Pause. Pitchforks down.
As an avid reader, I know how this may sound.
She wants us to stop buying books? She doesn’t get it. Books are blankets of comfort. They’re fuel. They’re trendy, and they make for great accessories when you are in an uncomfortable setting. They are #lifesource and oh, so pretty. She must not know what it feels like to walk out of an [insert major bookstore chain here] with a tote bag full of glossy hardcovers and uncrimped paperbacks.
Except that I do.
Allow me to sheepishly raise my hand in the air and introduce myself as a member of Book Shopaholics in Reform. It has been a long time coming, but I can now confidently declare that I have stopped the endless cycle of collecting i.e., hoarding in favor of a more sustainable, and increasingly rare alternative: local libraries. Remember those? For the individuals (steadily growing in numbers) who are in need of a refresher; they are our exceedingly generous, and shockingly simple friends. Walk in. Get Book. Check Out. Read. Return. In the event your local library could not predict your desire for a specific written work prior to the genesis of your want for it, things get slightly trickier, but stay with me. Request Book. Wait 2 to 8 days for its arrival from another generous book borrowing center. Walk in. Get Book. Check Out. Read. Return. How do you check out? Glad you asked. By scanning your free public library card. Free. No limit on how many times you use it. Did I mention how they fit so nicely in a purse, wallet, or back pocket. Convenient.
Before I venture further into my cheerleading for public libraries, I need to address the pesky voice in the back of my head that is singing the infamous Milton Friedman adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” I hear you Milton, taxes, but no matter how you slice it, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, today’s American does not spend more than a 100 dollars to keep the awesome operation in motion.* One afternoon book haul—and a small one at that, or a year of an endless supply of books. I don’t think I have to tell you the better deal.
A community's collective reliance on libraries for the bulk of their longform reading material as opposed to Big Buddy Bookstore means they can save their Benjamin Franklins for another purpose. That sounds like enough of a serotonin rush to boost the spirits of the community, but let me go further into the greatness of our libraries.
They do a whole lot more than just provide you books.
There is a great statement from I Love Libraries, an initiative of the American Library Association, that perfectly sums the role up: Libraries are community hubs. They connect people to information and connect people to people. They are safe havens that provide educational programs (computer classes, language classes, you name it), games and clubs, tech resources, the list goes on, and all for the benefit of the community. Sure, chain bookstores hold the occasional event (and almost all occurrences used as dressing for a seasonal sale), but they don’t make it a top priority like your local libraries do, and seldom for a purpose as wholesome as community strengthening through connection and mental growth.
This does not mean we should do away with bookstores. In fact, a favorite novel is worth the purchase. They even make for great birthday and holiday gifts, but let’s face it, out of the pile of books bought throughout your years, how many do you circle back to? I know many, including myself, who have books in their homes that they have paid for, but never even seen the last page of. I—we—did not need to buy them. We could have tried them on for size at the library, and sent them back for a different set of eyes to have the potential of enjoying.
Ultimately, if we do not make a point of utilizing our libraries that have the capacity to do so much for us, then they will close down. We are continually seeing that in these past few years, not just in Northeast Ohio, but across the nation, and recent cries for their shutdown in relation to topics like the book banning crusade are not making it easier for them to stick around. In short, do not forget your local libraries, and certainly do not harbor hate for them. They serve an important position in our communities and they need our support, perhaps now more than ever.
*Table 8. Total per capita operating revenue of public libraries, by source of revenue and state: Fiscal year 2017. Published 2019. https://www.imls.gov/sites/default/files/fy2017_pls_tables.pdf#page=36