Libraries Vs. Bookstores: Which is Better?

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.)

The Library from Beauty & the Beast.

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

Just one of the beautiful ceiling paintings in the New York Public Library

  • 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

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7 responses

  1. Well, just recently I found myself in a number of bookstores trying to decide whether or not I wanted to spend that $25 for a new book or if I should write the title down and then request it at my local library. I opted for the second option. Although I occasionally purchase a new book (probably because I can’t wait for it to free up at the library), buying books is much too expensive for me. Unless I have a Chapters gift card in my hand, it is most likely that the library is the place you’ll find me.

  2. As much as I love libraries, it will never compare to owning the books myself. I love being surrounded by my books at home, and lend them out or reread them as often as I can. I’m not a huge fan of buying books at Chapters or similar stores, but won’t hesitate to shop there when I’m desperate. Lots of my books come from garage sales, library sales or the like, and Costco always has the new ones at a good price! That being said I could make an endless list of the benefits of libraries so its a good thing this is a debate I will not take up!

  3. Buying books hands down! I can’t do libraries because I like to finish books on my terms. We only get 2 weeks at our library and there is a cap on renewals and if someone else wants the book then you can’t renew it. So, I use the library strictly for books I would never care to own. Also, they don’t have much of what I want anyways (I like to read comic strip compilations and they only have a handful of different strips with exception to C&H which I own the complete collection of).

    I know its easy for library lovers to hate on buying books but its so great to have the freedom to read at my own pace and personalize my books. I hate when recreational reading turns into an obligation which the library has a knack of doing (for me). I don’t like reading fast partly because I have litle time and also because I like to truly enjoy and immerse myself in the book.

    I typically buy my books from Amazon (every now and then I’ll buy from B&N) and if I buy used, it really saves me money or if I buy straight from Amazon with my Prime membership.

    Also none of the “positives” you mentioned about libraries I have yet to observe at ours. The only time B&N is a bad experience is when its too crowded and there is no place to sit and no aisle where you could just sit down and read your book without someone practically standing right above you.

    And as a side note, you don’t have to sell books when the love affair is over. You can throw em away or better yet give them to the charity, goodwill or even the library 😉

  4. Ok, so for the most part I say libraries, when you have a time limit you’re more likely to finish quicker than when you don’t. Also I was a kid from a single parent house hold, libraries are a godsend for kids whose parents might not be able to afford them the newest copy of the latest Harry Potter book. (Yeah I know there will probably not be anymore coming out but I’m thinking of the past). I’m older now, don’t go to the library as much as when I was younger now that I have my own income I can afford to buy more books than I did when I was a teen. There’s a used book store near by and they have a free bin as well a relatively cheep prices…needless to say because of them I have three and a half shelves full of books, half of which I haven’t even gotten to yet. Pretty sure if they were library ones I’d have read most of em.

  5. Lately, the library doesn’t have a lot of the books I’ve been wanting to read. I’ve been going for less commercial books by smaller publishers a lot lately, and unless the author is local, the library won’t have books from small publishers.

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