5 Reasons to Return to the Public Library

I’ve been adding to my personal library since I was a kid. My book buying tends to go in waves with greater periods of activity, like when I was a grad student and going to a weekly reading series. That was a peak point on the book-buying wave.

I’m currently on a down point. I feel the need to scale back on my book buying, one of the most difficult practices of self-discipline I know.

But even with this restraint, I can still read practically all the books I want, I remind myself, even if I can’t own them. Such, such are the joys of the public library. Now, it’s not the same reading experience, granted. As I’ve made a return to the public library over the past few months, I realize that I read a book differently if it’s mine versus one leant from the library.

More than the feeling of not owning the book (the reminders are omnipresent — the dewey decimal number on the spine, the library card on the back flyleaf with an ink date stamp, the carefully secured dust jacket), there’s the knowledge that it’s not to be treated as an intimate object.

In my own books, especially after starting my commonplace book blog, I underline passages I want to remember for later. I simply use a light pencil and return to them later for copying.

But when reading a library book, I must do something different, immediately: I can hopelessly try to remember what page a passage was on, or insert some temporary page marker like a receipt and keep on reading. But usually, I stop what I’m doing, go to my computer, type out the passage, and then continue reading, with a clear conscience. Many times when reading library books I wish they were my own for this very reason.

And yet, there are some real advantages to reading library books versus books I own.


First of all, the obvious: I don’t need to pay for library books.


I often feel an urgency to read library books quickly, as I only have them for a two or three week loan period, depending on the library. And as I avoid having to renew, it gives me incentive to read and finish library books, and not have them linger on my bedside table for months on end.


I’ve also realized, over the past few months, that I’m tending to read a greater selection of books from the library than I would have had I been actively buying books. There’s not the same type of commitment when you borrow a book: it gives me the freedom to take a chance on one that I might not otherwise. If I don’t happen to like the book, I can just return it to the library, unread (though I often feel a certain amount of guilt over this, as though I were operating under false pretenses under the librarians’ assumptions).


Because I’ve been going to the library so often, I’ve been made aware of different programs it offers and events it puts on, like the Canada Reads local edition or the semi-annual library book sale (which, I suppose, still brings me back to the buying of books, but at a fraction of the cost new, or even from used book stores).


A friend once shared with me this great invention: she went to this place where they will store books for you. You can read basically any book you want, and when you are finished with it, you bring it back, and someone else will return it to its proper shelf. You can do this multiple times. And it’s all free! The name of such an extraordinary service? The public library.

It’s an interesting way to look at it.

And for someone who has moved books several times (my own, as well as those at a bookstore I worked at when we moved 30,000 books across town), there is something to be said about someone else storing books for you.

So while this is not the end of my book-buying days, it’s been a nice return to borrowing.


Question: What do you enjoy most about reading books from the library?