Libraries vs. bookstores. In a reader’s world, this is an ongoing debate not easily solved. Though I ultimately want to put this to you, our beloved readers, I first want to lay out the facts. Below, you will find several issues facing modern readers today. The first point under each issue is in defense of libraries. The second, bookstores. Read them through, and decide for yourself! And don’t forget to comment if you have something interesting to say! (Or something not interesting. We just like your comments.)
Issue #1: Should Literacy Be a Money-Making Endeavour?
- Why buy a book when you can read it for free? Libraries are all about supporting education and entertainment, at no cost to the consumer. Now that’s generous!
- Bookstores – whether used or new – are all about the bottom line. Sure, they might be supportive of literacy, but they’re more supportive of consumerism. How unbecoming.
Issue #2: Doesn’t Time Equal Money?
- Sadly, libraries do have to charge late fees or people would just keep The Hunger Games, instead of returning it for someone else to enjoy. But I call this incentive! How many of your own books haven’t you read because you figure you can get to them “at any time”? The time limit on library reads forces you to finally finish Jane Eyre once and for all (instead of getting to page 120 three times in the course of your life and then abandoning it for no apparent reason). Plus – fees usually go right back into the library, improving the collection!
- Okay, so obviously there are advantages to paying one upfront cost. Many people wouldn’t be able to finish War & Peace in most public libraries’ one month time limit. In cases like this – if you’re motivated to finish! – buying is better. Plus you just look smarter with a full bookshelf at home, right? And that’s always a good feeling.
Issue #3: What If I End Up Not Liking the Book?
- Then you haven’t lost anything.
- Good luck selling it on Craigslist!
Issue #4: The Waitlist Conundrum
- Yes, libraries have them. And they’re often extensive. It sucks to find yourself at number 124 – especially when it’s the sequel and you’re burning to find out what will happen next.
- …Or you could just walk into Chapters and get your own copy, ending your misery. (But God help you if that book is on back order!)
Issue #5: Book Quality
- It could be anything if you’re getting your book from a library. I’ve had everything from practically mint copies to old raggedy disasters with crusty food stuck between the pages. Yuck! Still – the realization that other people have read this very same copy is kinda magical. I might be the only person in my generation not to own my own set of Harry Potter books, but it’s cool to imagine who else may have enjoyed them before me.
- Can’t complain about a new, crisp book – not to mention that printing-press/cardboard-box-it-was-shipped-in smell! Of course, there’s also something enduring about that ‘library smell’ an old book can have….
Issue #6: Service People
- Libraries employ librarians. Meaning they are educated, and thus hopefully know a little something about the things on their shelves. Plus, both librarian stereotypes are pretty lovable in their own way. (I.e., Crooked old lady with glasses on a chain, vs. sexy young thang in a pencil skirt – this could spark a new debate!)
- Book stores employ pimply teenagers, and depressing middle-aged parents just trying to feed their families. That’s depressing. Plus there’s always that one pesky, overenthusiastic employee who’s memorized the entire pitch about why you should read some new book. For example:“it’s a Heather’s Pick!”
Issue #7: The General Atmosphere
- Some of the world’s greatest libraries have the most interesting, beautiful architecture out there. Their interiors are totally feng shui-ed and comfortable, too. Yes, you need to be quiet in the library. But that’s part of the appeal. It’s calm and relaxing, and it tends to rub off on you. And that makes the library a great place to sit and study, or flip through an interesting magazine you don’t subscribe to.
- Even if your fave bookstore isn’t located in the middle of a loud mall, they’ve still got their pre-selected soundtrack playing, and there’s people constantly heckling you to buy something. Just hanging out there counts as loitering. It might have a similar vibe as the library, but I assure you it’s nothing more than a cheap facsimile.
I realize that, despite everything I’ve just told you this may come down to personal preference. One issue may be more important than another, and maybe that swings your vote. What I can say is this: the excitement of reading my latest book is the same whether I borrowed or bought it. It doesn’t matter if it’s mine or not – it only matters whether the actual thing is able to keep my interest and make me think!
But that’s enough for me! Now it’s time you had your say:
Further Reading: Libraries in Crisis