I don’t use libraries as much as I ought to. At least, not for the purpose of borrowing books. I’ve got all-too-used to simply Googling for the books that I want and either buying them straightaway or sliding them into a wish list for picking up later. And that’s a habit I should really get out of, for a bagful of reasons. I’ll try to get to them in this post.
I live in a town without a bookshop. Yes there’s a handful of charity shops that sell books (and the pros and cons of the second-hand book market to writers are a post for another time), and there’s a branch of a well-known high street newsagent and stationer and a supermarket, though their shelves don’t stretch much beyond the current bestseller lists. But there’s no bookshop. And the town’s not been able to sustain a dedicated book retailer for over 30 years – we can’t necessarily blame the behemoth Amazon here. That’s not helped me though in defaulting to the internet when I want/need a book.
What I do use the library for, though, is a as a place to work. Our town’s library has a great little reference / local studies room. The papers, a selection of standard reference, works, lots of local history. Plus, best of all, a table, some chairs, and a power supply. I’m best at motivating myself when writing to be somewhere out of the house and the library suits me just right. Not too many distractions and just the right amount of background noise.
I’ve got some previous with this as well. In an earlier life I did a couple of Open University courses – a BSc and then an MA – and the best way for me to get some studying done was to take my books down to the library and crack on with it. That’s not to say that I can’t work at home (I’m at home now, for example), but I’ve always been able to get more done if I put myself in an environment that’s work-specific.
So it’s off to the library I go. It’s not an overly fancy or huge place; there’s no café onsite, the WiFi is iffy and you have to go and ask for a key if you need to use the loo, but the staff are pleasance, it’s never too busy, and you can rent DVDs for a pound a week. Plus there’s the books. What’s not to love?
Also, with the library membership I get access to a range of online databases (the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a godsend by itself), there’s a scanner and a printer / photocopier if I need one, and there’s usually a shelf or two of out-of-circulation books that’s at least worth browsing through to see if any of them are worth picking up.
I’m lucky in that I don’t always have to plan ahead or save up if I want to buy a book; I can go and buy it without worrying. But that to some extent does me a disservice. Online buying is great if you know what it is that you want to buy; but it’s not the be-all and end-all. For one you don’t get that sense of browsing you get in a real-world book shop; and this is something that you can replicate in a library. Yes, you can look for something specific, but you can also be taken by surprise in a way that’s not easy to do online. And, of course, the author gets paid for the book’s loan through the Public Lending Right Scheme. You don’t get that from a second-hand sale.
I’ll be in the library tomorrow. Maybe I’ll do something a little different and take a tour round the shelves and see what’s in stock. I think I’ve talked myself into it.
My novel The Prospect of This City is out now, and is available from me in paperback (signed if you prefer!) or in both ebook and paperback via Amazon .