A return to the library that was long overdue

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in a long time: registered for a library card.

I know, I’m terrible! How could I have loved books all these years and not frequented libraries?

I confess, I’ve always liked the atmosphere of a bookstore more, a place where you can sit down with a pristine copy of a new release and order an overpriced coffee in a building that seems to be entirely constructed of books. Exaggerations aside, they look nice (check out these beautiful bookstores), smell good, and have an overwhelming selection.

Maybe it differs where you live, but libraries near me are small and kind of dinky. And at college no one hung out at libraries for fun (that’s some sort of unwritten rule). Now I’m all for the idea behind libraries (why can’t we have free and considerate borrowing services for everything else?), and I think being a librarian is one of the best professions out there, but I’ve always associated libraries with hush-hush quiet, those ugly plastic book jackets, unavailability, waiting lists, etc. And I’m facing those problems at my local library now.

But I owned a library card long ago (seriously, it’s been floating around my Mom’s wallet since I was a kid), and I think it’s about time I had one again. At least the years were kind (I didn’t amass any forgotten late fees).

I met a wonderful elderly lady who helped me sign out my card, check out a book, and reserve a couple more. She was delightful to talk with and is my favorite person there already, and seeing a friendly face goes a long way in welcoming me and other patrons.

They now offer e-books, which makes acquiring hot titles a lot easier, and the nice librarian also told me that they also host programs now and then, a feature that makes the library experience sound active and involved as opposed to quiet and snooty.

And oh—it was busy. That’s a word people hardly associate with libraries: “busy.” It was great and very expectation-breaking.

I still prefer shopping at a bookstore, mainly because of the inventory, but I’m happy to support something that’s much more engaged in literacy than bookstores are. When it comes down to it, bookstores want your business. Yes, they can have attractive atmospheres and decor, loyalty discounts and exciting events, but they don’t have the positive energy and encouragement that libraries do: Libraries just want to share the love of reading with you, your children, your friends and family. Stopping by there was a much more personable and interactive experience than visiting a bookstore normally is.

That’s more than enough to bring me back again.

Are you a library person? What’s your favorite thing about them?

11 thoughts on “A return to the library that was long overdue

  1. I love bookstores too. Most are just right for settling in and staying awhile. We take my kids to the library most Saturdays for story time, and to get a new armload of books. I love it for them – but it’s drab and like you said, no overpriced (and yummy!) coffee to be had!

    1. Thanks for commenting! Libraries are definitely good for story time, although I think some bookstores have programs like that, too. But libraries are great for letting kids check out a dozen or so picture books, especially!

      If I ran a library, I’d try to bridge the experiences with a coffee shop and bright and creative decor … :) Libraries do have nice book sales, too.

  2. I love bookstores too! Especially that outdoor store in your link….I’d never leave it if it were close to me. Ever.

    Literally, the ONLY thing I love about this town I live in IS the library. Having said that, I don’t visit it enough. I did go last week though, and found a few things I dragged home with me. Mostly big photography and design books I’ve been wanting to check out. It’s nice to spend time there. It’s relatively new, with a homey modern feel, and yeah. A coffee shop. So I guess I’m a bit of a library person….but I still love the bookstores. Madison has so many interesting ones that I could spend all day in. With coffee shops :)

    Loved your thoughts on your library! I’m glad you had a good experience and will be heading back. For some reason it makes me happy when we use our libraries…

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I’m always glad to meet a fellow bibliophile and cat lover. :) I love both libraries and bookstores, though I am long overdo for a visit to my local library. Perhaps I will have to visit and write a blog about it. :)

    1. You’re welcome! It was my pleasure. Thanks for stopping by mine, as well. Cat people are my kind of people. I have three at home. They’re adorable and oh so bad.

      If you do write a blog post about going to the library again, I’d love to read it!

  4. I love the library too. The one I live right near in Australia is small and dinky as you call it too. But I love it. The staff are friendly, and very helpful. I mostly just order books and DVDs through the library and get very excited when I get an email telling me my holds are ready to be collected. I’ve always had a strong love for libraries. Growing up in a small town our facility was definitely limited but I used to order heaps of different things. Having a friend working in that library definitely helped.

    1. Haha, I’m looking forward to email notifications, too. :) And yeah, I think interacting with a friendly staff or knowing somewhere there makes all the difference. It just makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. You don’t feel like a stranger, whereas in a bookstore, you almost always are.

