Thursday, 2 September 2010

Public libraries and the Public Lending Right

When I was a kid, not many weeks went by without me beating a path to Southwick Branch Library, my arm stretched and aching from carrying a pile of books. Southwick was a beautiful library, Victorian, high celings, tall windows, heavy wooden shelves and a walk around desk where you presented your books for return or stamping out. Sometimes I spent time just wandering around the shelves, taking in the atmosphere and revelling in being surrounded by so many wonderful books.

That was after I got my tickets for the senior library, mind you. I had spent what seemed like an age beforehand stood at the door of the poky wee room that housed the junior library, gazing longingly at the high, dark shelves stuffed with treasures I was not yet allowed to enjoy. I had outgrown the junior library in every way. The shelves were stupidly low, the books were for babies. Oh, sure, they'd served me well enough when I was smaller myself, but I was bored with them. I'd read everything I wanted to read. There wasn't an Enid Blyton left untouched and frankly I couldn't have cared less what Katy did first, never mind what she did next. When I finally got my tickets (six, hence the aching arm, as opposed to the measly two the junior library offered) I swear I shed a tear. It was like receiving the keys to the kingdom.

I read all sorts of stuff, some of it gold, some of it less so, all of it wonderful at the time. I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, Colin Wilson, Robert A. Heinlein, Roger Zelazny, J. R. R. Tolkein... then there was Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators. I followed those with Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe and the plays of Noel Coward. And so much more. The place was a treasure trove and there wasn't much that couldn't be put right with a visit to the library.

Without the library I wouldn't have had access to even a fraction of the books I read. There is no way my family would ever have been able to afford them. Even now, I use the public library system extensively for research. One of the things I like most about the library system in the UK is that authors are rewarded with a few pence every time one of their books is borrowed. This is the Public Lending Right, or PLR. Whilst it represents a tiny fraction of the cover price of a book, for many authors this extra income is what enables them to keep on writing. Also, the amount an author may earn through PLR is capped, meaning that the main benefit is felt by authors who earn comparatively little from their writing, rather than the bestsellers.

The government is currently scouring public spending with an eagle eye, looking for areas where cuts can be made. One area where spending has fallen drastically in recent years, and that is bound to attract scrutiny at this time, is PLR. The results of the Spending Review are due to be announced on 20th October. In the meantime, there is the opportunity for writers to show support for the safeguard of PLR by signing here: www.alcs.co.uk/petition

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