Monday, 18 February 2019

Library Thoughts: THE BOOK SALE

Two days ago, not unusually, I came home with a book - but I can’t help thinking about the buying of the thing, both happily and sadly.

Image result for colour by victoria finlay 

The particular book, COLOUR by Victoria Finlay, is not the cover shown, but a beautiful Folio Society hardback edition. Inside, there’s a rainbow’s worth of chapter openings, illustrations and photographs, and it is in almost pristine condition. I can’t recall such bright plates in my lost paperback version, so there’s which an added glory to this edition. Besides, it will complement a recent gift, THE SECRET LIVES OF COLOUR by Kassia St Clair - and they might inspire me to get out my paints again.

Now, this book treasure cost me just £3.00. £3.00! I bought it at my local library’s BOOK SALE, which is something that both pleases me and grieves me.

Pleasure, because the library BOOK SALE tables appear in the reception area every few weeks so I try to remember to keep a couple of bags in my pockets whenever I walk into town. My Book Sale trawl will vary according to the titles on the tables, but also on size and weight. Any bagfuls must be light enough for the fifteen-minute-walk home.

I do enjoy the wonderfully random selection of books on display and sometimes more get added while the Book Sale is running – like the COLOUR title, above. If I’m in the library, I might revisit those tables, hoping that beneath the popular diet cookbook or footballer’s dog-eared life-story or may lie as secret gem.

Pricing is very simple: works of Fiction (hardback or paperback) are 50p while Non-Fiction titles are usually £1.00. As the Book Sale runs on, the offerings grow thinner, and bigger bargains are there for the taking: three novels for 50p an/or non-fiction at two per pound coin.

Despite my personal book greed, I do ponder about this generously casual offloading. 
Where does the Book Sale stock come from?
From how many shelves and categories and libraries do the sale books come?
Across the whole of the admin area or the whole of the county?
Do the library staff (and volunteers?) cull the bookshelves just once a month? A season?
Or is it a continual process, with the Book Sale taking place whenever the surplus books and cardboard boxes are full?

And/Or do evil-minded electronic ticket machines secretly register the number of times a book has been taken out and – at some point - reject the barely-read book from the system?

One sad fact is that every single book represents an author in the form of a writer and maybe an illustrator and each book, when borrowed earns that author a small amount of money, which comes from the Public Lending Rights fund, or PLR. In past years, as a children’s author, PLR has kept me afloat - or afloat enough to pay any owed taxes.  

What comes around goes around and out the door again, eh? 

Which leads me to:

First Big PLR Point: the author’s titles do need to be there on the library shelves and available for borrowing. When I gaze at the tables of outcasts, it’s hard to tell if this or that copy is the last one left within the whole of that County’s library stock.

Second Big PLR Point: titles also do need to be there to be borrowed, registered within a system that is linked to PLR. 

Sadly, as far as I understand it, those Community Libraries that are now devolved from their County Council don’t register borrowings for PLR, nor do the various "Little Library" schemes, though I have heard of schemes being discussed. Therefore as more and more poorly-funded councils reduce support for public  libraries (if they even have libraries at at all, ala,) a great many authors will feel the pinch.

Here's where I should add that the amount of PLR that an individual author can earn has a top limit so the Rowlings, Rankins, Walliams and Dan Browns can’t bankrupt the system.

Consequently, while I might feel glad about the book-sale-books I carry home, I do also grieve when I see the BOOK SALE signs go up and all the discarded titles spread out across the tables.

Part of me wonders if all the cash raised goes back into purchasing new books. I do hope so, otherwise – with less money allocated to the library service – the shelves will soon empty.

And particularly poignant are the times when, scanning the children’s and teens booksale tables, I spy cast-off titles by favourite writers and writing friend I know: the books I may have heard about as first imagining, or met in draft form, or worked and written and accepted, and then finally published and reviewed and out there for their readers – and now, and now . . . .

Quickly crossing my fingers, I fling out a hope that there’s still one copy, at least, of that particular title left somewhere in the library system – not only for the PLR, involved, but so that that author’s work is still there to be read.

 There will surely be more library thoughts to come.

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