26 March 2017

Gaiman: "our future depends on libraries and reading"

Excerpts from a superb extended interview in The Guardian:
I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things...

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading... it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything...

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different...

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people... You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed...

You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different...

...libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value...

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them...

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.
I had to refrain from inserting even more text from this insightful commentary.  I encourage you to read (and share) the fulltext here.

Photo credit: Robin Mayes.


  1. I love this, and agree completely. I had rheumatic fever when I was six, and had to stay in bed from the end of October to the beginning of May. I read. I started out with easy books I could read with no problem, but ran out of them soon. I went on to books that had been read to me, and by May I had read Andersen's Fairy Tales, The Blue Fairy Book, Treasure Island, and many others. My body stayed in bed, but my mind went everywhere. I still read all the time, and watch very little television. My daughters are all readers, as are most of my grandchildren. I have a Kindle, but I alternate ebooks with library books. I love the feel f a book in my hands. I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

  2. He spoke at the opening of our Salt Lake City Public Library, with unseemly lust, much approved of and appreciated, so I'm not surprized. Books are, and have always been, humanity's salvation.

  3. Once I got hooked on being able to immediately jump between articles and reference materials with a simple gesture of my hand (and learned that public books host bedbugs), I stopped going to the brick and mortar libraries.

    The e-library soon will be able to store more books in my pocket than my local local library and will still have the internet to pull down anything else without leaving my house. The e-library is arguably more accessible, shareable, and especially after a natural disaster - immediately more replaceable.

    While I admire the role librarians play in protecting our access to information (I lived in Texas...), I would much rather pay taxes towards providing Everyone with a durable e-library of their own.

  4. Our family is in the library on a weekly basis. It is a continuation of a habit from my childhood. At our local library, we were limited to ten books per card. My three siblings and I each had a card and my mom had one. We would come out to the station wagon with 50 books every time. I don't mind my children reading fiction. I just don't want them to read ONLY fiction. I tell them that it is like a candy bar or bowl of ice cream for their mind. A candy bar or bowl of ice cream is a delicious treat, but shouldn't be the main part of our diet. Fiction, for me, is somewhat like dessert for the mind. I insist that they read biographies, history books, etc., along with the fiction.


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