  5. Librarian here!

    Particularly in America, people severely take libraries for granted now. Usually, they’re going to be viewed by most people as just some old building with even older books that they don’t want to read. In reality, libraries have always been a centralized hub for accessing to information (for free). Sadly, that’s something that you think would be far more important in these times, but a lot of libraries have fallen to the wayside in spite of the ideal there. Using your post as an example, a bookstore surely will have the more up-to-date stock, but it there’s typically not much in the way of archival and public resource. The atmosphere provided by a lot of the larger bookstores in fact will usually boil down to their generally being more funding around as it’s consumer-based retail at the end of the day (though the smaller ones are suffering for a variety of unfair reasons).

    There’s a big problem within libraries right now, as some of them are being structured like businesses on top of having to deal with a gigantic paradigm shift. Specifically, the Internet, which a good deal of libraries unnecessarily see as a threat. And since the public perception and tendency for consumerism in these times is so pervasive, this has exacerbated what people think libraries actually provide. The people that come into mine for example know that we’re not just a quiet place with academic books they’d never look at unless academically forced, we’re actually there to provide a multitude of services—helping them with taxes, giving children reading programs, providing access to public information, and yes—helping them navigate the Internet. The list goes on…,I will admit however, that a lot of our checkouts these days are from people who just want to rent movies (*coughforfreecough*).

    We’re just getting e-books here which is about time, as my library is at least starting to recognize that it’s time to adapt (though I’m personally not a fan of digital media quite yet, but that’s another story). The descent into defending them as they exist has already started (e.g. go Google the latest news about the state budget for ALL California libraries). I’m not pessimistic (or better yet, stupid) enough to say ‘libraries are dying’ (people have always been saying that, even since the 80’s), but their role in society is undergoing a more-than-usual drastic shift right now. Even in these hard times, people STILL don’t want to use them, when that’s one of the main reasons they’re there for. We’re not just here to provide people with access to information, but also to equip them with the tools to utilize it (that latter point will usually separate a good library from a poor one).

    Our regular (and my favorite) patrons are people who don’t mind waiting on a book they can easily go buy for $20 somewhere else; there’s always something we can turn their head towards in the meantime. Even if we don’t have what they’re looking for at our branch for example, we can have other branches ship the copy they’re after to us within a few days. In the meantime, we may just get them interested in something they’re likely to resonate with or even need more.

    And don’t even get me started on the other variables like certain authors siding with the Amazonian aggressiveness to just crusade against physical media and people like publishers trying to subversively keep their hands in everybody’s pockets at every corner. I’d probably find this text box’s limit trying. The digital age has landed in general and people are just struggling to keep up now (it doesn’t help that most of us are just greedy be it the lowly consumer or the publisher fighting tooth-and-nail to stay in the good graces of their businesses).

    Speaking now as a gamer, I’m sure you can appreciate some of the more cryptic thoughts I’ve implied for just the next 5-10 years alone. Things are going to get crazy, we and lot of other people are going to have to accept changes that come with the reality of this age too. It will be a rude awakening for most.

    …and I’ll be the first one waving the ‘I told you so!’ flag. ;P

    I’ll spare you any more though, In summation, we’re well into the information age now. It’s not a good sign that our country’s foremost and oldest method of organizing this information is in such discord, but there it is.

    1. Wow, where to start! First, thanks for the comment. It’s good to hear from you again!

      This is obviously something you’re very passionate and outspoken about. Libraries, bookstores, the format of books—they’re definitely all being challenged right now. It’s a huge transition for the entire industry. I believe things will settle down eventually, but it will take some time, and things will be different.

      My local library combined with a larger network recently, so any book they don’t have there I can request from a different location. Makes it easier and, yes, saves the patron major money. You’re right: With our economic state as a country, it’s a wonder people aren’t flocking to libraries. I think that speaks largely of our consumerism: Whether it’s books or games or high-tech devices, we have to have it asap. I can’t afford to live like that, but others will sacrifice future stability for the latest products.

      But that, too, has an upside: People are contributing to the health of the damaged economy by buying.

      Regardless of how anyone feels about e-books, they’re appealing not just because you can access dozens of them on one portable device, but they’re also low in price—cheaper than you’d see in bookstores. This is leading to problems for the industry, but that’s another issue(s).

      Budgets were cut at my local library, but I think that’s more because they’re cutting budgets all around, and arts have never been high on the government’s list.

  6. I love libraries; I’ve loved libraries since I was a little girl. All those books for free! And now they have DVDs and BluRay. All those movies for free! And if my local library doesn’t have a book I want, they’ve got Interlibrary Loan: They can get a book from anywhere in the country. All for free!

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