Saturday, November 18, 2017

For the Love of Libraries

As a kid, there was no library in my neighbourhood.  Instead, a "Bookmobile" would be set up once a week in the parking lot of our local shopping mall, giving us access to a rotating assortment of books from the public library.  I made my parents take me there pretty much every week, and I can remember running up the metal stairs into the trailer, eager to see what new books awaited me.  (I was not an even remotely athletic child, so only the most exciting of things would get me to move quickly.)  I would return from those visits with a grocery bag overflowing with books and immediately park myself down on the couch to start reading.  I loved it.

My love of libraries and reading lasted until medical school, when it became my job to read and learn.  I replaced my piles of library books with Netter's Anatomy and Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, and I almost completely stopped reading for pleasure.  Where I used to easily read a book every week, after the start of medical school, I was reduced to one book on Christmas vacation and one on summer.

As a result, I also stopped going to the library.  I could no longer be guaranteed to finish a book within the three-week lending period, and I certainly couldn't be guaranteed to remember to return a book, so there was no longer a place for the library in my life.  Instead, I would periodically go to my favourite local bookstore and wander its shelves, dreaming of having time to read all of the books.  When I found something that really appealed to me, I would buy it and save it for a rare stretch of holidays.

It wasn't until I finished my licensing exam three years ago that I once again had time to read on a regular basis.  But by then, I had gotten so out of the habit of going to the library that it didn't even occur to me to go back.  I just kept buying books.  Until M started making fun of this increasingly expensive habit.

"Why don't you just go to the library?"

I blinked in confusion.  What was a library again?  And what purpose did it serve in my life, now that I was earning an income and could afford to to buy my own books?

I was initially resistant to the idea.  I wanted to own books!  And I didn't want to be limited by the small selection of our one-room local library.  Nor did I fancy having to pay overdue fines when I inevitably forgot to return the books.

I would like to say that I was a mature adult and didn't stubbornly refuse to listen to M.  But.  It took discovering Mr. Money Mustache* and wanting to live within my means to get me to go back to the library.  And, just like when I was a kid in a frigid trailer trying to grasp books through my thick wool mittens, I fell in love with it.

Of course, there is the fact that books at the library are free.  This is awesome.  I have now read 26 library books in 2017 (yay completing my Goodreads challenge!), which has saved me over $500.  Based on the 4% safe withdrawal rule, that's $12,500 less that I need to save for retirement by using the library.  But it's so much more!

I can take out books I might never read:  When I used to buy books, I would be careful to only buy something I was pretty certain I would read to the end.  I'd look up reviews, I'd ask friends, and I'd stand in the bookstore reading the first chapter to make sure it was something I liked.  Picking a book was a process!  And it limited the books I would read to books that I had some reason to think I would like (e.g. a book by a favourite author).  But with library books?  If a book looks remotely interesting to me, I will take it out.  When I see an interesting book suggestion on Twitter or Facebook or someone's blog, I add it to my "To-Read" list (now at over 200 books).  It has greatly expanded what I am reading, and my reading life is richer for it.

I don't have to finish a book I don't like:  This ties into the previous point, but when I spent $20+ on a book, I felt obligated to finish it, even if I hated it.  This has sometimes led to me wasting time on a book that I didn't enjoy or, worse, not reading at all because I didn't want to move on to another book until I finished the one I hated.  Not with library books.  Hate a book?  Return the bloody thing and move on.

I can get books from any library in my city:  Until M introduced me to it, I had no idea that there was this thing called inter-library loans that would let me order books from any library using my computer.  It's like magic.  See a book recommendation, order it online, pick it up on my way home from work within a few days.  It is amazing, and it is actually easier than going to the bookstore to buy a book.

The library reminds me to return books:  Email reminders of when books are due!  This is awesome.  I still end up paying fines sometimes, because I am lazy, but I pay far fewer fines because of this.  Plus, I can renew books online, which often lets me avoid the fines altogether.

Libraries are part of my community:  I recently read Jane Jacob's book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (from the library, bien sûr), in which she looks at all of the important elements of a vibrant city.  She talks about all of the little daily interactions that contribute to a sense of community - chatting with the local butcher, giving a spare key to a trusted neighbour - and since reading it, I have been thinking a lot more about what makes my community.  And, it turns out that the librarians are now part of my community.  The three regular librarians recognize me, and we will often spend a few minutes chatting about books or about the librarian's cool necklace made from locally salvaged wood.  It's a small thing, but it makes me feel a little more connected to the place I've lived for the past seven years.

