Winter 2019

A great passion

By James McConnachie, Editor

A Canadian writer I know recently told me something that almost made me think Bad Thoughts about libraries. In the US, he informed me, some libraries now hand out a ticket specifying the amount of money their readers have saved as a result of borrowing rather than buying their chosen book.

My friend felt that this was … not entirely collegiate. I tended to agree. And then I started thinking. Why do authors support libraries so passionately? They make our books freely available, after all. How is that different from piracy?

It is, of course. Libraries are acting within the law, for one thing. And authors are compensated. We receive a royalty on the original sale to the library plus, for every loan, roughly 9p via Public Lending Right. And yet… I kept on thinking. We feel aggrieved when a paperback sold by the publisher at a shoddy high-discount rate nets us mere pennies. And the sale of a trade hardback through an independent bookshop might return us 25 times the amount of a PLR loan payment. Why, then, are authors such passionate advocates for libraries?

It might be commercial self-interest. Libraries can convert borrowers into buyers, casual readers into fans, and little library-goers into lifelong book-lovers. But I think the author’s love of the library is greater than that, and more generous. It certainly cuts across political divisions (though alas this does not protect libraries from political cuts). Libraries create both social justice and social mobility. They enable both self-improvement and the amelioration of society at large. They support public culture and mass literacy as well as small businesses – not least the very small businesses that are individual authors.

The fierce quality of authors’ love for libraries is palpable in all three of our articles on this topic in this Winter issue of The Author. A. L. Kennedy, who has recently – and successfully – campaigned against the closure of public libraries in Essex, offers a passionately personal view of their social value. Sean Taylor describes how he and fellow parents renovated, revivified and ultimately rescued their school library. Vaseem Khan likens the relationship between authors and libraries to a marriage – and he gives us some relationship counselling, too.

There is another reason that authors love libraries, of course. Often enough, they are where we first fell in love with books – and love, if it is anything, is generous.

Just, please, don’t print the saving on the ticket.

James McConnachie @j_mcconnachie

Cover image by Sarah Coleman, who has worked for every major UK and US publisher and has over 700 book covers to her name.

Sarah writes: "The main theme is authors using libraries – so note making, research, writing in the quiet, editing – but I also wanted the cover to look like a list of speakers at a library event, and I wanted bright colours and a night-time background to subtly suggest the Christmas season. The masthead is based on a library card, and the type is central, like the cover of a novel. All the spine numbers are from the Dewey Decimal Index – if anyone in a nerdy mood wants to look them up..."

In this issue


  • Palaces for people by A L Kennedy
  • Authors and libraries by Vaseem Khan
  • School library salvage by Sean Taylor


  • Disaster movie by Deborah Moggach
  • Making your mistakes in public by Christina Koning
  • Wreaking havoc with the truth by Elise Valmorbida
  • Don’t blame me by Nicola Solomon


  • The shadow of violence by Jane Casey
  • Bursting the bubble by Francine Toon
  • Three in a marriage by Paul Powell
  • Author yoga by Jill Dawson
  • Takedown by Claire Anker
  • Entangled with Einstein by Andrew Robinson


  • Need to know
  • Book review by Mathew Lyons
  • Ask an author with Tom Stoppard
  • To the Editor
  • Industry news
  • Notices
  • Grub Street by Andrew Taylor