If we want to get the message across that libraries are important and that we need to make more use of them, then authors can help.
Having visited several libraries in England and Wales, offering a free book event for local school children, I’ve had the opportunity of hearing, firsthand, the concerns of librarians.
They fear losing their library and they fear losing their jobs – not a healthy atmosphere in which to work. They talk to me about diversifying the services they offer; creating groups to gather in the library on a regular basis; they think of every possible way to draw children into the library, and yes, they’re offering tea and coffee, too (not to mention the management of the building, like co-ordinating the scaffolders to fix the leaking roof). Anything to increase the “footfall” and prove to their local council that they are needed and valued.
School children came to the libraries and I talked to them about cows, milk, dairy farming and my book – there’s nothing so heart-warming as the sight of children’s arms thrust into the air, keen to ask questions.
So who gains?
My publisher and I gain as we get to promote the book (they pay the travel expenses which, hopefully, they will earn back); the library gains because local school children are reminded that the library is a great place to go, even if they’re not interested in books (just yet); the schools gain as the children are engaged in an interactive session about books and stories, (and teachers and TAs get a mid-morning break). Everyone is set to gain.
However, a visit to the library for a children’s author event should not be about selling the book directly. Some families can’t afford five pounds, when actually the book can be read for free - lest we forget.
It’s fine to tweet about the dreadful cutbacks and threatened closures, or write “Love Letters to Libraries”, but authors can go a step further: they can be physically present to help turn the much needed footfall into a steady march – they can help give councils, all over the land, less and less reason to close libraries.