So, after this love letter to my favourite place in the city, it is time to read my library book.

Are you a library user?  Why or why not?

*I learned today that Americans spell it "mustache" and Brits (and Canadians) spell it "moustache".  Who knew?  I love language!

20 comments:

  1. I'm not because the local library is basically never open when I'm not at work.

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    1. We spell moustache both ways.

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    2. I am sad about your library being closed. Mine is open until 8:30 PM three nights a week and also on Saturdays (except in Summer), so it isn't too hard to get there. Plus I literally drive past it on my way to/from work.

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    3. Ok I take it back -- it's open til 8 twice per week. Which might work for me if I weren't rabidly trying to get home from work at 600 or later most nights. There's no way I'm stopping to browse books at that time. In just too wrung out. Christ I haven't even managed to stop at the drug store in the past three years and it's also on my way home.

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    4. Hahahaha. I wasn't trying to shame you with my comment about the closing time! I get feeling too exhausted at the end of the day to stop at a library. I certainly didn't do it when I was in training.

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    5. It's all good. At least now I know it's open late 2 days per week. Now, maybe someday when I haven't been at work for 12h and don't have to get home to see my family I'll actually stop there. Until then I'm amassing quite a collection of paperbacks and kindle books. 🤓

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    6. We recently approved an increased property tax to increase library hours and renovate two more libraries that had been stalled. Best Thing Ever. The only thing that I love more than enjoying libraries is seeing other people - especially children - enjoying libraries.

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    7. That's awesome! Other people are another part of my motivation for going to the library. I know that I would be able to afford to buy books if the library closed, but lots of people wouldn't be that fortunate, so I like being another body keeping the library well used (and hopefully well funded).

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  2. I love my library for all the same reasons as you.

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  3. I am more of a book buyer, but my reading exponentially increased this year when I learned my library loans out KINDLE BOOKS. I don't even have to remember to return them-after 3 weeks, the download vanishes!

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    1. You're the second person today who has spoken positively about the Kindle. Mine loans them out too, but I've never been willing to make the transition from paper books to electronic. Knowing myself, I'll probably cling furiously to paper books for the next ten years, become a very late adopter of the Kindle, and then spend the rest of my life raving about how amazing it is.

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    2. I bought one while I was in college because I spent two semesters studying abroad and no way was I going to be able to bring all the books I was going to want to read! And it was a lifesaver in that regard.

      Nowadays I don't use it very often, mostly when the library only has something available as an e-book, or when I'm traveling. I gotta say it is nice to be able to pack just my Kindle for a few days' trip instead of lots of books, especially if I'm flying.

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    3. I have tried repeatedly to get with Kindles as I've lived abroad. Just can't, no matter what. Fortunately in Liberia there was a predecessor at my job who'd shipped in hundreds of super good books and left them behind, and in Azerbaijan I found a bookstore with English books. But in most postings, I will ship at minimum one trunk full of books to keep my sanity. I've read two books on a Kindle and so disliked everything about it. It's such a great idea, I wish I could get on board.

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  4. Yay libraries! #librariesaretheshit

    I started reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities a few years ago but never finished it, probably because I got distracted with the five other books I was likely reading at the time. I own it (yep, that was post-college, pre-library account...) and should fix that but omg I have so many library books to read!

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    1. I must admit, I didn't finish the Death and Life of Great American Cities! I really enjoyed the first 200 or so pages, did okay with the next 100, and then just stalled out. It is a really, really long book. But I'm glad that I read what I did, as it really changed my way of thinking about cities and what makes a good one.

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  5. I love the library!! I have a long commute so I often take out CDs to listen to, instead of regular books to read. I know podcasts are good, too, but there's something about a CD from the library that feels good. And, like you, if I don't like it, I don't feel compelled to listen to the whole thing.

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    1. Oooh...I never think to take out CDs, but that's a great idea.

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  6. I've always been a library user and I'm very grateful that there's a location on my way/from work, makes it quite convenient. I'm enough of a library geek that receiving a "requested items are ready for you" email gives me a little thrill. I totally agree that being a regular library patron helps grow community, even in a small way. Welcome back!

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