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Supporting Australian book creators
According to an article published by The Conversation last year, the average Australian author receives an annual income of AUD$12,900 (Zwar, Throsby & Longden 2015). One-fifth of authors are able to call writing their full-time profession, but most rely on other paid work or their partner’s income to pay the bills. The same article indicated that 69.7% of literary fiction authors, and 58.6% of children’s book authors, received insufficient income from their writing, hindering their ability to continue producing creative works.
You may wonder how this impacts you as a library professional. Look at your library collection: is it filled with books that intrigue, challenge, and move its readers? Books that help readers to understand the hopes and fears of people across the globe? Is there anything we can do to support the people behind these books?
Indeed, there is. In Australia, we are lucky to have government-funded Lending Right programs that see eligible book creators and publishers compensated for having their work held in libraries. Look at those copies of The 65-Storey Treehouse or Tomorrow, When the War Began sitting on your library shelves: how many students have read these books? Students are able to read books like these, building their literary repertoire — and the wealth of knowledge that comes with it — without stepping into a bookstore because libraries provide access; this is what makes us stand tall as librarians. And this is why ELR is the modest yet necessary cornerstone of educational libraries in Australia.
The ELR School Library Survey is managed by SCIS on behalf of the Department of Communications and the Arts. Every year in Term 4, we invite over 600 schools around Australia to participate in the ELR survey, calling on library staff to run an automated book-count report in their library management system.
This data is matched against a list of works by eligible authors, publishers, and other book creators who have registered with ELR; it is then collated at a national level, and the estimates are used to determine payments. To ensure the estimates are sufficient, at least 300 schools are required to participate.
The Educational Lending Right program keeps the production cycle flowing: it allows authors and publishers to continue to create books, which, in turn, allows students to continue to access them. Keep an eye out to see if you're invited to participate in this year's ELR survey.
What Australian author James Moloney says about ELR
I can put the importance of Educational Lending Right into very simple terms: without it, I would struggle to keep writing. It’s not just me, either. Recently I drove a fellow children’s writer to an event in Brisbane and she said the same thing: ‘Without Lending Rights, I wouldn’t survive at the moment’.
Authors have good years and bad years, but ELR is always there for us, which is why we are so grateful to the library staff who take the time to facilitate the survey. What we want most is to be read, and school libraries mean that more children and teenagers have access to our books than ever before.
The down side is that one copy in a library, which can bring delight to dozens, even hundreds, returns only a small royalty to us, the creators, even though so many have enjoyed the fruits of our imagination and hard work.
The ELR scheme is a just and necessary — and let me say, highly efficient — way of balancing the needs of reader and writer. Both get to go on doing what they love: reading for the former and writing for the latter, so that the joyful circle rolls on to the enrichment of every Australian.
- Zwar, J, Throbsy, D & Longden, T 2015, ‘How to read the Australian book industry in a time of change’, The Conversation 14 October, https://theconversation.com/how-to-read-the-australian-book-industry-in-a-time-of-change-49044