Why I don’t use the library

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - Save & Share - One Comment

As someone who reads quite a lot, people often ask why I don’t use the the library more.  Before I was married, my answer was that my commute was so long each day that I got home too late to use it in the evenings, and my weekends were taken up with visiting the Old English Thorn and engaging in wedding related activities.  Now that we’re living together a sensible distance from our workplaces I no longer have this excuse and not so long ago, I posted enthusiastically about my new found ability to use the library. 

Libraries are undeniably wonderful places which do the world of good and make books and reading accessible to everyone.  I have fond memories of visiting the library as a child, browsing the shelves for as long as I was allowed and coming back in the car with my nose already firmly buried in one of my new acquisitions.  It was a magical place then, shelves filled with opportunities, and it’s still excellent if all I want to do is potter happily around and pick up books from the shelves as they take my fancy.  I’ll continue to use it on occasions when I wish to do that, but on the whole, I don’t use the library any more.

The two main reasons people usually state that they don’t use the library are:

  1. They like to own books, not just read them
  2. It’s more convenient to buy a book than use the library

Both of these are true for me.  Few things give me greater pleasure than sitting on our sofa, looking across the living room at our wonderfully stuffed shelves and it is indeed a bit of a pain to have to reserve a book on the library’s website, wait for the email saying that it has arrived, load up my carrier bags with books to take back and traipse along to the library, rather than just pointing and clicking on Amazon and letting them take care of the rest.

However, the main reason that I choose not to use the library will probably surprise a lot of you: it saves me money.

Yes, you did read that correctly.  I have saved money this year by not using the library.

To buy and own the books that I have read so far this year, which, by and large, is what I have done, cost me £240.26.  It may sound like quite a lot, but as I’ve read 143 books, that works out at £1.68 a book which is a long way from extravagance.  While a few of them were gifts or review copies which cost me nothing, the vast majority were bought myself.  They range from £0.20 charity shop purchases to brand new Folio Society volumes which are costly but irresistible in their beauty.  These books are all mine to do with as I please now.  I can put them on my shelves to read again when the mood takes me; I can give them away to other people as gifts; I can sell them on Amazon or at a car boot sale; I can put them on BookMooch or take them to the Notting Hill Book Exchange and swap them for other books; I can donate them to charity.  If I wanted to, I could use them to start a rather substantial fire if our heating ever fails (not that I would ever consider doing something so terrible).  The point is, I paid that money and I own those books.  They are mine.

To borrow the same books from the library would have cost me £255.40, which is £1.79 a book and £15 more than I actually paid.  This is not taking into account the inevitable fines when someone reserves a book that I’ve borrowed so I can’t renew it and can’t return it until the following weekend because I work during the only weekday hours that the library is open.  Had I taken these books out of the library, I would have spent more money and yes, I would have had the same hours of reading pleasure, but I would have nothing tangible to show where my £255 had gone.

If I wanted to reserve books that are marked down on the website as being in my local library just to make sure they were there and waiting for me when I managed to visit the library, this lot would have cost a further £23.40.  My county library charges £0.60 to reserve a book from their stock, so even if I don’t feel the need to reserve books in my branch, any book that I want to read that isn’t in the local branch costs me £0.60 automatically to request.    If a book isn’t held within the county, it’s a further £4.40 charge to source it from elsewhere, meaning any book borrowed through inter-library loan costs an impressive £5.  If I’m going to spend £5 on a book, I’m going to spend my money somewhere which doesn’t expect me to give said book back in three weeks’ time!  It’s going to be mine to have and to hold till death do us part.  I appreciate that there are administration and postage costs involved in the inter-library loan process, but if I can buy the book for much less than this, why would I pay the extra?  Who would?

As a rule of thumb, anything that’s out of print is cheaper to buy than to borrow.  One of my favourite books that I read this year is Margery Sharp’s The Foolish Gentlewoman which I sought out after adoring The Nutmeg Tree last year.  To borrow it from the library would have cost £5.  I bought my copy in a second hand book shop for £2, and even those without access to the bounty of Charing Cross Road can buy their very own copy for £2.81 including postage and packaging from Amazon Marketplace.  On the one hand, it makes me sad that libraries don’t have the funds or the space to hang onto books like this and keep them out on the shelves, as it means that fewer people will find them and fall in love with them by chance.  On the other, more objective hand, I understand that it makes little sense to keep something in circulation when it is no longer popular.

Libraries have to be selective.  They are designed to cater to the entire population and so their stock tends to reflect what is current and what is popular.  This is not a bad thing.  It is in fact a very good thing that libraries are well stocked with the latest bestsellers and perennial favourites.  I think it’s great that anyone with a library card can walk in and take home one of these books for free.  It just doesn’t reflect how I choose to read.  If you look at my reading list, you can see that very little of it is recent writing; only four books were published this year.  Consequently, I don’t really benefit from the constantly updated display of new releases which stands by the entrance to the library.  I’ve also not read that many classics this year; I’ve read old books, but most aren’t prominent enough to have multiple copies sat on the shelves in the library.  Many of the books I’ve read are ones that have fallen into obscurity for one reason or another.  Old children’s books which are no longer fashionable; lesser known works of well-known authors; early twentieth century women’s novels; names that I’ve stumbled across mentioned elsewhere and then gone in search of without knowing anything about them.  It may sound sad, but for me and the way I read, the library cannot compete with the Internet.

If I didn’t have money to spend on books, I would no doubt have picked out a selection of titles each week from what was available on the library shelves and I would have enjoyed myself doing it.  However, as I do have money that I choose to spend on books, I’d rather read the specific titles that I actually want to read than those books in which I have a vague interest.  And to do this, it’s cheaper for me to buy them.

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One Response to “Why I don’t use the library”

Comment from Kirsty
Time December 16, 2011 at 9:50 am

I couldn’t agree more with your points above. I’ve used the library once this year for research purposes, but I doubt I’ll use it again for quite some time. I’ve read a total of 249 books this year and I love being able to view my collection on my shelves and re-read favourites without having to walk through the library and hope they have the book I want. If I was a big fan of chick lit and the like then I think I’d use the library a lot more, but nothing to me compares to walking into a bookshop and coming out with five books you knew you wanted and five more new treasures.

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