4 ways you’re probably not using the public library – but should
One of my favorite perks of living in a city is undoubtedly, the public library. Whenever I move to a new city, it’s one of the first places I go.
There is something soothing about walking into a library and being surrounded by so many books. Shelves upon shelves of literature beckoning to be read. Fiction and non-fiction broadcasting an invitation to be consumed and contemplated. Each a portal to another world, to another mind, to another consciousness, and time.
“A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” – Carl Sagan
It’s not just the variety of books you find at the library that is interesting but also the variety of people you see there as well. It’s always a fascinating assortment of faces along with the all-to-common stereotypes. The old man reading the newspaper. The college student typing on their laptop. The creepy guy looking at questionable photos on the public computer. Ahh, the library. Sounds fun, right?
So why use the public library anyway? Isn’t it more convenient to order a book online? It is, yes. I am not telling you to not spend money on books but why buy a book when you can read it for free?
How do you even know the book is worth it? This is why the public library is so useful. Borrow the book first. Skim it. Read it if it interests you. If it’s worth owning then buy it, so you can read it again and get to know it more deeply. Keep only a collection of your favorite literary works at home. Your shelves might be emptier, but you’ll be prioritizing quality over quantity.
Another reason you should use your public library is because being an active user is one of the best ways to show your support. Frequently, when state and local budgets get cut, one of the first things to go is library funding. But actively using your library services lets local officials know that the public library is an important part of the community.
Now that we’ve talked about why you should use your public library, lets talk about four ways that I recommend using it.
Check out one book at a time.
This is a personal preference but let me explain why this makes sense. It will be tempting to max out the limit of books you can borrow at a time.
There is nothing wrong with this approach. I have used it many times myself. You may even find that it suits you well in those instances where you start a book and realize it’s not worth finishing and want to immediately pick up something else to read instead from the books you’ve borrowed.
Fun fact: In Japanese, there’s a word for stacks of unread books: tsundoku. It’s a combination of tsunde-oku (積んでおく, to pile things up ready for later and leave) and dokusho (読書, reading books). 1
However, depending on the popularity of the book you are borrowing, there could be other borrowers on the book’s waiting list. If you’re borrowing multiple books at a time and only reading one of them, that means someone else has to wait longer for a book you’re not even reading yet.
Everyone gets a turn eventually, so pick whichever approach works best for you.
Request a book for purchase.
This may not come across as news to everyone but this was a revelation to me when I first discovered it. Most libraries have an annual budget for purchasing new material (books, ebooks, audiobooks, videos, etc.).
If there’s a book you want to read that’s not in the library catalog, write down the book’s details (title, author, publisher, ISBN) and let the library know that you’d like to suggest they purchase it.
Many libraries even have a request form on their website so you can do this from home. I will often request books on my library’s website and then pick them up (or download them if it’s an ebook) within days or sometimes weeks later.
Another benefit of this is that not everyone has your knowledge. If you know a book is great and your library doesn’t own it, request it if only so other people in your community can experience it too.
Leave a note in a library book.
This is a simple idea that has massive potential to make someone’s day. Pick a book. Write something kind or encouraging on a small piece of paper (not the book itself). If you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, briefly tell them why without ruining it for the reader. If it’s a book you didn’t like, skip the negative review or find a different book. Put the note inside the front of the book and then put the book back on the shelf. Walk away and never speak of it again.
Leave yourself a note in a library book. Look for it years later.
Pick an obscure biography in the library, since hopefully no one there will want to insult obscurity by de-cataloging the book. One page. Be discreet. Type it on erasable bond or hand write it, tuck it in the back, and hope that no one ever notices. As for content, skip the hopes and dreams. Mention the weather, tell yourself what you ate that morning, make a list of your friends, note how much you weigh and whether you feel fat, remind yourself of a secret you want to keep. Write down the book’s title and author, library location, the date you left it, and keep it in a journal. Come back in twenty years, alone or with a friend, and read the note.
Side note: I like to do this even when I’m visiting libraries in a new city. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours and encourages you to visit the city again in the future.