Tuesday, 19 February 2013

#ReadItMD2013 - Library membership from birth? You betcha! Fees? Aww come on!!

It's a welcoming place even if you dribble and eat rusks!
As the fallout from the "Deary" debacle continues aflame on Twitter, several authors are now beginning to come round to the way of thinking that the current model for libraries is indeed outmoded and outdated and are talking up the possibility of introducing some sort of fee system.

At a point when libraries are woefully underfunded and underused, on paper a fee system or a way of raising the revenue made available to authors whose books grace the shelves sounds like a fairly good idea.

In practice, at a time when parents are scrabbling for every penny (parents like me, parents who aren't fortunate enough to earn a six figure sum or be able to waltz into their local independent bookshop and buy up their entire stock to keep our little ones amused), asking for money for something you already effectively pay for from your Council Tax contributions (which in our locale are going up again this year) might feel like a final kick in the teeth.

Libraries are free. They always have been, and though arguments against the current system speak of 'tradition' and 'old fashioned notions' the idea of a library is to be able to access a huge range of books for nothing.

It's very easy to completely fall on the side of being a budget-wary parent and feel that there's a certain element of greed going on here, after all we increasingly live in a world where virtually every other form of entertainment costs you in some way, shape or form.

I just can't see this suggestion working out well for anyone. Certainly not for libraries, who would see a demonstrable fall in visitors and footfall if fees were introduced. Certainly not for authors - if parents are unwilling to pay a library fee they're sure as hell not going to pay between £6-12 for your new book. Certainly not for children who would again end up deprived of a valuable resource that has always been there for them.

I rather like the current model of encouraging more library visits (and let's face it, this is what needs to happen - library customer numbers need to increase tenfold if not more, to ensure that the services can survive and are given priority in local and national government budgeting). The current model in several locales is to encourage parents right off the bat, as soon as their children are born, to sign up for free library membership. Our locale produces a neat little information pack encouraging parents to drop in and sign up their babies at the local library. Libraries also run incentive schemes, certificates and sticker charts so that kids (if not their parents) at least have the lure of the books and the added bonus of a 'reward' to look forward to if they become regular visitors.

It seems a shame that this debate is now raising the sort of questions from some authors sympathetic to Terry Deary's view that "MOAR MONEY" is somehow going to magically come their way if libraries start charging fees or start discouraging people from bothering to visit. There is a need for change but it's certainly not by nickel-and-diming your customers even further. They've been nickel-and-dimed enough.