Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Last year, Australian children’s authors joined many other Australian book-lovers to fight against the proposed lifting of Restrictions against Parallel Importation of books into this country. That fight was successful.

But now, there is another threat to Australian children’s books. And this is worse – because it comes from within and it is insidious.

Children’s books are gradually disappearing from the shelves of school libraries. Why? Because those libraries are in crisis. They are disappearing, along with trained Teacher-Librarians.

It has been going for over a decade. Education Departments of State and Federal Governments of both political persuasions have allowed the whittling away of resources, staffing and funding for over ten years.

Many school libraries have become Resource Centres full of computers and set up for teaching with desks, chairs and whiteboards – space that was once shelving for fiction collections.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I use computers daily for research, communication and contact. Of course there is a place for computer research and writing in school libraries, but not at the expense of losing story books.

Some school principals say books can be bought as e-books so they throw out their collections. But there are many thousands of brilliantly-written books that cannot be replaced as e-books. Children will never have the chance to thrill, enjoy and learn about life from those fictional characters.

School-librarians are trained to teach and enthuse children about books and about reading. They are the ones who read book reviews. They know when great books are published. They have the skills to enthuse children and guide them in their book choice.

I have great respect for the trials of teaching Phys Ed, and yes, I know I am generalising here – but would your school’s Phys Ed teacher be comfortable recommending a book to your 15 year-old? I know our school’s PE teacher would have run a mile – the other way. But I have heard on the education grapevine that teachers are being seconded from other areas to cover the deliberate loss of the Teacher/Librarian.

Yes, I am a children’s author and yes, I have an ulterior motive in pushing this particular barrow. I love Australian children’s books to death, and I will do anything I can to promote them to Australian children, including my own (books, that is).

We authors owe a huge gratitude to Australian school librarians and public librarians – they are like the forward troops in any battle, the foot soldiers, and maybe the engineers. They prepare the ground by encouraging and enthusing children to read. They invite children’s authors into their schools to talk to children. They use their depleting funds to buy books. They have the skills to integrate literature into every subject area, even Phys. Ed.

Authors benefit from this, by book sales and from paid school and library visits. I encourage Australian children’s authors to write to their State and Federal Government’s Member of Parliament and their Education Ministers about the ever-decreasing funds for school libraries; and to question the lack of school Teacher-Librarians.

Support organisations like Friends of The Hub – Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia. This site provides sample protest letters which you can adjust to suit your State.

My home town, Brisbane, will host the INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL LIBRARY CONFERENCE on 27th September – 1st October 2010.  It is jointly hosted by the School Library Association of Queensland and the International Association of School Librarianship. Brisbane children’s authors will also be involved.


Poster boy grows up….

You may have noticed on this blog and also on the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS blog, the frequent use of a campaign poster of a toddler reading a book … it was our boy, David at 12 months or so.

Poster for the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS campaign

Just had to share a recent photo of David. Now he is 22 and this week he graduated from University of Queensland with a Science degree (majoring in Physics).

His family and friends are of course, proud of David and his achievements over the past three years, and wish him well for his Honours year in 2010.

David in 2009



David & Sheryl 1 crop vig1
Aussie children's books rule!

Just like no one likes a sore loser, no one likes a cocky winner! But, allow me the relief a good shout of victory brings.

We have won our battle against Parallel Importation of Books in a resounding victory – this morning the ALP Cabinet and Caucus decided not to follow the Productivity Commission’s recommendations to scrap them.

Many in the publishing industry have been part of this battle, and we at the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS blog campaign have been bouyed by the support we’ve received from Australian book lovers, including teachers, librarians, parents and grandparents.

The SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS campaign began last June in reaction to the pro-Parallel Imports push by some booksellers and the Productivity Commission.

We were mainly children’s authors in the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS blog group and our main concern was the future threat to the integrity of Australian children’s books and their authors and illustrators. See previous blogs on this site.

So, we celebrate our victory for young Australian readers of the future, and hopefully also those from other countries who will have the chance to read authentic Australian books.

Authors can breathe easier, for a while at least, until the next push comes from those who want to change the status quo. There are still many issues the Australian publishing industry must face in the future – like e-bo0ks, and further globalisation. Hopefully, sense will prevail as the industry tackles those challenges.

We long for the day when authors, artists and musicians are valued in this country and we don’t have to rely on royalties of 10% per book (if we’re lucky). Maybe we need what the French are doing?

Now we at Saving Aussie Books campaign can return to stories that need to be written … those indignant manuscripts that sat in files while the battle raged.

NOTE: I’ve talked to lots of people outside the publishing industry about this issue over the past year, and do you know what outraged them the most about the parallel import threat?  It was the threat of Australian children’s books being sold in this country from overseas publishers where  Mum had been changed to Mom .


