Neil Gaiman on Libraries and Books


Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On October 14th Neil Gaiman was the featured speaker at the annual Reading Agency Lecture in London, England.  The forum is

as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries as we explore how to create a reading culture in a radically changed 21st century landscape. [readingagency.org.uk]

As a writer, reader and lover of libraries and all things books (paper, audio, electronic and otherwise) I found myself tearing up and cheering at the screen as I listened to the roughly 26 minute lecture on You Tube. [You can find it on the Reading Agency link, above and in the You Tube link,  below]  And since you read my blog, which is so often about writing and authors (and Gaiman), I thought I’d share some highlights with you for today’s Thought of the Day.

Neil Gaiman (2005)

Neil Gaiman (2005) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gaiman admits his bias at the beginning of the talk. He wants libraries to thrive and he wants kids to learn the love of reading. Specifically he’d like to encourage kids to read fiction, because, he says “Its the gateway  drug to reading.”

It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur…So I’m biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen. [Gaiman’s speech as reprinted in The Guardian.com]

But what he says goes for this side of the pond too. (And elsewhere, I dare say.) To have a thriving society one must have a reading society and that starts early, by teaching our children to read and showing “them that reading is a pleasurable activity.” [Ibid] Finding books they’ll want to read and not being judgemental  about their choices.

Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you…Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant. [Ibid]

Fiction is the first rung on the ladder of literacy. It also builds Empathy.

Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed. [Ibid]

It can change how you view the world and show you new worlds whole cloth. And “Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in.” [Ibid] You’ll want to change it for the better. You’ll BELIEVE it can be better.

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

English: The main reading romm of Graz University Library (19th century) on 2 Sep 2003. Picture taken and uploaded by Dr. Marcus Gossler. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gaiman talks about the need for libraries. Libraries, he says, are about freedom.

  • Freedom to read
  • Freedom of ideas
  • Freedom of communication
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • and INFORMATION

He worries that people “Misunderstand libraries” nowadays. Perhaps they think the institutions are  “antiquated or outdated”

If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. …Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything… Librarians can help these people navigate that world.[Ibid]

A library is a people’s place, a safe haven where anyone can come to find information, gather for a meeting, and, yes, READ — something Gaiman thinks people will continue to do with actual paper books (along with their audio and electronic counterparts).

…as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me…  a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. [Ibid]

He closed his talk by quoting Albert Einstein. When Einstein …

was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. [Ibid]

Here’s the You Tube video so you can hear Gaiman in his own words….

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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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