. Paperback editions of my books are in Bristol, Bath and
Somerset libraries and in large print and audio all over the country. Through the
Public Lending Right I earn the princely sum of 8 point something pence every time
a book is borrowed.
There’s no denying some writers are extremely rich. Selling books by the
million, earning vast amounts in royalties and picking up eye-watering sums for TV
and film rights. This writer earns his corn, working office hours five days a week. I
got lucky with my first commission and writing has always been my day job. It has
paid for my house and the things I am able to enjoy. In that I am truly fortunate.
But no matter how much – or how little – an author earns, the cheques are
not the be all and end all.
Authors don’t just want to sell books. THEY WANT PEOPLE TO READ BOOKS. That, in a nutshell, is why writers will always support libraries – places truly important for our growing up, our leisure, and our learning.
Jeff Dowson’s book One Fight at a Time is out now.