The anti-Parallel Import Petition goes to Canberra

The total signatures on the Saving Aussie Books Petition was almost 3700 and when combined with the signatures gathered in MP Steve Gibbon’s printing town of Maryborough and those from the Australian Publishing Association, the total is approximately 10,000.

The signatures on the Saving Aussie Books Petition were gathered honestly – not with ready-made online loyalty customers who weren’t told of the negative effects of Parallel Imports – but with hard work, with patience, with shoe-leather and with support from members of the community.

Those signing the Petition have ranged from big-name authors like JM Coetzee, Tara Moss, Kate Grenville and Lian Tanner to a group of high-school writers, from professionals to tradesmen and shopkeepers, from teachers, librarians and parents, from the young and the elderly in nursing homes. The one thing in common with all has been the love of reading and in particular, reading Australian-authored books.

NOTE: The ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ (the main force for allowing Parallel Imports of Books) has tried to publicly damage my integrity by sending out a Press Release accusing me of  having  “an advertisement on her own website for an overseas online bookseller selling her own children’s book for 13% less than in Australia.’

It continues: “It’s hypocrisy to claim territorial copyright while you’re promoting your own book through overseas retailers to Australians and putting Australian bookselling jobs at risk.”

For the record I have NEVER allowed advertising on my websites for anything.

The alleged ad in question could come from the fact that I use who apparently put an occasional ad for first time visitors to a site, and over which we ordinary punters (who don’t buy the one) have no control.

To assert, as the Coalition for Cheaper Books has done, that I am promoting my own book through overseas retailers is either, at best showing ignorance of how free blogsites like work or at worst, choosing to derail the Saving Aussie Books campaign by questioning my integrity.

The people behind the Saving Aussie Books campaign are passionate about Australian books, and especially Australian children’s books. We want the kids of the future to be able to enjoy real Australian books, not facsimiles of them in North American format.

Note to Mr Grover and Mr Carr: With our excellent public library system right across this country, there is no excuse for any child not to have access to books – the only barrier is ignorance of that fact.

The Petition in Canberra
The Petition in Canberra


on fireWhen Professor Allan Fels appeared on a panel at the Open Forum on PIs at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Saturday night and said, ‘Authors are being whipped up into frenzy by their publishers,’ I knew then this man (who is among the group calling for the abolition of Restrictions on PIs) has no real understanding of the issues at all. He appears to view it only from the perspective of a free-marketeer. I wonder if he’ll take notice of what an author says.

An open letter to Professor Allan Fels:

Dear Allan Fels,

Your main claim to fame was your work with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission where you won approval as ‘Australia’s best-known cartel buster and the scourge of price-fixing business and anti-competitive behaviour’. So, being the reasonable person I am, I understand your reasoning behind this apparent enthusiasm for Parallel Imports. But that doesn’t mean you are correct.

You also stated recently that: ‘The claim about dumping (of imports) is just fanciful. The vast majority of Australian books are for the Australian market – they’re not sold overseas. And if you were just saying there’s going to be a substitution of American for UK cultural influences, so what?’

If you had only taken your argument a step further you’d have to admit that if Australian publishers end up cutting back on future publishing programs because of imported books, they’ll restrict their intake of new untried authors and their support of developing authors, and future Australian books, plus retrench Australian workers. Surely not something even you would condone in your relentless seeking of an open-market in everything.

As to your last sentence above? I’ll leave that for others to judge.

There’s another aspect I can’t get my brain around, Professor Fels – you’re also a patron of Creativity Australia, a not-for-profit organization partnering with business, education, health, community and charity groups, government and philanthropists.

Their creed states:
“There has never been a more important time to develop those human attributes which set us apart from machines. We are entering a Creative/Conceptual Age and we require targeted creative programs and leadership engaging with the right side of the brain. By encouraging greater innovation and creativity, Creativity Australia will provide a new and exciting path to personal wellbeing, acceptance, social inclusion and happier and more productive members of our great Australian community.”

The organisation quotes from the work of Lotte Darsø – researcher, consultant, lecturer and author. Her main areas of interest are creativity and innovation as well as Arts-in-Business. “A profound change is taking place in the organisations that are seriously concerned about the future of business and society as they are realising that ‘rational man’ is giving way to ‘artful human’.

Maybe someone should remind you that creating stories is linked to being ‘artful humans’ too. Ah, well, one should never give up hope.

But back to the ‘frenzied authors’ comment – let me assure you, Mr Fels, we are not being pushed by publishers to take our stand against Parallel Imports. We believe in, and are delighted by the quality books being produced in this country. We are immensely proud of what we can offer readers of every nation not just our own. We are authors who don’t give up on what we believe in.

Yours sincerely
Sheryl Gwyther
Writer of children’s books –
Enthusiastic member of SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS