There is a hole in the loan compensation system, and children’s book authors are the victims of that. That has been the case for years, but now, after previous commitments led to nothing, the authors want the gap to be closed. And that outgoing minister Ingrid van Engelshoven is bringing that about. On Thursday 1 July, makers of children’s literature – authors, illustrators, publishers – handed over a fire letter to Van Engelshoven (Culture, D66), in the Children’s Book Museum in The Hague.
The gap has existed since the loan fee was introduced in 1995. It was then decided that authors would be compensated for each time their book is lent through public libraries. At that time, very few books were lent through schools (less than half a percent), so for practical reasons the school libraries were excluded from the loan fee.
Since then, major cutbacks have been made in libraries, while at the same time concerns have arisen about children’s reading and literacy. Many libraries closed their branch offices in the neighborhoods and housed the youth collection at schools. With that they killed two birds with one stone; they were able to cut costs, and literature was literally brought closer to the children. There is also an official policy program for: The library at school.
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In recent days, writers of children’s books have taken action under the hashtag #takededirection. “When I come to schools to tell about my work, they often proudly show their beautiful new library,” says children’s book writer Annet Schaap (author of the award-winning light) in a message on Facebook. “And I think it’s wonderful, but I always get a bit of a stomachache because if a child borrows a book from school, writers get nothing for it.” The report shows the struggle of many authors of children’s books. “Do I have to get a dime every time a child opens a book? (…) I don’t want to be a moneymaker, and we all think it’s important that children read. But it’s no good. The writers have to be paid.”
The cutbacks by libraries on the loan fee is actually collateral damage, says Arjen Polman, director of the Leenrecht foundation. “Because of budget cuts, they had to come up with something, and there are major concerns about reading in children. This seemed like an ideal solution, but the children’s book makers are the victims of it.”
According to him, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science established a number of years ago that the exception to the lending right for schools is now causing serious damage to the interests of children’s book makers. Every year 8 million euros is paid in loan fees for books by libraries, says Polman. “And authors and publishers lose 1.5 million euros annually through the school libraries. That affects a very limited group, there are only about 300 children’s book authors in the Netherlands.”
Everyone seems to agree that the detriment of authors has to end, but it’s complicated. The schools are under the care of outgoing education minister Arie Slob (CU) – with large education budgets – and the libraries under Van Engelshoven, who has much less to spend. The libraries are also funded by municipalities, which have to cut spending across the board. “And nobody is bothered by this situation, only the authors themselves,” says Polman.
An additional complication is that there are many types of school libraries, in which the public library has more or less responsibility, says Klaas Gravesteijn, director of the Association of Public Libraries. “As long as the school library is fully the responsibility of the public library and also lends books, a loan fee will be paid. But in other cases, the use of books in education falls under the education exemption in copyright.”
Van Engelshoven has promised the House several times that she would look into the situation, but so far without result. She has stated that she would prefer to have a nationwide network of school libraries, which fall under the public libraries and to which the loan fee also applies. “But that requires a huge investment, and the libraries are not the ones who have to cough up that. With us, the money doesn’t splash against the skirting boards either,” says Gravesteijn. That is something that he believes should be sorted out in the upcoming formation.
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The interests are bigger than just the incomes of the authors, he says, important though they are. “It’s not just about culture, reading good and fun books, but also about education; children are less and less literate, and the interest in a population that can read well is invaluable.”