Find the cost of reading

I mentioned a few posts ago that I did a hella lot of reading this past year.  Just threw some books at myself to see what would stick and many of them actually did which was cool.  Everything I read this year, from cookbooks to novels to non-fiction books came from my local public library system.  Every. Single. Book.  Now I have read the articles that talk about library usage being up, way up, across the board clearly as a result of the recession that has gripped our world, and while I suppose indirectly this had something to do with me using the resources of the library, that wasn’t entirely it.  It’s mostly that I don’t really want to own books.  I blogged about this at my old blog a couple of years ago, so for anyone reading who frequented the previous blog, don’t worry, I am not about to rehash.  Much.

I love books to absolute death, but I find it difficult to buy them, partly because they take up a lot of space and partly because I rarely (if ever) reread books, so unless we are talking cookbooks that I might refer to more than once, or a reference book or something similar, I’m just not interested in owning it.  The space thing is the biggest issue for me.  We live in a very old house with exactly two closets, both of which are oddly shaped, because they are on either side of the (crazily steep) staircase that leads to the attic.  Neither are hugely functional as a result, so we need to have furniture to house our belongings.  This takes up, as you can imagine, much of the precious floor/wall space in our house, so to store and display other things like books (and DVDs, CDs, games etc. which I am also loathe to buy) becomes a challenge.

It’s especially difficult, because I am a tactile person.  I love unwrapping new CDs, I love opening them and reading liner notes; I love the feel and smell of a new book, the weight of paper and the way the cover feels.  So it’s hard to separate the two sides of me, and continue to maintain a relatively clutter-free lifestyle.  But, I download music (legally, of course) and I borrow books from the library.  I try to get the boys to rent videogames first, to see if they like them enough to want to purchase.  I spend countless hours trying to purge toys and games from their room, and give away much of what is no longer used.  It’s uphill work, people.  And I know I’m not the only one in this boat.

So in order to counteract the stuff takeover of my life, I made the decision to read only books from the library just over a year ago.  I was always an avid library user during elementary and high school, and then throughout university I practically lived in one.  When the boys were little, we did a lot of library visiting, summer reading club reading, and spent a good amount of time parked at the little tables and chairs of our local branch.  So what happened?  Well, I started working full time and no longer was able to spend an afternoon with the kids at the ‘brary.  Sure, they’re open Saturdays (and some branches even Sundays) but weekends became my two days to get everything done that I could no longer do during the week on account of my new job.  I missed it for sure, and I really missed taking the boys there and watching them gather armfuls of books and comics and bring them to the circulation desk armed with their very own library card and sign them out.  Do I sound like an old person pining for those simpler times?  Yeah, it’s kind of what I was going for.

Anyway, so missing the library visits.  But discovering that I am able to, due to the magic of the interwebs, log in to my library account and click on book titles I like and then request that they be sent to the branch 5 minutes down the street from my work.  This?  Huge.  While I did love wandering the stacks and all, I would often come away frustrated and with nothing to read, because that awesome sounding book I heard on Metro Morning yesterday?  Yeah, can’t remember the title or the author.  Or, even if I did know what I was looking for, there is always the “we don’t have that title at this branch, but we can certainly bring it in for you!” which is beyond helpful, but not so useful when I want to read something right now.  So now!  NOW, I can read a blog or an article recommending a fantastic book, go to the library’s website, search for it and click reserve to have it sent to any branch I want.  And in a couple of days I get a pleasant email telling me my items are ready for pickup.  Sure sometimes the library doesn’t own the book at all, and sometimes the book has a bazillion requests and my request is number bazillion and one, but it’s a super awesome system and I sometimes even feel badly for taking advantage of it.  I mean I know it’s all good and everything, and it’s there to be used…but I have been known to place a request on a book that is physically at the library branch I am about to go to, just so that it will be ready and waiting for me when I get there.  I realize I have no shame. 

So.  Lots of reading, no buying of books.  And because I am a geek, I have been trying to estimate how much money I have saved over the course of the past year or so by only reading library books.  I spent the better part of my lunch hours last week searching for tools to help with just that.  There are websites that tell you to use your library to save money, but very few that say “you read 64 books this year and therefore saved X dollars!”  Except for the Massachusetts Library Association.  Those people have got it going on, blogfriends.  You want to know what you’re not spending by using the library?  Download their spreadsheet and calculate what you save every single time you use the library.  It’s sheer genius, it is.  And I wish I’d found it earlier.  One of the things I would love to see in my library’s most excellent cataloguing system is the ability to see what you’ve checked out over the course of a month or a year or whatever.  I have discovered Goodreads (I know, so late to the party on that) which allows me to keep track, and if I go strictly by the number of books on there (I purposely have kept it to books I have read recently) I have read 51 books.  I believe I own 3 of the books on the list, which I read just outside of my one-year cutoff when I started keeping track.  So, 48 books borrowed and read.  If I had purchased all of these books, the grand total would be somewhere around (according to the spreadsheet) $672.00.  And that doesn’t even take into account the kids’ books and the cookbooks and the DVDs I’ve borrowed.  That is a serious chunk of change, right there. 

So I’m not here to preach, people.  Everyone knows it’s good to read, and everyone knows that libraries are cool, but if buying books is your thing, and you can do it, then by all means continue to buy books.   I am just putting it out there that this system works like magic for me, because it’s just what I need.  Books shouldn’t be a luxury, and thanks to libraries, they don’t have to be. 

Also, totally going to try to justify that $672 savings into a nice little netbook for myself.

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