Thursday, 14 February 2013

You can be open or you can have government

I was getting very cross with Terry Deary's comments so I decided to email him to try and understand where he is coming from. The complete exchange is below. He did give his permission for me to put this up:

This bit is my initial email :
"Dear Terry,

We don't know each other but I come from the East End of Sunderland, next to Hendon where I understand you are from, growing up it was as you no doubt know a utter shit hole. I didn't do that well at school and my home life wasn't great but the one thing that helped me better myself in life was libraries. I know you have strong views and I'm sure the PLR money isn't fair but libraries are something that are of massive benefit to society. How can anything that provides information and knowledge to anyone without any prejudice be a bad thing? If I was growing up today a kindle would be as much use as a door stop because I wouldn't be able to afford the e-books and libraries offered the space away from home and the bullies at school to learn.

Please re-consider your views on this, libraries aren't finished and are still vitally important. Councillors and politicians are going to jump on your words and use them as justification for closing libraries. There will be lots of kids from the rough parts of Sunderland that libraries will offer a way out to. It did for me. 

With best wishes,

Trevor Craig.

p.s. I am very angry about this and I hope you will take up the offers of a public debate so I can at least understand better what it is that informs your views"

Too which he kindly replied:

"Hello Trevor

I am not sure exactly what you have read of my views – the media distorts and edits mercilessly. What I have been trying to say is that I want all people of all ages to have access to literature. A book is filled with an author’s ideas and its purpose is to entertain and communicate with a reader. A library is just a building. I want to know if libraries (buildings) are still the best way to enable writers and readers to come together. I am asking a question, not proposing a solution. If librarians feel threatened by that question then you should not. If they are doing a wonderful job that justifies every penny of taxpayer’s money you have NOTHING to worry about.

If you are arguing that socially deprived children from places like Hendon need access to books then I agree wholeheartedly (as you can imagine). But the answer is to find the BEST way to ensure EVERY Hendon kid has the BEST access. Many children (like me) found libraries intimidating places full of old stock with old attitudes, wholly inappropriate to children growing up in the 1950s. But just because they were useful in the past doesn’t mean they have a God-given right to exist forever. The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace. I’m not advocating the closure of libraries – I am saying that, when there are so many social and economic problems, the libraries have to work much harder to justify their existence and demonstrate they are fit-for-purpose (sorry, horrible phrase) in 2013 and beyond. YES, they were great in the past and, yes, they helped people like yourself. Can they still do the same today? Can they do better? That’s all I’m asking.

A public debate? Sorry I am not a fan of debates. I can air my views and someone can argue against me but will a “debate” change a single thing? I’m not convinced. And you would not believe the amount of vile abuse I’ve received for daring to challenge the orthodoxy. Do I really want to stand up to be shot down? It is very tiring at my age to be on the receiving end of so much spite and bitterness. On which note I must sincerely thank you for your considered and courteous message … I would never have guessed you were angry until your footnote said so. I wish everyone were as restrained and intelligent.

All the best


There was a couple of further brief bits but they are not worth putting up, its fair to say Terry has similar views to the political classes as I do but it adds nothing to the libraries debate that is going on. There has been a lot of stuff flying round on this now, included stuff by me on various comments boards. He is right to say the media edit and distort peoples views and take things out of context. I am going to have a re-read of all the stuff written on this and try and reconcile it to the view he has given above.


  1. Well, well done you for being more proactive about this than I've been. However, I'm afraid I remain totally unconvinced that this was Mr Deary's original message that somehow got completely mangled by reporters. Likewise I do not think a debate would be beneficial either as Mr Deary's arguments appear muddled, contradictory and not based on any real experience or research.
    I imagine that it is very tiring to be on the receiving end of 'bitterness and spite', at any age. However, since my notes from a conference speech he gave in 2010 feature some sweeping unpleasant generalisations about others I do not feel particularly sympathetic to his plight and suggest he avoids courting criticism in the future if his ability to dish it out exceeds his ability to take it.

  2. "Many children (like me) found libraries intimidating places full of old stock with old attitudes, wholly inappropriate to children growing up in the 1950s. But just because they were useful in the past doesn’t mean they have a God-given right to exist forever."

    I really wonder if he has been in a library recently, or if he was so repulsed as a child that he never went back? Libraries are so child appropriate now they repulse many adults!

  3. I'm still not sure he as the first clue about the very real benefit of libraries quite beyond providing books for the unwashed masses if he's citing how libraries felt to him 60 years ago!!

  4. This is fascinating, I know what it's like to think I've said one thing to the media and have it come across very, very differently. I still don't know exactly what he's been trying to say, but I'd like to give him some benefit of the doubt. We need lots of different opinions to come up with good solutions, not just lots of people earnestly saying 'SOMETHING needs to happen' and being too afraid to suggest anything.

  5. Why would people not be afraid to suggest solutions when they are so roundly condemned for even suggesting there is a problem?

    His point about the media is quite right, but he also has to accept that his own contributions (including the comments above) could be considered to have been somewhat incoherent. Although this is inevitable. The Prime Minister struggled recently to communicate his ideas on Europe clearly and succinctly, despite having months to formulate them, and a team of script writers to help him.

    We should all try a bit harder to find what is positive in what others say, and build on that, rather than concentrate on disagreeing and criticising.

  6. Are libraries the best way to bring writers and readers together? Surely if there was a better way, someone would have come up with it! And I notice that everyone who criticises libraries never comes up with an alternative. They just imply that the services a library provides are not needed and therefore we can shut them all and save money. Perhaps if they made a few alternative suggestions we would take them more seriously.
    Can libraries still help people today? I guess the answer to that is that they help hundreds of people every day .... just ask those who use libraries.
    Can they do better? Yes, of course .... we're not so egotistical to think that we can't improve what we do. Surely anyone who is a professional will strive to improve both themselves and the service they offer. But that takes time and money, neither of which are available as budgets and hours are cut. If you want to improve what you've already got then you've got to invest in it.
    Forget whast libraries "used" to be like ... they're not like that today (if they were then you would be justified to say "close them"). But, believe me, they are very different and are needed as much as ever!

  7. Smells like bullshit to me. Here are some of the Deary quotes from the original Guardian piece:

    "The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free? ... If I sold the book I'd get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. ... We can't give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. ... This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses."

    Either these quotes were fabricated from whole cloth, or that stuff he told Trevor about "I want all people of all ages to have access to literature" is COMPLETELY different from what he originally said.