Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is the Idea of Libraries in Danger?

 A bestselling English author named Terry Deary recently came out against the idea of libraries in The Guardian newspaper.

"I'm not attacking libraries, I'm attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant," Deary told the Guardian, pointing out that the original Public Libraries Act, which gave rise to the first free public libraries in the UK, was passed in 1850. "Because it's been 150 years, we've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers."
The article itself attracted well over 300 comments, as well as a discussion on the LinkedIn group "Genealogical and Historical Research."

Deary is an extreme case; most authors and municipalities still have a broader notion of the public good. But we should recognize that his attitude is on the rise. In more and more cases, there's a tendency to say that everything should be paid for, that there should be no free public goods available to all and supported by our taxes. (The ongoing attempt to improve public schools by privatizing them can be seen as another aspect.) The recent removal of Cook County, Illinois, record images from FamilySearch appears to have grown out of this mindset. Images of the records are still available for $15 apiece from the county clerk. Note that this is not a case of a clerk charging for copies but allowing anyone to view the records themselves; the records themselves are apparently now a commodity.

Genealogy will be rather different if the idea that everything is for sale comes to prevail. Public libraries and archives, supported by taxes, embody the philosophy that everyone is entitled, up to a point, to learn stuff on their own for free. Mr. Deary's philosophy implies that everyone is entitled only to whatever he or she can pay for.

Alison Flood, "Libraries 'Have Had Their Day,' says Horrible Histories Author," The Guardian, 13 February 2013 ( : accessed 28 February 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Is the Idea of Libraries in Danger?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6  March 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Sonja Hunter said...

That is truly frightening! It had not occurred to me that someone would want to take away free access to books. What's next, forbidding me to loan my friend one of my books so she will purchase it?