If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might know that I’m an avid library-goer. Seriously — I’m always there, kind of like the armchairs and the much-loved toys in the children’s area. All the librarians know me.
Ok, to be fair, that’s because I work at the library as a shelver. As an actual part-time job it has its own pros and cons, but it’s worth it to be surrounded by books all day (AKA “the Dream”)! My favorite part of shelving is arriving early in the morning before the library is even open to patrons. I go up to the second level by myself to pull holds, turn on all the lights and see the entire library light up before me, and then go into the stacks and bask in the silence while I pull books off the shelves. It’s a near-sacred experience and pretty close to book nirvana, if you ask me. 😉
But I loved going to the library long before I started working there (how do you think I got the job?! Haha). So many of my memories growing up are tied to going to/being at the library. Going there to spend rainy days, sitting in the stacks and reading, predictably getting separated from the rest of my family and having to go hunt them down…
Going to the library and returning with a towering stack of books has always been normal for me. But because it’s the norm for me, I’ve always found it a little hard to understand how people can buy so many books. I mean, you can get it from the library for free, and check it out again whenever you want it!
Think about it… what other public place can you go to to borrow something, enjoy it, and then return it, all free of charge?? And with BOOKS no less? The library is like this precious, magical creature that you can’t believe actually exists. When so little in American society comes without a price, public libraries are practically like unicorns. There’s just so much magic about the idea of a library. To think that all the books you’ve loved before are out there being discovered and loved by someone else. That just sitting on the shelves is a potential gold mine of books that others have read and loved before, just waiting for you to happen upon them. * sighs with bookish contentment *
Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t understand how people buy books at all — I do! I’m always tempted to go back and buy some of my favorite books — especially my favorite series — so that I can have them to reread, or to loan out (read: push onto) people. Or to get signed by the author. Or even just to gaze at lovingly. If they’re some of my favorite books, I’ll always want to have them near.
And a few exceptions need to be made for new books. Sometimes I’ll buy just a handful of new releases that I know are going to be good because of the author or the rave reviews, and the library doesn’t have it.
But recently I’ve been buying books in a way I never have in my whole life, and it’s been a little unsettling for me. It started with buying “beach read” books for vacation, because I didn’t want to damage or lose library books. I’d read them, like them enough, and then bring them back to my bookshelf to collect dust.
Then when I went off to college for the first time. I told myself that I wouldn’t have time to keep up with library books, so I allowed myself to start buying books. But then it was like the floodgates had opened, and it felt like I started buying any book that had caught my interest. I soon found out that not only did I have no time to keep up with library books, I had almost no time to read for pleasure, either. So my books became just a heavy weight to lug around in my suitcase (I’ve since resolved to only bring my e-reader).
And guess what? Now that I’m home, these same books are back on my shelf, but they’re not the ones I’m reading. Instead I’m drawn to the never-ending flow of new releases at the library, or the book I’ve heard about for so long that I just happen to find while browsing the stacks.
Meanwhile, I feel kind of sad looking at the books on my own shelf that I haven’t read, or that I have read but didn’t enjoy that much. What’s the use of having them just so that they sit there? I think the new #booksfortrade movement on Twitter might be alleviating this a little. But if you think about it, it’s kind of like a library system…
So I’ve personally resolved to be smarter about my book-buying habits after my recent buying spree pitfalls. I’ll probably limit buying physical copies to favorites or those few, must-have new releases that get really glowing reviews. A few impulse buys might find their way onto my Kindle, but at least they’ll be cheaper. * invokes “broke college student” line again *
But that’s just me. I realize that I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a gorgeous, well-stocked library near me. Others might be too far away to go regularly, or not have reliable transport. Maybe their local library is small or on the older side, and doesn’t have a great selection. Or maybe a lot of international readers want American or English or ____ new releases that their library doesn’t carry at all, or maybe not in the language they want to read it in.
So above all, I don’t want to guilt-trip anyone who loves their large, well-loved personal collection of books. I just want to share my personal experiences with book-buying, open up discussion, and express my love for the magical system that is the library. Libraries: YOU ROCK!