I confess to having mixed feelings about libraries. As a kid, growing up on a military base in France, they were my link to the outside world. Every weekend my mother and I would go to the library at the PMQ, and I would sign out an enormous pile of books, usually ten or fifteen and then devour them the following week.
Enid Blyton’s wonderful children’s series is the one I remember the best but I read anything I could get my hands on, including books about elves and giants and gnomes, and the terrifying Grimms Brothers fairytales.
For a lonely little girl, books were my escape into other worlds. I didn’t think they were fictional; I thought they were real, and I remember being around six and leaving little notes in the woods behind the barracks, begging tiny, gossamer-winged fairies to move into my home.
Now that I’m a writer, I have a slightly different view of libraries and a much more realistic view of fairytales. After all, every book of mine that a reader logs out of the library is a book they didn’t buy and as someone still (foolishly) hoping to make a living from writing, that translates into lost revenue. I do get a small amount for the books I’ve registered through the Public Lending Right program, but far less than the royalties I would receive for a sold book, and nothing at all for e-books. And I have to remember to register with the window for doing so each year, or I get nothing at all.
On the other hand, libraries host events; they promote books, and they promote authors. (I’ve just been invited, for example, to a wine and cheese event at the Arnprior Public Library, with John Lawson, which I’m very much looking forward to: those events are always enormous fun.)
I’d like to think that library readers are also book buyers, and that they use the library to check out emerging authors. A Publishers Weekly study suggests that 50 percent of library users will purchase a book by a new author they’ve checked out at the library. I have to confess: I’m a little skeptical of those numbers. Most of the people that I know who use the library, including many of my fans, don’t buy books; they go to the library so they won’t have to.
Demographically, there is a major shift underway. I suspect that boomers, as they age, don’t buy as many books, period. For one thing, they’re downsizing or thinking about it, and books take up room: they’re trying to get rid of the books they already have, not buy more. And more another, books are expensive. For people on fixed pensions, that’s a factor too. For mystery writers, the boomers are our demographic. The biggest purchasers of mysteries are women aged 54-65; those are the same people, for the most part, who are telling me they don’t buy as many books as they used to.
I can remember when people use to browse books at the local indie bookstores. They relied on staff picks when it came time to purchase new authors. But those bookstores are dwindling in numbers as the e-book revolution takes hold. We’ve seen the closures in Ottawa; no city is immune. In that context, it’s the library now that, more than ever, that provides that kind of reader support and information.
That’s how I came into contact with the Arnprior Public Library, in fact: they mentioned on Twitter that The Poisoned Pawn was their staff pick, and after we’d tweeted back and forth, they invited me to visit their library.
(Their event, by the way, will be on Friday, November 1 — I’ll be with the wonderful author, John Lawson, who writes thrillers and espionage spy novels set in the Cold War. I’m really looking forward to meeting him in person, given my recent foray into that genre with my book, Umbrella Man. More details later.)