Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weekend Assignment #318: Library-Free Living

For Weekend Assignment #318: Library Books, Carly asks,
Recently, it was discovered that George Washington had forgotten to return some books he had checked out of his local library. They were only 221 years late, mind you, but late all the same. How about you? Have you ever checked out a library book and forgot to return it? Tell us about your experiences with checking out, returning, or forgetting to return, books to the library.

Extra Credit: Tell us about the last book you checked out of the library.
See, this is one of several reasons why I don't go to libraries any more. I don't like the pressure of having to finish with a book by a certain date and return it. In fact, I'd rather not return a book at all. It was one thing to borrow a few dozen books each by Walter Farley and Jim Kjelgaard (not all at once, of course!) when I was in fourth grade. That made sense, because what kid can afford to buy a prolific writer's entire output? Manlius Public Library and Fayetteville Free Library were very helpful when I explored the science fiction genre in high school, and Bird Library at Syracuse University helped me out when I needed to read English translations of books I struggled with in a French literature class. As an adult, though, I want to own the book, even if it means being far more selective about which books to read.

Most of the books in my personal library are ones I've read at least twice, in some cases a dozen times or more. If I decide at three in the morning that I want to reread The Sword in the Stone or Dragonsong, I can do it. Thousands of books, no waiting. Reading a library book, in contrast, requires making time in the day when the library is open, going over there, and finding a book that a) I want to read, and b) that library actually owns. In my handful of visits to Tucson libraries since 1986, I've found very little overlap between a) and b).

And that's fine, really. The money available for library acquisitions these days is far from abundant, and spread across far more media than just books. Buyers aren't wasting their limited funds trying to entice an over-specialized reader like me into their libraries. They need to serve the general public with bestsellers and I suppose the occasional classic, replacing some old copy of A Tale of Two Cities that's no longer worth repairing.

Wilmot Library is closed - but I wasn't visiting it anyway

I suppose it's a shameful admission to make, my lack of library patronage. One of my best friends from college is a head librarian Back East, and John was a library technical assistant for something like seven years when we lived in Columbus. I do believe in the mission of libraries. I really do. But they just aren't for me any more. My last visit to a public library was to attend a lecture on modern architecture in Tucson, at the library next door to St. Michael's, roughly five years ago. That same library, itself an example of midcentury modern architecture, now stands empty and more or less gutted as it awaits renovation. My last library visit before that was to a University library, where I did my homework for an accounting class and tried desperately to stay awake until John was finished with whatever it was he was researching.

Wilmot Library's temporary location, next to Park Place Mall.

So what was the last library book I borrowed? I really don't remember. It was probably close to ten years ago. I think it was non-fiction. Something TV-related? Music? Lives of the Saints? I have no idea. What I do remember is that I didn't look at the book from the time it left the library until the day I returned it - late.

My only strong memory about returning a library book took place about 45 years ago. The book was Harry the Dirty Dog. After my mom and I returned it, the librarians discovered that some child had scribbled in it in crayon. I didn't do that, honest and truly, and I don't know who did. My mom didn't believe me. And that's the only reason I remember the incident: it was the start of a major bugaboo of mine, resenting false accusations like that one, however innocently made.



Sandrine said...

Oh, I don't spend much time in libraries if I can help it (and I'm an academic, aherm) but it's so sad that your local library actually closed!

Florinda said...

I share your shame. I don't go to the library any more either, and it's for some some of the same reasons you don't.

Jama said...

There 2 public libraries near me, about less than 5 minutes drive away, in opposite directions,and I don't make a regular visit.
Over here, the library charges for late return of due books.

Stephen said...

Amen. I've always wanted to own my own personal library of books I like...

Problem is, more than anything else, space to store all those books comes at a premium...