Sunday 19 February 2012

Pick A Book, Any Book! by Pippa Gooodhart

The figures have just been published on library book borrowings for the year 2010-2011. Adult borrowing is down, but children's book borrowing is up. The total number of borrowings of children's books for that year was a staggering 96.8 million ... and that's in a country with a total population of about 60 million! That is surely encouraging. And the detail of the books and authors borrowed is, I think, equally surprising and positive. People borrow books very differently from the way that they buy books. Take a look at the list of the top four hundred most borrowed authors in that year -

Of the top fifty most borrowed authors for both adults and children, I reckon that eleven of them are primarily picture book authors. Our wonderful children's Laureate and creator of the classic and much-loved Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson, comes at no surprise as number 7 on the list, but to find Eric Hill (number 28) of Spot the Dog fame so far ahead of Stephen King (100), Jeffrey Archer (101), J K Rowling (102) or Stephanie Meyer (121) surely gladens the picture book enthusiast's heart!

Why do picture books get borrowed so much? Because, I think, they are sometimes seen as 'not many words for all that money', and perceived as the kind of books that children will grow out of. Parents and children may be unsure which will be those books which will absolutely hit the spot with an individual child; which will be those magical ones which get asked for again and again and again. Ideal, then, to borrow lots of books for free, and then perhaps buy the ones which prove themselves to be those key childhood books which should stay with us, both internally and externally, forever.

The very best thing about borrowing picture books from libraries is that it puts the power of choice into the hands of very young children. There is no cost to borrowing generous numbers of books which will only have to be housed temporarily, so parents let their children borrow books freely, letting them choose books which those adults might not be inclined to buy ... because "That one is too old/too young for you", "There's nothing to that one, so it's not worth the money", or (I saw this a lot when I worked in a children's bookshop) even, "You've already got that one at home!" Libraries give children the freedom to learn how to choose, practising that vital art of selection on collections of thousands of pounds worth of wonderful books. And if they make 'mistakes', those mistakes don't matter. Lucky children! Isn't it all rather wonderful?!

Julia Donaldson is going to guest blog on this site next month, but I'm proud to say that two of us regular Picture Book Den bloggers also appear along with Julia in that top 400 list. Malachy Doyle and I both make it to positions in the three hundreds, rather pleasingly above such names as Philip Pullman, Jane Austen, Rev Awdry, Jamie Oliver and Katy Price (now there's an interesting party to be had!). High five, Malachy!


Rosalind Adam said...

No surprise to see you, Pippa, and Malachy up there in that list. Libraries are amazing resources. I do hope we don't lose any more of them and I hadn't realised just how many picture books feature in the loans. Like you say, lucky children!

malachy doyle said...

It's funny, too, how the ones that do best in libraries are often different from the ones that sell best. Maybe, as you say, because children themselves are more likely to be involved in the choosing. I find it's my younger, 'sweeter', picture books that get borrowed the most. Can't seem to catch you though, Pippa.

Ann Turnbull said...

This is such an interesting post - and cheering too! When they were little my children used to choose armfuls of picture books at the library; but even when they got older and began reading novels, right up to about the age of eleven, I noticed that they still gravitated towards the picture book area, choosing old favourites but also including Tintin and Asterix. They have both grown up into avid readers.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thanks for the flattery, Rosalind!
And, Malachy, I supsect you're actually ahead of me in the picture book borrowing stakes. It's just I have the Winnie the Witch storybooks to bump me up the ratings.
I'm with you, Ann, in finding those statitstics cheering. And I'm certainly still drawn to the picture book section of the library, even though I'm, ahem, well, distinctly older than the 'target audience'!

Paeony Lewis said...

I often smile at how children and adults are attracted by different picture book covers in libraries. Children seem to gravitate towards cute happy animals. Sophisticated covers attract the adults and they sometimes read a bit of the story too. Happily, most libraries (those still open) have a big enough stock to keep parents AND children happy!

Alison Boyle said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the freedom for children to choose which books they want in a library.

And as you say, good picturebooks will hold appeal for adults too.

A lovely blog read, thanks.