Maria Mölder: Free use of libraries a basic human right

Vormsi library.
Vormsi library. Source: Lisete Velt/Klassikaraadio

We have to admit that not everyone can afford to buy books (or will in the near future) and that the use of public libraries is still an integral aspect of education in society, and hence a constitutionally protected human right. The introduction of fees for library lending as a means of solving the issue of compensation is inconceivable, writes Maria Mölder in a comment originally published in Estonian in Sirp magazine last Friday.

In some ways, I am embarrassed to take up any space at all on a topic like this, but when an unconstitutional idea is put forward, someone has to speak up.

Katrin Pauts, a renowned author and newly appointed advisor to the Center Party's parliamentary faction in the Riigikogu, has recently recommended (link in Estonian) in the daily Õhtuleht that library borrowing be subject to a fee — in order to solve the issue of nearly absent loan compensation for authors.

It is understandable that the author's lending compensations are shamefully low and that the literary community needs to find answers to these issues, as has been regularly discussed in the Sirp magazine, but this proposed solution is absurd. Taxpayers' money is already being used to cover the costs of library maintenance and related expenses.

Many taxpayers who read are willing to pay more to keep authors writing and publishers publishing: despite recent rumors of another price hike, they will continue to purchase books whenever they can afford to do so.

Unfortunately, we have to admit that not everyone can afford to buy books (or will soon be able to) and that the use of public libraries is still a vital part of education in society and, therefore, a constitutionally protected human right.

While efforts are made to guarantee that people read high-quality literature and that state facilities are properly structured and functional, public access to knowledge should not be restricted, even despite the widespread availability of the internet.

The internet is unsuitable as a substitute since it contains countless temptations, half-truths and outright misinformation.

I hopefully await the adoption of the new Public Libraries Act, which has not been substantially revised since 2007. Among other "little things" the issue of lending compensation for lending from a collection as well as lending an e-book should be looked into.

This is important, given that the Tallinn Central Library's Ellu system will be merged with the National Library's new e-book digital lending environment, which is set to launch at the start of next year.

A separate question is whether authors, publishers and others in the industry could get on the same page so that the new digital environment could indeed offer a wider range of Estonian-language e-books and audiobooks.

Fortunately, discussions are currently underway at the Ministry of Culture, but it's a real pity that things are moving so slowly at a time when prices are soaring. Despite the media outburst over this year's lending compensation sums, Piret Hartman, the new minister of culture (Reform), has not prioritized amending the Public Libraries Act.

Who gains from the commercialization of public libraries? Certainly, it would be much easier for political parties to manipulate poorly educated people than lifelong learners who read both fiction and nonfiction.

Would the loan rate at a paid library be comparable to the current rate? I doubt it. The parents of children borrowing necessary school books would be obliged to pay, but the majority of those who have read for pleasure thus far would seek alternative pass-time activities.

It is unfortunate that one of my favorite authors, Urmas Vadi, said during the reception in the Rose Garden of the Presidential Palace in Kadriorg in honor of the Day of Restoration of Independence that not everyone needs to read. Perhaps it's not an immediate necessity and you can live without it, but how?

It is difficult to communicate intelligently with people who have only studied books against their will in school. The desire for simple solutions and preparedness to accept promises of such solutions at face value is greater in people who read little

Having our country is expensive in many ways, but if we want it to last and flourish to be spiritually rich, we should invest in it. Our state's foundation is our language, education and culture practiced in it.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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