In Safe Hands: Public Lending Right Looks to the Future

As PLR makes its annual payments to writers, we bring you the latest from its Stockton-on-Tees HQ, and talk to its new Head of Policy and Advocacy, Julia Eccleshare

As this issue of ALCS News is published, thousands of authors in the UK and abroad will be in receipt of their latest PLR  payments. It’s the most welcome sign yet that business continues as usual at the Stockton-based organisation which officially became part of the British Library last autumn.

The British Library is proud and delighted to have taken on the responsibility for Public Lending Right…”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library  is keen to reassure writers that PLR will continue to support writers as it has done for over three decades, while also looking to the future: “The British Library is proud and delighted to have taken on the responsibility for Public Lending Right…Authors value its efficient and approachable service and feel secure knowing that its staff will help them get all the paperwork straight. Having retained the Stockton office and the experienced team that runs it, the British Library is determined that those qualities remain at the heart of the service [and]…with its growing links with the public library service [the British Library] is well-positioned to highlight and promote the vital benefits that libraries bring, which we hope will in turn, benefit all those registered for PLR.”

Now charged with promoting both PLR, and the wider vital benefits of libraries is Julia Eccleshare, PLR’s new Head of Policy and Advocacy. Four months into her two-day a week role, Eccleshare has been concentrating on getting to know PLR, and fact-finding in the wider library and writing worlds. “The first job has to be to find out more about what everyone else knows about PLR, about the library sector, and about copyright and how we protect it. I’ve also been finding my way around the unbelievably detailed record-keeping that PLR has. What they have in terms of information is absolutely astonishing. It’s been fascinating to see what different libraries are saying about reader habits.”

“Because I believe passionately in public libraries. I can’t think of anything I feel more strongly about, and I also feel very strongly about authors being properly paid.”

Eccleshare is already well-known, particularly to children’s writers – as the children’s books editor of The Guardian  (she is also an academic, author, reviewer and a regular chair of events). So why did she decide to take on this new role? “Because I believe passionately in public libraries. I can’t think of anything I feel more strongly about, and I also feel very strongly about authors being properly paid. I’ve spent my whole life with people who write, and if you’ve worked in children’s books as I have, you see children’s writers being taken very much for granted, as doing what they do for the love of helping children read. And yet children’s writers, like all writers, need to earn a living. If we want to have creative people in this country, we have to support them. And it seems to me that the role of protecting authors’ interests, particularly with the coming of audiobooks, and now e-books is vital.”

Having arrived just as the integration of PLR  operations into those of the British Library was concluded, Eccleshare is full of praise for how it was handled. “Jim Parker was a wonderful head of PLR and he had great care not only for the authors but also for his team in Stockton. It’s so important that the culture he established is maintained because it is at the heart of why PLR is so liked. The British Library has handled this thoughtfully and sensitively. They realised that it was essential to the future success of PLR that the office in Stockton on Tees was maintained intact because it is there that the expertise lies. The British Library’s Chief Financial Officer, Steve Morris who works at the Library’s Boston Spa office, facilitated a very smooth transfer.  Now, when Roly Keating promotes the British Library, he talks about it having three bases: London, Boston Spa and Stockton-on-Tees. PLR will keep its identity separate from the British Library, so will retain its own website and do its own campaigning, but it will also benefit from the British Library’s reach.”

One of Eccleshare’s priorities is to get more authors to sign up for PLR. The benefits it provides, she is keen to remind us, go beyond the purely financial. “It’s amazing, given how small its staff is, what a rapport PLR has with its 50,000 registered authors. Nurture is a big part of what PLR does. A lot of authors feel isolated, and PLR gives them a sense that somebody does care about their books; that they’re in libraries, and that somebody is reading them.”

Eccleshare is also keen to emphasise the part PLR can play in wider advocacy for libraries. “Even though PLR isn’t a campaigning organisation, I am also interested in how PLR can help libraries understand their cultural place and importance. Roly Keating is passionate about the British Library joining up with the debate about libraries and being part of a high-level, national picture, and this was reflected in the Library’s recently published vision document Living Knowledge. I actually think that it’s a crucial time for public libraries: particularly with the publication of the Sieghart Report. People are realising that we’re at an absolutely critical moment– potentially a ‘Beeching’ moment.”

“A lot of authors feel isolated, and PLR gives them a sense that somebody does care about their books; that they’re in libraries, and that somebody is reading them”

The Sieghart Report – officially entitled, The Independent Library Report for England –  for which the British Library Chief Executive was on the advisory panel – has now been published. Among its recommendations for central government: that it should seek “to secure changes in European and UK copyright remote e-loans in its next legislature”. It’s a recommendation that will call on the expertise of both PLR and ALCS.

Eccleshare welcomes the recommendation. But she also sees a bright future for print books and their authors and believes that PLR must take account of this. “I think we can all be encouraged that physical books have held up so well, because they are still our backbone. Of course it’s important to get e-book borrowing right, but if people still want to read physical books, that’s very important too, and we don’t want to diminish their importance in our quest for remuneration for e-books.”

Though it remains a very challenging time for libraries, Eccleshare is already relishing her new role. “It’s a wonderful job, and I think PLR is in a safe place.


It’s the busiest time of the year for the PLR  office on the banks of the River Tees in Stockton, with £6 million due to be paid out to authors, and a media campaign to highlight the most borrowed books and authors of the past year in full swing. But Janine Armstrong, PLR’s Business Manager sounds completely unruffled when we chat on the phone:


“PLR without Jim Parker has taken some getting used to”, says Armstrong who is in charge of day-to-day operations at PLR, and its team of 10 staff. “But we are very much building on Jim’s priorities of maintaining our service to authors, and making sure PLR stays relevant to them. We have new structures, and some new ways of working, and we’re obviously now part of a much bigger organisation with a diverse range of objectives. But otherwise, it’s business as usual. Our staff remains dedicated to providing the best service to authors: and they genuinely care about doing so”.

Looking to the future, the team has been working hard to incorporate the extension of PLR to non-print material into its systems. With the recent extension of PLR legislation to cover loans of audiobooks and on-site loans of e-books, registration is now open for both formats. However, the Author Services team is advising authors not to register e-books as the extension of the scheme only includes e-books which are downloaded on library premises to fixed terminals and then taken away on loan. Libraries have advised PLR that they do not currently offer such facilities, and that all e-book lending is carried out ‘remotely’ to home PCs and mobile devices.  As legislation currently stands, PLR is unable to make payments for remote e-book lending, but this is one of the recommendations of the Sieghart Report as mentioned above.

“We’re very proud to be part of the British Library”, says Armstrong, “but PLR maintains its own specific purpose and the team at the British Library has been very supportive of that”. The lease on the Stockton-on-Tees office has just been renewed, providing reassurance both for authors, and for PLR’s long-standing and experienced staff, that its high standards of service will be maintained.

See our news story this month about PLR’s Most Borrowed Authors  and Titles for 2013/14.

Photograph courtesy of Janine Armstrong

For help with any aspect of registering for PLR, or to find out more about the new legislation on audiobook and e-book loans, please visit