unihibited self-indulgence

I love the library. In fact, I took my friend Kyle to the library last week, handed him a recommended book, and had him sign up for a library card. I told him that I was converting people one at a time. It was a bit of a struggle for him to get over the offensive architecture of the MLK Jr. Library. I agreed and realized that I generally keep my eyes averted low, looking at the tables and displays of new books.

My love for the library probably started when I spent countless hours at the Walnut Cove Public Library while my parents were at work. I know that I read almost every book in the children’s section and eventually made my way to the fiction books as I grew older.

As part of my graduate work, I took a couple of classes with David Carr in UNC’s School of Information and Library Science. One of his specialty areas was pleasure reading. Not what you would expect from a college professor. He quickly told the class, if you don’t like the book, put it down. There are countless other books available for you to read. I am sure that his encouragement and the limitless number of books you can check out kept me returning to the library.

In Chapel Hill, our condo was at the bottom of a paved bike path to the Chapel Hill Public Library. Henry and I would frequently visit. I always perused the new book section and did a few searches for books that I was considering buying from Border’s or Barnes and Noble. It was not unusual for me to walk home with a large pile of books about topics I would never spend time exploring at the bookstore. Basket weaving, Chinese calligraphy, gardening, the list goes on…

In our culture, Barnes and Noble and Borders have become the third place, along with Starbucks. The third place is where you spend your time other than home or work. My dad’s third place is Edward McKay Used Books in Winston-Salem, a used bookstore. He in fact, treats it like the library. With books at $2 each, he can buy all of the books that he wants without feeling too guilty. That is until he has to build a storage shelter for his newly acquired collection.

But what about the library? Maybe I am pretty lucky to have access to a great collection. Yes, the building is ugly and some of the people can be scary at times. But a library is all about the books. Right? We live about four blocks from MLK Library. Even when I am returning my books, I walk out with as many books as my arms can hold.

I have a particular path that I typically take. I start by looking at the tables in the lobby. Then I walk into the popular fiction room and explore all of the books on display on the window. Typically there are enough copies of new releases to satisfy any book group in the area. I then scan the shelves of the young adult new releases for anything that seems interesting. I then cross the lobby and look at the business books on the tables outside of the other main room. There is a section for Small Business that has been exceedingly helpful. And after I received a report that my blood sugar was a little high, I pulled a few books from the shelf dedicated to Diabetes. Why not start to prevent it now?

The beauty of the library is that I can explore any topic that I like. I have countless books that I have bought from the bookstore. But there are some disadvantages to just buying books at the bookstore.

First, a lot of the books are expensive. Why not save your money for books that you really love, books that you will refer to over and over again, like friends? Not just something that looks interesting. Think about how you could help improve your library if you donated the money for a couple of coffee table books to your local library.

Second, there are only so many books that you can purchase at one time without blowing your budget. At the library, you can pick up as many as you can hold. Why limit your curiosity? Take the books home and explore them in a comfortable place. You don’t have to actually read them all. You can scan them, look at the pictures, copy specific pages for reference.

Third, I read very few of my spontaneous book purchases. Without a due date and looming fees, there is no pressure to actually read the book. Several sit with unbroken backs on my shelves forever. I am not sure when I will ever read them. One day, I guess.

The fourth issue is space. We already have two huge bookshelves that are full. If our collection keeps accumulating at a rate like this over our lifetime, we will be drowning in books. In fact, one of the people who came to look at our apartment told me that it was not large enough because of the countless books that they have in storage. Hmmmm… Are your books holding you back? That is not their actual purpose. I have dedicated one of our shelves just to my library books. That way I won’t lose any of them. It is like my very own recent arrival shelf.

And do I even need to mention that this definitely falls into the category of being environmentally friendly?

So instead of going to the bookstore this weekend, consider your library instead. You might be pleasantly surprised. As for me, there are several other floors of the MLK Library that I never explore. I guess I need to figure out what’s up there. But that might require a rolling cart.

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1 Comment

  1. A. Lin

    I have had to use the library because our budget just does not allow me to buy all the books I want to read. One great thing about the library is the free InterLibrary Loans. I can’t afford to buy all my biblical commentaries or other books that have been recommended for my reading, but the online form for ILL is wonderful. For the post-graduate school years without access to a university library, ILL is the way to go.

    And if I am going to buy books, I buy them for my sons. Even in preschool, my son brings home those Scholastic book order forms. When you can buy the thin paperback children’s books for 95 cents, it is a wonderful way to fill my sons’ bookshelf in their room.

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