Saturday, July 21, 2007

Let's hear it for libraries!

by Kathryn Miller Haines

Anyone out there? Oh, you’re all reading the book to the left, aren’t you?

Sounds like the perfect time to talk about a forbidden subject for a published writer. Ready for it?

I love libraries.

Yes, those places where people go to get books they don’t actually pay for. I’m surrounded by them at my day job (literally, since I work in one) and I’m a great devotee of the system. In fact, we even have a family member who started a library. My stepmother, Nancy, took her inheritance and instead of blowing it on fast cars and loose men (my father notwithstanding), created a library in Marion, Iowa. Her philanthropy rose out of her gratitude for the libraries she took her kids too when she was a poor single mother. While I didn’t know her then, I was also one of those kids, being taken by my own wonderful mother to our public library on hot Saturday afternoons where I’d eagerly peruse the stacks for the next great read to get me through the weekend.

Recently there was an article about how unfeasible libraries would be if someone were to propose the idea of a lending library in today’s political and business climate. It’s a mortifying thought that the system that Andrew Carnegie popularized by offering to create a library for any city that had a building that could be used for that purpose would be eradicated because our present culture doesn’t see the need for enterprises that are for people, not for profit.

It’s an easy idea to fall prey to. When I learned that a certain library had twenty holds on my book, my first reaction wasn’t, “Wow! People want to read my book!” but “Loosen the purse strings and buy your own damn copy, ya cheap skate.”

Fortunately, I got over myself two minutes later.

Part of the reason why I wanted to write this post was because I feel increasing shame admitting I am an active library user. There seems to be an assumption that if you're checking out books from libraries, you're not buying them and if you're not buying them, you're not supporting fellow writers and if you're not supporting fellow writers, why the heck should they support you?

Whew. I got tired typing that.

I’m a fast reader and so it makes sense good fiscal sense for me to check out things from a library. If I really want to read something, or it it’s by an author I know, I buy it because there’s one thing libraries don’t do well: creating ready access to new books (the supply never meets the demand, which is why we all bought our copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, right?).

For me, the library is the ultimate bookstore, only I get to take the books home to test drive. If I read something I like, I buy it for my sister, whose own village library in England is the size of of a drive-up photomat, or for my mother who's accumulated so many fines at public libraries in the state of Texas that legend has it an alarm will sound if she steps foot in one. And let's face it, when your writing requires a lot of research, you could quickly go broke buying obscure books like this gem that I'm currently pouring over.

So let’s hear it for libraries!


Gina said...

Hurray for libraries!

One of the great disappointments of my youth was when I realized that I'd never be able to read all the books in the Carnegie library. I've taken out hundreds of books over the years and barely made a dent.

Libraries are wonderful places to get those obscure books you'd never buy, or for those times in life when you can't afford to buy books. It's great just to be somewhere surrounded by books that you can look at without feeling pressured to buy (sorry, Mary Alice). As a former library worker myself (see my 1-13-07 blog), I also have to say that libraries are interesting places in which to work. Enjoy, Kathryn!

Tory said...

I love the feel of libraries. All that knowledge sitting there on the shelves!

I think it's not only the collectivism of libraries that doesn't fit with our times. I think our society tends to expect instant gratification, and libraries take time and energy to explore.

Joyce said...

I, too, love libraries. And bookstores. My first "real" job was as a clerk at the West End branch of the Carnegie Library and if I close my eyes, I can still remember the smell.

One of my favorite duties was repairing books--re-gluing the bindings and mending torn pages. To this day, I'm always tempted to do that myself when I check out a book that's "broken."

I love really old books, too. The first thing I look for at a flea market are old books (I started a collection of the early Nancy Drew books).

Cathy said...

Libraries do fulfull a need and keep the clutter down at home, although supporting our fellow writers is a priority, too. And think of all the trees we'll be saving.

I have to admit, bookstores have a different energy than libraries, a more shiny, exciting zing to them. Have I redeemed myself?

Nancy said...

Hey, hey, hold it! Libraries definitley serve a useful purpose for writers! Having my books in libraries helps spread that all-important word of mouth. And libraries buy an incredible number of my books. I don't resent any reader who picks up my books at the library. And reviews of my books in librarian-aimed publications like Library Journal further helps get my name in front of readers. As long as people are reading my stuff, I'm happy. Of course, I'm also hoping readers love my books so much that they rush out and buy a copy for themselves eventually, but until then, I'm happy my books are in circulation

spyscribbler said...

The people who poo-pah libraries, borrowing books, and giving them away, drive me crazy with guilt.

I spend every cent I can, plus a whole lot I shouldn't spend, buying books. I can't do more than that. I can't! I wish I could.