Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I support My Local Library

            I’m finding it kind of ironic these days that I am trying to so hard to get published when I can no longer afford the small luxury of buying books.  I should say that’s primarily because I read probably forty books a year or so.  At twenty-four bucks a pop for a hard cover, that’s $1000 and since the decimation of my industry and business, that’s a lot of money that should be going to better uses, especially since there are alternatives.
One might say that buying a Kindle would allow me to purchase a wide volume of novels at a much lower cost, but then again if you knew me and how I feel about e-books versus the real thing, you’d know that I’m just not ready to go there yet.  Plus, if I won’t splurge twenty-four bucks on a book, I certainly won’t pay $115 on an ad-supported Kindle.  So what’s a reader to do then?  That’s easy.  I patronize my local King County Library.
            Actually, that’s a lie.  Sort of.  I do use the library, but from the convenience of my own desk chair.  I can access the entire library system’s stacks via the Internet.  I can search a favorite author’s name and see what titles pop up, then peruse the book flap copy and decide if it interests me or not.  Or if I’ve heard or read a book review and it interests me, I can search that title.  The library even offers me suggestions based on what I’m currently viewing or what I’ve already read.  I love that feature, by the way.
Once I’ve selected the titles I want, they are put on hold and when they become available, they are sent to my local branch just a couple of miles away from my home.  I receive an email notification as soon as the book has been placed on the hold shelf, complete with my name on a reservation slip which makes it easy to locate alphabetically.  And since everything is automated these days, I just scan my own library card then the bar code on the book and viola!  I have that book for at least four weeks though I can renew online, as well.
Now, like with most things, there are drawbacks.  For one, if a title is popular, as many of my selections are, I will likely have to wait a few weeks before that title becomes available.  But I know this up front as the info is supplied to me when placing the hold.  It will say something like my hold is the 25th hold on 50 copies, which means it might take me a month to receive that title.  I currently have one hold that says 297th of 195 copies and that’s after already waiting three months, so yeah, that one could take me awhile to get, but I’m patient.  I usually have about six titles on hold at any given time and a stack of at least that many books sitting on my desk, waiting to be read, so I can wait.  I’ve got lots to keep me busy. 
Of course, the biggest drawback to borrowing from the library is that the book is not actually mine.  I can’t keep it and display it on my bookshelf.  But then again, I have so many books and not nearly enough shelf space that I am already stacking two rows per shelf.  That means I can’t even see half the titles I do have as they are hidden behind the forward row.
Conceding that, I do find the fact that the book I’m reading is not mine to bother me a bit.  So if I really, really, REALLY love that book, I will go out and splurge on it.  In the case of Greg Iles’s titles, I loved so many of them—thirteen total—that I had my husband buy them for me off Ebay which meant they were second-hand and I was not supporting my favorite author.
I do feel kind of bad about that, but what can I do?  I don’t typically like paperbacks though they are much cheaper.  And as in the case of Iles’s titles, most of them are not kept on the brick and mortar’s shelves so I would have to back order them only to receive a paperback.  So, for now, my method works for me.  When I’m back to earning some good money, I will start buying books again.
One thing I do love about borrowing books from the library is that I will often read books that I would not ordinarily buy, something that is outside my typical genre of choice, thrillers.  The last book I read outside my genre was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  It is a book of historical fiction set in Seattle (near where I currently reside) during World War II.  It is the story of a Chinese-American boy who falls for a Japanese-American girl just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and right before she and her family are sent away to an internment camp.  It flashes back and forth between the war years and 1986, when that boy is in his fifties and hears of the discovery of many personal belongings of local interned Japanese-Americans at the Panama Hotel in Seattle.
Definitely not my normal reading choice, but the fact that one of my favorite literary agent bloggers, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, reps the author and the story is set in Seattle, I was very intrigued.  And as I was reading, I found myself constantly using the Google Maps app on my iPhone to locate the streets in the International District that the author described.  I enjoyed his setting so much that I want to spend time exploring the neighborhood, including the Panama Hotel which still exists to this day.
This love of setting harkens back to my last blog post.  I would never have otherwise read this book had I not had the library.  I never would have considered actually buying this book because I don’t think I would have liked it just by reading the flap cover.  But now that I have read it and know how much I love it, I will buy that book and most likely any other Jamie Ford writes.  The library allowed me to open my eyes a bit more and fall in love with another author and said author will now benefit from that, whereas before, he would not have. 
I actually read a lot more books now that I have rediscovered the library.  The ease of use permits me to at least try to explore titles I never would have otherwise.  Now, I will admit, sometimes I don’t always like the titles I’ve checked out.  The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber, while in my genre and beautifully written, was way too slow for me, The Dead Don’t Dance by Charles Martin was too sickly sweet and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow, well, I found it so uninteresting I couldn’t even make it to page forty though it is an award-winning debut novel.  And though Karin Slaughter’s books are my friend, Lisa’s, favorites, I found, for the most part, that I just don’t care for crime fiction.  Then again, I did love Lisa Gardner’s Say Goodbye.  And I won’t even get into how I feel about Jonathan Franzen.  But the library did allow me to discover Michael Connelly and James Scott Bell, both of whom I love.  And I never would have found out that sometimes the very authors I love most don’t always write spectacular fiction.  Hey, they’re human, too.  Who knew?  
           So all in all, even when I do start raking in the cash again, I think I will most likely keep using my library card to discover new writers and new titles.  In the long run, I believe it will allow me to support those authors I truly love, whose books I really want on my over burdened bookshelf. 


Laila Knight said...

I haven't set foot in a library since college. Isn't that terrible? From how you're describing your experience, libraries appear to have changed much.

As for Kindles, I turned my nose up at them until a friend let me play with hers. I haven't bought one yet, but I have so many books in shelves that I've been tempted.

I've purchase some of those books from Ebay because it's cheaper. On occasion I feel guilty about not supporting my favorite authors, specially now that I know so much more about writing.

I also wait for paperbacks. Can't remember the last time I bought a hardback. If the book winds up sucking, at least I know I paid $7.99 and not $24.00 plus.

You gottat do what you gotta do.

Lisa R said...

I think this is a great post. I haven't been to a library since college either. I used to buy all my books secondhand. Now at least with my Kindle I am supporting the actual author. I think, however, you make a great point which is that libraries are still extremely useful in this electronic age by allowing us to try out books we don't want to or can't spend money on. Although sadly I don't use my own library, your post makes me want to for just that reason. I will still buy my favorite authors' books online but now I could try new authors via my local library. I'm really afraid that libraries will cease existing in the new digital age! When I was a little girl, my maternal grandfather went to the library faithfully every week and returned with a stack of new releases which he promptly read. At the rate he read books, he would never have been able to afford to buy all those books!

Anonymous said...

Have to admit my library card has been gathering dust, too. I can do all my research from home.

Gotta tell you, I hope you can get a Kindle soon, Nancy. I was one of the die-hards who refused to think I would like it. Of course, we ended up with two to eliminate the spats at night. Ha!

The only time I use the library now?
Shhhhhhh.....as in the quiet it affords me.....and please don't tell on me.
They provide a valuable service to a lot of people. I hope the digital age doesn't destroy them.

TaraNator said...

I, too, was/am a die hard book lover - I probably always will be. However, I love my Nook. It's nice to be able to read in bed at night without having a lamp or a book light. I haven't totally given up books, but I'm digging the Nook more and more.

P.S. I use the library to study...that's about it ;-)