The library, the child, the book creator: ELR and its role in the story cycle

By Tania McCartney

Author Tania McCartney writes about why children need books, and how the Educational Lending Right program permits the growth of the Australian publishing and writing industries.

When I was very small, books were my world.

When I got bigger, they were still my world — only perhaps a little richer, more nuanced and complex. 

Now that I’m biggest of all, books are not only the richness, nuance and complexity that comes with the sheer enjoyment of reading — they are my every day and my livelihood. They are who I am.

Anyone (and children know this concept well) can enthusiastically throw themselves into their greatest passions and experience that remarkable curiosity where acres of time compress into minutes.

But for writers and illustrators of children’s works, most especially in a book market as small as Australia, career sustenance is fraught. The desire to ditch our passion for better paid work might consume us if we weren’t sustained by what drives us. 

Tania McCartney

And what drives us is children.

Literacy. Art appreciation. Visual literacy. Self-awareness, compassion, growth, aesthetic development. Entertainment, education, enlightenment, enchantment. And of course, the concept of story, which is so deeply essential to the human condition.

This is what books do for children. And this is what the people who create books want for children; this is why we do it.

When children’s book creators talk about their work, they often focus on the creative process. They obsess, worry and pine over it, and much on this is shared and spoken. What’s not spoken about so much, is survival.

If book creators cannot create books, there will be none. Revenue from book creation is notoriously tiny, and even a bestselling book can sit snugly inside the minimum tax bracket.

On top of that, to carve out a slice of our tiny kids’ market, books are sometimes rushed or suffer budget cuts. All books have value, of course, but the works that take time, focus and dedication are the ones that have the power to truly impact children’s lives. Creators need time and a wage to produce such works.

Librarians are an extraordinary breed of people, as are school teachers, because they totally ‘get it’. They daily cast a literary spell over kids that changes the way they think and feel about themselves and their place in the world.

Creators create. Children consume. Without libraries, children’s books would never receive the kind of exposure and sharing required to keep the dance of creation and consumption alive. When librarians partake in ELR surveys, book creators and publishers receive one of the most well-appreciated payments of their year. And, more often than not, this provides the funds for them to nut out the next book.

I was fortunate to have books at home when I was a child, and my children are similarly lucky. But many children have the barest handful of books at home, and some have none. It doesn’t even compute. I cling to the knowledge that school librarians and teachers are on a mission to bring magic into the life of every child through the pages of a book.

ELR surveys are a crucial step in the support of book creators and the children who devour their work. It is a vital, endless cycle that connects us all in the literacy process. Creators love creating, librarians love sharing, kids love consuming. And perhaps no one more than teachers and librarians can truly appreciate the richness, nuance and complexity of this harmonious dance.

Australia has one of the few ELR programs in the world. I always knew we were a bright country. Let’s keep shining.

Image credit
Photo by Martin Ollman

The Educational Lending Right (ELR) scheme is an Australian Government cultural program that makes payments to eligible Australian creators and publishers.

Every year, SCIS works closely with the Department of Communications and the Arts to conduct a survey of book holdings in Australian school libraries. This is the ELR School Library Survey.

The survey produces an estimate of book holdings in Australian schools, which, combined with the results from TAFE and university libraries, is then used to recompense registered book creators for having their work freely accessible in educational libraries. There is also a similar scheme operating for public lending libraries.

We have commenced inviting 1,000 Australian schools to participate in this year’s ELR survey. Schools are randomly selected and must have enrolments of over 100 and an LMS that is compatible with ELR survey software.

This survey does not ask you to complete a questionnaire; rather, participants are asked to run an automated survey within their LMS that extracts a count of their total book holdings, and can be completed in just a few clicks.

We require a minimum of 300 schools to participate, so if your school has been selected, please spare five minutes to support our Australian book creators.

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney

Author, illustrator, editor