Last week, I talked about the best book bargains I’ve scored for Keeping Up With The Penguins. It’s great to buy books and I love the thrill of the hunt, but purchasing books can be out of reach (for one reason reason or another) for a lot of people. Mindful of that, I thought this week we could talk about a fantastic alternative. Do you use your local library?
If I misbehaved as a kid, my mother’s go-to threat was “I won’t take you to the library this week!”. (Yes, I was a huge nerd.) It worked every time; I loved the library. There was a restriction of ten books per card per fortnight at the time, so I forced both of my parents to get library cards as well – that allowed me to get 30 books per fortnight (yes, I was a huge nerd) and gave me a life-long love of gaming the system. I visit my current local library less frequently now (and I’m certainly not checking out 30 books at a time!), but my love of those quiet buildings packed with books has never quite left me.
Why use your local library?
For the obvious reason, of course: you can read as much as you like, for free! If you’re a would-be booklover but hesitant about the financial outlay of stocking your own shelves, the library has thousands of books that are all yours (temporarily) for the low, low cost of filling out a form.
Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of new books released each year so it’s hardly possible for your local library to stock every single one, but I guarantee you that if they don’t have what you’re looking for, you can use their request service (every library has one). They might be able to get it for you through their library network (libraries in the same area or the same state can exchange books as required to meet their patrons’ needs). Or, failing that, they will special-order it for you from the publisher. At no cost to you. Isn’t that fantastic? The only downside might be a bit of a wait for a super-popular new release, but that seems like a small price to pay.
Bonus: your local library probably gives away older or surplus books for free as well. I know mine does; they set up a table out the front and just leave stacks of books for passers-by to take as they will. I’ve picked up a couple of great books this way, so I always detour past the library when I’m in the area to check it out.
If you’re not sure what you’re after, I can also guarantee you that the staff at your local library will be able to help. They are huge book-lovers themselves, so when they have a moment ask them if they can recommend a book to you. They’ll probably do you one better, and fetch you an armful of recommendations tailored to your preferences. Librarians are amazing people; they are an extended support network for people from all walks of life (just ask them about the work they do helping job seekers print resumes, or teaching baby boomers how to use technology), and they are big supporters of important anti-censorship causes (like Banned Books Week).
If you’re still not convinced that you should use your local library, let’s see if I can help some more…
“But I use an e-reader, so libraries aren’t for me!”
That’s where you’re wrong (no offence). Libraries are doing their best to keep up with the times, despite ongoing cuts to their funding (grrrr). Most, if not all, libraries have some kind of scheme in place for eBook loans. A lot of them even offer the devices themselves to borrow if needed. The eBooks you get through the library have been quality controlled, which is a helluva lot better than taking a gamble on a download that might be displayed in tiny font and riddled with typos. With an e-reader and a library card, you can usually arrange to borrow books online without even having to leave your couch. The books will be automatically “returned” from your device at the end of your borrowing time, meaning no late notices or special trips to make returns. It’s the best of both worlds!
Even beyond eBooks, libraries will often offer access to all kinds of paywall content. In the “old days”, they would have subscriptions to hard-copy newspapers and magazines and keep them on site for visitors to read. Now, your library card can grant you access to subscription outlets online. Make sure to ask the library staff what they have on offer!
“What about the authors? I like to buy books so they get their cut.”
That’s really admirable, and I take my hat off to you. As I said last week, I’m a big believer in compensating creators for their work. But that doesn’t mean that your local library is off-limits…
Australia has what’s called “lending rights”, a program that allows eligible writers and publishers to receive royalties for repeated free usage of their work (as is the case with a library). So, even though there’s no cost to you, the creators still get what they’re owed.
For international Keeping Up With The Penguins readers, it might not be the case where you live – the U.K. and Canada have a similar scheme, as far as I know, but it’s all a bit of a mystery to me. A quick spot of Googling should be able to get you some answers, or you can (of course) always ask a librarian!
“Libraries are for kids, I’ve outgrown them.”
Have you checked out your local library’s events schedule? You can usually find it on your local government’s website, or check out the bulletin board at the library building. They have stacks of events every month, and there’s a good chance that a lot of them are aimed at adults. They host everything from author readings and signings, to writing and technology workshops, to movie screenings, to local meet-ups and get-togethers. Best of all, the events are usually free, or very low cost.
The library is great for a lot of adulting; have you ever tried working there? This is especially handy for freelancers and people who work remotely. Libraries offer a quiet, climate-controlled oasis in a desert of busy neighbourhoods and crowded houses. Free wi-fi access is standard across library networks, along with free/cheap computer access, printing and scanning. Larger libraries can even provide meeting rooms to members, if you need to collaborate with or present to others.
Bonus: being that your local library is a government building, they typically accommodate all accessibility requirements. For people with limited mobility, this can be a huge relief! These buildings are designed specifically for wheelchair access, and other mobility aids as well. This is a great reason to consider hosting an event at your local library if accessibility for your guests could be a concern.
“My nearest library is hours away, it’s not worth the trip!”
Australia is big, so it’s not uncommon that your local library is more than a stroll around the corner. Again, I’m not sure of the situation internationally, but I know that a lot of Australian libraries make special considerations for people who live in very remote areas. They might offer to extend borrowing periods for instance (if you have to drive five hours into town to return a book, doing it every two weeks can be a pain in the arse, after all). Some will even post your books out to you – you guessed it – for free. Finding out what they can do for you is as easy as contacting them online or giving them a call; they are usually only too happy to help. After all, they’re there for you!
As I said, my love of the local library has never really left me. I’m constantly amazed at what they manage to do for their communities with the trickle of funding they now get from our governments. Do you use your local library? Why/why not? Let me know in the comments below (or let’s chat about it over at KUWTP on Facebook!).