I have a somewhat difficult relationship to libraries because I have seen too many bad libraries in the past. Currently, I have access to an amazing library system and I want to use the opportunity and talk a bit about that. But don’t get me wrong, I know that not everything I describe here is possible. I’m aware that all public services (and libraries are most of the time considered a public service) require investment. And not every place can afford these investments. I know of examples of mobile libraries, libraries without much investment at all.
Libraries are without a doubt the storage of knowledge. More often than not are university libraries located in grand buildings with lots of history. I love the buildings and their role in our society. However, that’s not what I want to talk about here. As always, I want to stay practical and focus on local everyday libraries. The kind I can access because I live in the area and that is home to a wide range of literature and other media.
What are libraries for
The obvious and most quoted role of a library is to provide books for people to read and return once they are finished with it. The idea is that one book is read by multiple people. And rather than purchasing a book, a reader can borrow it for free (or for a low fee).
My current library doesn’t only offer physical books but also ebooks. In past, I had access to a library that offered books for a kindle. The current one uses a special app. It’s a good service for someone like me who doesn’t actually like physical fiction books anymore.
The section of the library I still get physical books from are from the kids’ corner. My children love going to the library and choosing books we’re going to read. For me, it’s a good way of finding good children’s books. In a few cases, they have resulted in us actually buying the book as well.
The other section I really enjoy is the DIY section, books on sustainable living. I have borrowed quite a few books to give me inspiration for this blog. Again, it’s great to get an idea of what literature exists on a specific topic.
Most libraries offer, aside from books, also meeting places and computers. In my case, I know that the meeting places are very well equipped with clean tables, chairs, blackboards, and fast internet. You have to pay but the fee doesn’t even come close to that asked of commercial shared office spaces.
Aside from books
I also enjoy getting DVDs from the library from time to time. It’s, again, a good way of watching movies without having to pay extra.
Aside from this typical library, I have also used a toy library in the past. Let me just say that that is awesome. For a period of 4 weeks, my kids got to play with new toys. And the best part for me was that once they stopped playing with them I got to return them and not have them pile up somewhere.
Why use a library
There are several reasons why anyone should use a library.
For once there is the cost factor. Borrowing (i.e. sharing with others) is much less expensive than buying and owning books. On top of that come issues around space, resources, and plain necessity.
There is, of course, also the yikes-factor: sharing something with other people – yuk. Sometimes that’s a fair point but then think about all the other things you share with other people: public transport, supermarket trolleys, and … cash. Getting a book from the library doesn’t mean it will have passed through thousands of hands before it reaches you.
My personal reason for using a library is that it gives me access to new books. I’ve never been the kind of person reading in public. When I go to a bookstore I have a clear goal in mind (okay, I order online…). I don’t just go for a look and decide there what I want to read. Borrowing them from the library allows me to thoroughly read a book (or watch a DVD) at home before I commit to buying it. Just recently I got a book I liked the cover of. Back home and after reading in it for about a week I realised that although most of the issues tackled where relevant, I didn’t enjoy the style of writing. It was at that point that I was glad I hadn’t paid any money for the book.
As I said, in the beginning, I haven’t always lived with access to a great library. And researching the topic now made me realise that that’s no excuse for not sharing books. There are other ways to experience literature without spending much money: public bookshelves, book swaps, online libraries, or plain old borrowing from friends.
It’s a matter of wanting to use a library for what it offers: access to a broad range of books, DVDs, music, toys, and sometimes even board games (so I hear).