I lost the argument with my wife, so I did abandon any notion of blowing up the local branch. Still, as supportive as I am of reading, it does strike me as unfair to authors that libraries buy one copy of their book and thereby enable dozens to read it.
Legislators in 40 other countries have figured out the answer – something called Public Lending Rights. In the UK each time a book is checked out of the library, the author receives a little more than a dime (no, it doesn’t apply to Americans). You’d think that might bankrupt Her Majesty’s Treasury? No, the PLR are not designed to make sure that J.K. Rowling gets even richer. Authors are limited to payments of 6,600 pounds per year. Not a lot, but that $13,000 (at current exchange rates) could really make a difference to authors just starting out. I'm not suggesting a subsidy here. It's payment for services provided. Writers should be paid when their books are read. That's fairness, not a subsidy.
Now the U.S. runs a huge deficit and adding billions to it would make little sense. No fear. Guess how much our cousins across the Atlantic spend on their program? In 2006 the entire shebang cost 7.6M pounds. What would we spend here? $50M? $75M?
So let’s get this straight. Libraries buy. The national government pays writers a small sum each time a book is checked out. Writers make a little extra money from people reading their books. (Writers making money? Call the police!) A literary terrorist is discouraged from throwing a Molotov cocktail through an open window of their local lending library. A great idea? I think so. And not that expensive either, especially considering the benefits.
Why not write your senators and representatives about it? I’m going to. And crazy as it seems, I think I’ll bring it up with the boards of the author organizations I belong to: MWA, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.