Surely my overdue fines are astronomical.

When I take the time to properly organize my wallet, there is a pocket reserved solely for library cards. I have six. Granted, two thirds of them are for libraries that I would have to travel hours to reach—two of them across an ocean—but the fact remains: I love libraries. Or, I say that. I say I love libraries, and it’s a truth that I realize every time I visit one, but I can’t tell you the last time I was actually in a library.

It used to be that the local library was, for me, a necessary, once a week minimum requirement. It was always better to go on Monday or Wednesday, because then they were open until 8:00, but if you went any other weekday, they kicked you out at 6:00. I would spend my library hours scrutinizing the shelves for new arrivals, old favorites or elusive titles I hadn’t yet picked off the shelves.  Sometimes, secretly, I read picture books, because sometimes there were funny ones, but I wouldn’t dare be caught dead checking them out to take home. Back before computers were common, let alone necessary home appliances, and after our library finally got one, I spent a good half hour or so looking up things on the internet, too. I tore through the stack of books I had brought home, because I hated renewing anything—I had (okay, still kind of have) a stigma against taking too long to read anything, not that anyone but myself would ever really care.

Libraries were a huge part of my life. Though we were only ever there for two weeks at a stretch once a year, I just had to apply for a library card here (Though, II think the 2 euro renewal is long overdue…). Despite all of this, I currently live a mere three blocks (on the short ends!) from the local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and yet I have only been inside three times in the two years that I’ve lived there. All three times were great and I checked out my usual stack of books to read, yet it would still never be a place I would think to go on a quiet afternoon. Why is that? It’s not that I have anything against libraries, and I would fight to keep them around. I briefly considered going back to school for library science and lament the lack of updates on one of my favorite columns on the McSweeney’s website.

While I’m aware that city budget cuts are affecting libraries all over, I can’t imagine that they would ever be done away with entirely. Children, surely, still visit—if only for the free computer time, but there are so many things for which libraries once were the sole providers that it worries me. No longer is it necessary to visit a library for research (and insert my pause as I remember poring over encyclopedia after encyclopedia in the tiny research room, trying to write a report on hermit crabs), back issues of periodicals can be found on the internet and used books go for a penny on Amazon. I hate to think that I am a perpetuator in the slow demise of library popularity, but it really makes me wonder. If someone like me, a girl who begged to be dropped off at the library in lieu of attending yet another baseball game can let my memberships lapse, then what does that say about their fate?

What about you? Am I just a bad example? Am I worried for nothing or have you, too, slowly turned away from a treasured public institution?

5 Responses to Surely my overdue fines are astronomical.

  1. When times were good & I was pulling in a healthy paycheck, I never thought of going to the library, though for whatever reason, I did have a card. I was a collector of hardback novels & tried my best to singlehandedly keep the publishing industry alive. Now that the rotten economy has decimated my industry, as well as my business, I can no longer afford $24 for a single title, let alone a stack of 5 or 6 at a time every few weeks. So, in turn, the library has become my lifeline to my much needed fantasy world. The King County Library System near Seattle allows me to browse or search for titles, put them on hold then emails me once they’ve been delivered to my local branch. Now my only worry is if I will be able to read through my stack before they are due back, though I can renew online, as well as long as the title is not on hold for someone else. And if I fall in love with a book, then I will buy it.

  2. Kurt Hartwig says:

    Just last week I got my new local library card. It’s not that I can’t spend money on books, but there are a lot of books that I want to read but don’t want to own. As my wife and I downsize and recently moved from a house to an apartment, we’re getting pickier about the titles (not just of books) that we want to take with us. The library is a public good.

    Unless, of course, you’re trying to cut your budget. Then it’s the librarians who are the problem, I guess.


  3. As a librarian-in-training myself, I will counter that libraries are still VITAL for research. Yes, many periodicals are available on the Internet, but you’d be astonished at how much is NOT out there for free. We get patrons coming in from the community all the time because they thought they’d be able to get some back issue of a journal for free by Googling it, only to find out that’s not the case. And good luck getting a large percentage of current research for free on the web, especially if it’s for scholarly research; subscription prices are going up, and not every journal is heading toward open access.

    Plus, a lot of people simply don’t know how to research effectively, and libraries are great for providing that service.

    There’s also economic issues, even for getting popular fiction. Even if the economy recovers, there will be lots of people who can’t afford all the books they want to read, or simply won’t want to pay $15 for a book they’ll read once, and will come to the library.

    Also, Rachel, my guess is you’re about my age, give or take a few years. It’s pretty well-known among librarians at least that the biggest users of libraries tend to be children and teens, then usage drops off in the twenties and thirties but picks up again as people approach middle age. You sound fairly typical in this.

  4. Julie Nilson says:

    Like the posters above, I’ve rediscovered the library recently, largely because of the bad economy. I’m actually kicking myself for not doing so sooner, since I’ve spent SO much money on books over the years!

    It’s also a godsend if you have voraciously reading children, like I do. My oldest will choose 10-15 books each time, and actually have them all read by the due date 4 weeks later (although Harry Potter has slowed her rate down a bit). I’d have to be a multi-millionaire, with an enormous amount of shelf space, to keep up with that habit if I were buying all those books!

  5. Donn says:

    Libraries <3.

    The idea of cutting library budgets should be scandalous, should be taboo in society. Very modest costs compared to other government-run institutions, and there is literally not a word can be spoken against them.

    Learning & community. How dare someone want to scale back on learning & community.

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