A heated debate about the role of libraries in supporting the publishing industry has broken out at the Inpress Publishing Festival, with one publisher alleging libraries had "completely betrayed" the sector.
Nick Kent, the m.d of publisher Peter Owen, said libraries had a duty to support independent publishers but many had stopped spending money on books.
"I do think the library service has completely betrayed the publishing trade in Great Britain, particularly the shrinking independent sector," Kent said, in a session about the relationship between publishers and the library network held at the event on Friday (29th January). "It’s the duty of a civilised country to support publishers in bringing out works and there used to be a regular library sale for all new fiction in hardback. And I’m sure that was a long time ago now… but it did exist. And it’s important. Something needs to be re-established in that area."
However, other delegates defended libraries, suggesting that criticism should instead be directed at the government for reducing local councils' budgets which had in turn led to funding being axed for many local services.
Roz Goddard, poet and project manger of the West Midland Readers’ Network, a non-profit organisation that co-ordinates events and activities for readers, said: "You can address some of your comments to David Cameron. When you consider, for example, that Birmingham as a library authority hasn’t got a book budget - that is directly related to government funding. It’s not that the library service want to 'betray' publishers or readers. They simply are at the mercy at this terrible austerity that’s being imposed on them."
Another contributor, Ian Grant, non-executive chairman of Inpress, assessed the problem was that there is "no longer any communal responsibility for the cultural breadth of the country".
"It’s hard to make this situation worse but it’s also hard to make it better,” he said.
The Inpress Publishing Festival, organised by sales and distribution company Inpress "to celebrate the inventiveness, creativity, diversity and agility of independent publishers, and all those working in the industry", also debated using library networks to better reach readers.
The audience generally agreed that engagement with libraries typically increased sales in the “very long term” and engendered a “deeper, wider, more sustainable link with communities".
Emma Wright, publisher and founder of independent publisher The Emma Press, recently embarked on a 21-date poetry tour partnering with libraries, galleries and museums.
She said: “Engagement with libraries needs to be less business-central and more a tool to encourage people to read. It’s a long term game.”
Meanwhile, Katy Mendham, programme co-ordinator at the Reading Agency, said that libraries were “accessible” and “welcome places” which help to “get authors out there and their names recognised.”