Established in 1979, Public Lending Right (PLR) is the right for authors to receive payment under PLR legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries. In order to calculate what should be paid, loans data is collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK. This data also provides invaluable information about library borrowing – which books and authors are borrowed and how often.
Figures from the Public Lending Right for the year from July 2009 to June 2010 just released show that seven of the ten most borrowed authors were children’s writers. The seven are the Daisy Meadows brand (Sabrina the Sweet Dreams Fairy etc), Jacqueline Wilson, Francesca Simon (‘Horrid Henry’), Mick Inkpen, Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo), Lauren Child (Charlie and Lola) and Terry Deary (‘Horrible Histories’). Children’s authors have been rising in the ranks of the most borrowed for some years now and the rise matches the increase in children’s library borrowing. (The past six years have seen a continuous rise in borrowing so that almost 80% of five- to ten-year-olds now use libraries.)
All this PLR data serves to underline the importance of libraries to children so it is ironic that, at the time of writing, up to 400 libraries are threatened with closure and around half of councils have yet to announce their plans. Widespread protests involving many children’s authors have been taking place up and down the country.
Those who argue that many parents can afford to buy books for their children miss the point. Of course owning books is important (and there are plenty of affluent homes which contain no books) but so is having the chance to borrow books and to participate in all that libraries have to offer – reading groups, festivals, storytelling, baby rhyme times – not to speak of access to librarians who can inform and inspire reading choices.
As Philip Pullman said on hearing the news that Kensal Rise Library in London (which was opened by Mark Twain more than a 100 years ago) is under threat of closure: ‘Libraries are places that anyone can go. They are not just about books, but even if there were only books they’re an opportunity to meet characters and come across ideas you would never have dreamed of. Everyone remembers the first time they went to the library, and even the first book they borrowed.’
The Campaign for the Book organised by children’s writer Alan Gibbons pioneered opposition to library closures. Now a dedicated Facebook site, http://bit.ly/fight4libraries has been established by the Bookseller which has started a campaign, Fight for Libraries, to engage wider public support. It is also on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fight4libraries. The London Evening Standard has launched Save Our Libraries Campaign and many other local campaign groups are springing up. With a temporary reprieve for Oxfordshire libraries just announced and threats by campaign groups to take the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Minister Ed Vaizey to court for flouting their legal duty to promote the service, our libraries may yet be saved.