Terry Deary’s horrible library statement

To say I am disappointed in the latest weird statement by Terry Deary is an understatement. The well-loved Horrible Histories author’s latest bizarre offering is to announce, at a time Sunderland City Council is considering closing libraries:
“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. I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straitened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.”
He added: “The book is old technology and we have to move on, so good luck to the council.”
Now Terry is no stranger to odd outbursts. He once told the Guardian:
“Kids should leave school at 11 and go to work.”
When I was mounting a campaign against the SAT tests some years ago, I approached Terry for support. He replied that he was an anarchist and we shouldn’t abolish SATs, we should abolish schools!
Fine, so he enjoys going out on a limb. Maybe he is a good self-publicist. Maybe he is an old-fashioned eccentric. Normally it wouldn’t matter all that much, authors can talk absolute codswallop from time to time, but when his statement places him on the side of cuts and library closures, when it puts him on the side of the end of services to communities and the sacking of librarians, it requires a reply.
Let’s go through it point by point:
1) Libraries have had their day. So why, even in the face of closures and opening hour cuts, book fun reductions and other cutbacks do libraries still get 300 million visits a year? Why are some libraries opening? Why are children’s borrowings up, not down? Why are there thriving Summer Reading Challenge events and Chatterbooks reading groups? Why is South Korea building 180 new libraries? Why are South Africa and Bolivia, Japan and India for example undertaking large investment programmes?
2) Is the support of the vast majority of the artistic community for libraries “sentimentality”? OK, Terry, tell that to Lee Hall, author of Billy Elliot and Baroness Blakewell. Tell it to Jackie Wilson and Lee Childs, Kate Mosse and Kathy Lette, Philip Pullman and David Almond. Tell it to the hundreds of authors, illustrators and poets who have joined protests. Are they just dewy-eyed romantics? No, they are convinced proponents of the effectiveness of libraries. They are backed up by numerous reports by the OECD and the National Literacy Trust.
3) Are they a Victorian idea? Hardly, libraries go back to ancient times and were only fully recognised in law in the UK in 1964. They have evolved constantly, revolutionising themselves with each new development in print or digital technology. Yes Terry, libraries have gone digital or didn’t you notice?
Some of us who have devoted enormous amounts of time and effort to the library cause, who have marched and petitioned, lobbied and demonstrated, argued with councillors and Ministers feel utterly betrayed by Terry’s words. Does he really want to line up with the philistines? Terry’s pronouncement is not quirky or eccentric or ‘just Terry.’ In current circumstances it is downright irresponsible.

12 thoughts on “Terry Deary’s horrible library statement

  1. YES. Right behind you on this. Terry Deary’s timing is horrible, his words are hateful and he’s simply wrong.

    As legend has it, carved on a wall of the world’s first library, in Alexandria, were the words
    ‘The place of the cure of the soul’
    We have a great need of such places, especially now.

  2. Oh dear, Has Terry visited a library recently? The only thing out of date here is his idea that they are antiquated old mausoleums where untouched books collect dust. He seems oblivious to the fact that for many people libraries are there main source of access to the very technology he champions. Look at the queues that build up in any City library simply to use the internet for 15 minutes!

  3. Oh dear, Has Terry visited a library recently? The only thing out of date here is his idea that they are antiquated old mausoleums where untouched books collect dust. He seems oblivious to the fact that, for many people, libraries are their main source of access to the very technology he champions. Look at the queues that build up in any city library simply to use the internet for 15 minutes! They are providing an essential service in information and education, just as they have always done.

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  5. I disagree with most of what Terry Deary says he is right on two points. The save libraries campaign (especially from authors) does come across at sentimental at times and that libraries need to adapt to survive. The save librararies campaign messages often focus on the idea of what a library was like 20 years ago and fails to clearly communicate what llibraries really can offer Councils and its residents e.g. Job seeking, advice for businesses, digital information, digital skills, health, social and community spaces. If the arguments focus solely on books and literacy then they will fail.

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  8. He’s also right that libray usage is falling. Library usage has been declining for at least a decade and while the drop has slowed it has not stopped. This decline predates the current round of cuts, which is something that library campaigners fail to tackle head on.

  9. I love libraries! They have been my best source of information & pleasure all of my life. I might live somewhere sunnier, but need the library ( & radio 4) Crucial & priceless. Up to date with computers for those without. Keeping up & essential.Keep ’em, grow ’em, love’em, use’em! I do.x

  10. The notion that people who borrow Terry’s books from the library would automatically buy them if they weren’t available to borrow is patently absurd.
    I don’t a single other writer who perceives the situation this way. Nitwit.

  11. HURRAH for you!!! Our public library is so much more than just books on the shelf – though that is a good enough reason alone. It is a free public meeting place, a safe space for children to be and do homework, an art gallery open to everyone, a free facility for the use of the latest technologies for those who can’t afford them. It is a space that allows us to connect w/ our neighbors, talk w/ our officials, hold classes and public debates. Our library is resource that has knowledgeable staff to help you figure out what you need to know and where to find the information in a world overwhelmed by misinformation. AND it is a shared pool resource that builds on its self, feeding imaginations on a richer diet than could EVER be if left to the marketplace. Because we support the public library and their ilk, those who would otherwise be marginalized are included and we who have and can learn a lot from that. We have our safe zones stretched and presumptions questioned rather than hearing the same voices propagating the same ideas. Public libraries challenge our present notions, connect w/ the past, and most importantly, help us to envision the future and all of this while feeding our better natures.

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