Message from the Chair of the PLR Commission

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I don’t think you can be chair of the Public Lending Right Commission without having not only a love of books, but a love of libraries.

I have that love for plenty of reasons. In fact, one of my first jobs was in the periodicals department of the Acadia University Library in Wolfville Nova Scotia. I also worked for a summer at the library-like Nova Scotia public archives. I remember well trips to the single-storey, white, and square Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine, where we would go to visit my mother’s family for long summer months. One of my father’s Saturday morning errands was a trip to the old Halifax public library, a trip that always meant coming home with a cloth shopping bag full of books. In other words, libraries are woven into my memories and my reading and working world for almost as long as I have been alive.

Why does this Public Lending Right Program matter so much in that equation? Well, in a small way, because it means that librarians and I can be friends. Why? Because I can be absolutely delighted that my books are in libraries and can find their way into the hands of people who might not otherwise be able to afford them, and that, as an author, I don’t suffer financially as a result.

It is an artful solution — and one that we, as Canadian authors, translators, narrators, photographers, and illustrators (not to mention readers), are lucky to have. As creators, more people enjoy our work through the library system than ever before, and every February, we receive a payment to compensate us for the fact that there may be sales that we will never see, because our books are borrowed instead of being bought.

As chair of the PLR Commission, I can tell you that none of that simply happens on its own. First off, there is a small team of dedicated PLR staff who register hundreds of authors and thousands of new books for the program every year. Those same staff answer queries, solve problems, and troubleshoot the program year-round. They manage a truly massive, computerized sampling process across scores of library catalogues in all corners of this country, making every effort to find registered titles in the largest number of collections possible. And, as more than 18,000 cheques go out this year, authors can know that one of those people assembled your packet, putting a payment, registration forms and other essential information into an envelope.

I and my fellow PLR Commission members were able to meet in person for the first time in three years this past December, to oversee the rules and guidelines of the program, explain decisions to writers’ groups and watch for issues that may affect the future — right down to assessing whether artificial intelligence programs converting printed books to audio books should qualify for payment. It is likely that in the not-so-distant future, we will also need to assess how to deal with books written by AI programs that claim to be authors. A lot of thought, time and hard work from the board and the program staff goes into deciding what’s demonstrably fair and even-handed, not only for authors, narrators, translators, and illustrators, but also across the linguistic footprint of Canada, in English, French and Indigenous languages. All of this, with a constant eye to maintaining the program’s viability in the long term.

The past few years have been hard, requiring remote work by staff and remote meetings by the PLR board and executive committee. Some of that is changing — some is not. Even more will change in the future. What is not changing is my delight at a quiet corner chair to read in at a library, and a fair remuneration for creators whose works are shared in those wonderful places.

Russell Wangersky

-Russell Wangersky, Chair, Public Lending Right Commission