Lost in Library

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How you can support queer authors and your local library

The overturning of the Cumberland City Council book ban will likely embolden others to confront librarians over books they deem inappropriate — often queer books. Author Abra Pressler shows us how we can support librarians and queer books in meaningful ways.

The Cumberland City Council have overturned their decision to ban books about same-sex marriage from the eight public libraries within their jurisdiction. The ban, which was criticised heavily by the public and could have led to the loss of state funding, was cited as necessary due to the community being ‘very religious… and family-orientated’. Ironically, the book in question is about families.

Over 50,000 people signed the petition for the ban to be overturned but the huge amount of publicity will likely embolden others to confront librarians and demand books be taken off the shelves. As we see from the US, book bans are highly organised, and many books targeted are queer stories written by queer authors.

The good news — it’s very easy to support queer authors and libraries in real, meaningful ways.

Accessing and using public library resources is the best way to support librarians. Many adults do not have a library card — I didn’t until I was 23, and a friend of mine recently renewed her library card after not going since university. While you can go into a local branch to register, many city libraries will allow you to register online and send a photo of your ID.

Many libraries have vast collections of free ebooks and audiobooks, via a BorrowBox or Libby account. Often you’ll find the hot new releases there, ready to read, in addition to magazines like The Australian Women’s Weekly, WHO and my personal favourite, Designer Knitting. Most non-Kindle e-readers are compatible with the BorrowBox and Libby apps, as are phones, iPads and other tablets. 

We can also advocate for the library profession by doing away with harmful stereotypes of ‘women who shoosh’ and understanding the joys, challenges and difficulties of a very complex and technical job. Subscribing to your local library newsletter, attending events and promoting libraries on Library Lovers Day (14 February) are also ways to support.

When it comes to the queer stories at the centre of these bans, libraries help authors in many ways. 

Last year, I published a queer romance for adults. When I told my friends my Public Lending Rights (PLR) cheque came in, they were surprised to hear that authors make money every time someone checks out a book. They knew libraries supported authors, but assumed it was only through local events and workshops or recommending books.

The Australian government pays authors, illustrators, editors, translators and compilers for the ‘loss of income through the free use of multiple use of their work in Australian public libraries and educational lending libraries (ELR)’ via the PLR/ELR scheme.

This payment has recently been rolled out to include e-books and audiobooks loaned through apps like BorrowBox and Libby. And since the average author makes less than $20,000 annually, this money goes a long way. Often, payments through the PLR/ELR scheme persist when book sales decline and provide income for several years after publication.

Reading books through your local library can help other readers too — data on loans raises the profile of books, leading to the title being more prominently displayed on the shelf where it may be picked up by a new reader.

Now, more than ever, we need to advocate for the importance of libraries. We need to respect librarians for the complex profession it is, and we need to show up for queer authors by loaning, sharing and talking about their books — and we can do it without hurting our hip pocket.

This weekend, go to your local library. Become a member, loan a queer book and recommend books you love to your family, your friends, your colleagues and on your socials.