Emerald Group Publishing Limited
It’s something of a suprise to be reminded of PLR again now that the scheme is as familiar a component of public libraries’ daily routines as date stamping. Perhaps it’s a twinge of guilt that is prompted by this slim volume of essays marking the twentieth anniversary of the Public Lending Right Act of 1979 which for the first time rewarded authors for the free lending of their works by public libraries. Guilt because the library profession through its official voice, the Library Association, was hostile to the scheme – on what seemed reasonable grounds at the time, but which in fact concealed a prejudice.
Now, however, the dust of battle has long settled, and the account here recorded is a many‐faceted story retailed by an array of literary and political stars: 13 essays, all brief, by Michael Holroyd, Maureen Duffy, William Craig, Francis King, Joyce Marlow, Antonia Fraser, Lord Jenkins of Putney, Michael Foot, Lord St John of Fawsley (aka Norman St John Stevas, still occasionally seen performing on TV), John Sumsion, David Whitaker, Philip Ziegler, and Hilary Mantel. The one name significantly absent is of course Brigid Brophy, the original mind behind the campaign, whose sad death in 1995 robbed this publication of what would have been a trenchant contribution.
A question which occurs to a reviewer is: was not one humbled, crushed, humiliated librarian asked to offer his or her insights into the struggle? Hugh Barry, then Secretary of the LA, was our principal protagonist, and he of course is beyond recall, but it’s a shame we don’t have a niche in this creation. It might be relevant to quote instead from an interview the present reviewer conducted with Brophy in 1975, when the battle was at its height. Asked what was her opinion of him she said,
At first of course he was the dragon, our relentless opponent in the struggle for Public Lending Right; then suddenly he summoned us in the Writers’ Action Group to go and see him in his lair, and we found him a charming, a consciously charming and witty Irishman playing on his Irish charm. When he found that WAG was insisting on central funding as the source of finance for PLR and that libraries’ book funds would not be affected, Hugh Barry relented, and we hoped that the whole of the Library Association had relented – in that we turned out to be wrong. Still … we retained very amusing and happy memories of Hugh Barry himself.
A handsome tribute from the lioness.
Michael Holroyd and Maureen Duffy are the hardest‐hitting among the contributors – justifiably vigorous polemics; Antonia Fraser is surprisingly domestic; Michael Foot and Lord Jenkins of Putney lift the curtain on the Parliamentary machinations, and the other writers supply vividly personal reminiscences of the ebb and flow of sentiment, ambition, and eventual triumph. The result today is that 30,000 authors are now registered, around 400 public libraries participate, about £4 million is distributed annually to authors, and 15 countries now operate a PLR system. An intriguing detail: Douglas Hurd, a Minister and a thriller writer, frigidly declined to support the Bill, and was one of the first authors to register.
This neatly produced paperback should be required reading for all librarians, of the previous and of the present generation, if only for the marvellous frontispiece portrait of Brigid Brophy. Copies are obtainable from the Registrar of Public Lending Right, Bayheath House, Prince Regent Street, Stockton‐on‐Tees TS18 1DF.