Monday, August 25

I *HEART* My Public Library

I really do. I buy a lot of books, but books are expensive so for the most part I stick to buying authors who are tried and true and will reside on my keeper shelves. That is, I buy the books written by the authors, not the actual authors themselves. Not that I wouldn't love to have them residing on my keeper shelves, cranking out books just for me. Some of my favorite authors seem to insist on having lives and doing things outside of creating books, like raising kids, visiting relatives, etc. I might argue that they could increase their output by doing away with that trivial stuff, but do they listen to me? No.

But I digress. My point is, books are expensive so I try to limit my purchases to those that I know I will return to time and again. Fortunately we have in this great country of ours something known as the public library. Now, just in case someone out there has missed this concept, a public library exists for the sole purpose of providing books for people to read free of charge! It's FREE. How can you beat that? For no charge whatsoever they will let you browse their extensive collection, which rivals some bookstores, FYI, and you can pick any book completely at random and they will let you read it. Most of those books they even let you take out of the library for up to three weeks at a time. This means that not only are you allowed to read this book without owning it first, you can do so in the comfort of your own home, or anywhere else you desire. All they ask is that you bring the book back at or before the end of the three week period, preferably undamaged, so that someone else can have the privilege of reading it. They will probably charge you a small fee if you bring the book back late or damaged, but as long as you abide by the rules, it's all FREE.

Now, I know what you are thinking. There must be a catch because nothing in life is free. Well this whole public library thing has been going on for some time now and if there is a catch nobody else has found it. I, myself, have been doing this "read for free" thing my whole life and haven't found a flaw in the system yet. As near as I can tell, the modern idea of a public library came about in the 1800s. There were libraries before then, but they were known as "subscription libraries," which required a modest regular fee. It was still probably a pretty darned good deal if you read a lot. But today's public library, at least in the U.S., is free to anyone and everyone. Everyone. They don't care who you are, what you like to read, how old you are or whether or not you are well educated. They don't care. They will let you read their books ABSOLUTELY FREE! I remember mentioning this to my then 10yo nephew on a visit many years ago. He looked at me and asked "how can they do that?" Of course he knew, in theory, that the library was free but it's one of those things that people take for granted, not giving any real thought to. Free. Is that amazing, or what?

You may be thinking that this is a bad thing for people who make their living writing books, but I would argue that ultimately they do benefit. Most of the books I have purchased are by authors I first discovered in the public library. My first Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Ellis Peters and Agatha Christie were borrowed from the library. I discovered Margaret Maron, Jane Haddam and Parnell Hall while randomly browsing the shelves at the library. I've since acquired many of their books for my own collection; but without the library, I would never have known what I was missing in the first place. I think this is generally true. People are more likely to spend money if they liked the free sample. If not, they weren't going to anyway.

Getting back to my nephew's question, though, the "how" is through our tax dollars and through donations - of both books and money - from people just like me and you who want to keep this wonderful idea going for future generations. I think you'll agree that it's a pretty good deal. You don't have to be an avid reader to appreciate it. Probably at some point you will want to know "how to" or "what happened" or even "why." And you can find out inside your public library, because available books are not just limited to fiction. So if you ever find yourself with a few dollars that you would like to do something nice with, something that would profit future generations, something where you can actually see what is being done with your charitable donation, think about your local public library.

1 comment:

jenb said...

I could not agree with you more. The library is one of my top favorite places.
And we have a wonderful one here.