Friday, August 24, 2012

The Public Library Is the Boss of Me

by Sara N.

I'm the public library's bitch.

I realized this as I reviewed the books I'd read this summer. In May, Stellar Four listed the novels we planned to dive into over the upcoming months. I came up way short. I only read the first book of Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, and I didn't even glance at any of Mike Carey's Felix Caster series. I had other plans, too, to pick up some Ray Bradbury. A bit of Ian M. Banks. A little Isaac Asmiov.

I failed. And it's the library's fault.

Those tricksy purveyors of literature kept knocking me off of my reading schedule by providing me with excellent alternate reading options. You see, I'm not a buyer of hardbacks. If a good-looking read comes out in hardback, my first stop is the public library's website to request it.* There's no predicting how long the wait will be for a popular book, and renewing books with a waitlist isn't allowed. So when I get the text message** that a book I've been waiting for is in, I've got to pick it up and read it without much foot-dragging.

What this means is that all summer, I'd decide that, say, the first Felix Caster book was on deck as my next read, and then I'd get the notification that a book I requested from the library a month ago was finally available, which meant I had to get it, read it, and get it returned. Lather, rinse, repeat, all summer long.

I'll read you someday, Ilona Andrews.
So what books interrupted my reading of the pile of novels on my nightstand? Veronica Roth's Insurgent. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Thomas Mullen's The Revisionists. Karen Slaughter's Criminal. Deborah Harkness' Shadows of Night. Tana French's Broken Harbor. Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins. Maggie Shipstead's Seatings Arrangements.*** Each of these books had great reviews and/or were the next books in series I'd been reading. Each time I got a notification that a new library book was in for me, I'd pick it up, and the faithful paperbacks waiting on my bookshelves had to keep waiting.

Even the advent of e-readers hasn't eased the tyranny of the waitlist. Libraries have slowly but surely increased the number of digital books they offer for checkout, but as with physical books, e-books can only be checked out one at a time. This means the digital waitlist can be just as long and just as unpredictable as the list for physical copies, as a recent New York Times article pointed out.

You offer too much goodness, library. I can't keep up with you.

All of these complaints are in jest, of course. Public libraries across the country are vital to the education and entertainment of millions of people, and I will never stop being grateful for that. I've gotten hours of enjoyment from the books the library has provided for me, all for a reasonable cut of my property taxes. But the element of unpredictability when it comes to book availability makes it a challenge for a book nerd like me who prefers to know what her next read will be.

It's cool, though. I'll race to get on the waitlist for The Casual Vacancy as soon as my local library opens it up.

*Exceptions: The Harry Potter series, GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire series and the Hunger Games series are the only hardback books I bought new the day they were released. 

**Text message! We're living in the future, people!

***I recommend five of those eight books, by the way.
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  1. Libraries are the absolute best. I end up with the same problem you do. :) I have books that would have been read if I had library'd them, but since I bought them they are sitting lonely on the shelf or in the Kindle. There is a bit of sad irony there.

    I actually read 3 of my 4 Summer Reading List books and I also read Dust Girl from that list, so not too bad.

  2. Of the two library catalog systems I've seen, both had an option to "taper" your holds, although it may not be obvious. For example, the one we currently have has a vacation option. If you're going to be reading a particular book and don't want anything in the meantime, you could say you'll be on "vacation" until X date in the future, so your requests won't come in until after that date (but you'll be at the top of the queue)!

    Just a friendly FYI!

    1. Oooh, that's a great tip! I did notice some kind of vacation option, but it didn't even occur to me to use that to carve out space to finish the reading I was planning on doing. Thank you!

    2. That is awesome! I have this issue, too, most recently when I requested e-versions of Game of Thrones & Storm of Swords...the waitlist was over a hundred people long, so when my number came up, I dropped everything.

  3. I just want to hop on the library bandwagon of love! My library keeps me sane. Not only do they get in 80% of the books I'd like to read (I have some on my list that are no longer in print that they don't have) but they let me put them on hold and pick them up at the drive through. When I moved last year, my library friends were sad to see me move to another branch. My new library friends already recognize me. I don't buy hardcovers either but if the hubs wasn't unemployed I would be buying many of these books in paperback at the least and I am extremely thankful for my fabulous library for allowing me to continue to feed my reading habit when there is no money to do so elsewhere.

    I find that it is actually kind of fun to have the library books that come available at unexpected times. You don't get stuck in a rut!