I’m a reader. Most of you reading this are probably also dedicated readers, the sort to keep a particular shelf full with books queued up to read. But lately I’ve been thinking about how many of the books I’ve bought over the years have been ones I’ve returned to, compared to the number which get read once or even less than once and then sit on the shelf. It’s not that high but it’s probably higher than it needs to be, and it’s probably reasonable to say that I’ve spent thousands in the last decade or so on books that I’ve only read once.

And then there’s magazines. I don’t subscribe to many because of laziness, but I likes my magazines, I do. I regularly read the Atlantic, Esquire, GQ, Details, Fortune, Business 2.0, Road and Track, Magnet, Men’s Health, Dwell, the Economist, Geist, Maisonneuve, Scientific American, Seed… You get the idea.

This strategy is inefficient.

And somehow I managed to forget about libraries until a few months ago. Even then I was just taking out books that I knew I didn’t need to own until very recently.

So I’ve got a new process: Books that I want to read go on my “bookmarks” list in the Ottawa Public Library’s OPAC, unless there’s a giant request queue for them, in which case I request them right away to get my place in line. After I’ve read it, I decide whether or not it’s worth owning a copy. I suspect for a lot of them I still will want to own a copy, but it’ll let me screen out the rest.

For some books the request queue is ridiculous, so those ones I’ll just have to decide whether to buy or wait.

One lunch-hour later, and I’ve got eight requests in and another thirty or so books bookmarked. I feel silly for having waited this long to figure this out!

(I’m not sure how to solve the similar problem with magazines. One step would be to subscribe to the ones I buy monthly, but that feels like a step in the wrong direction somehow.)

9 responses to “yes.”

  1. I can’t buy fiction books for this very reason. I feel like having it on the shelf doesn’t help me at all — I’ve already read the book once, what now? The only fiction books I actually own are either ones bought for me as gifts, ones I bought in airports because I had nothing else to read, or books I found second-hand. I’m the same way with movies, though. The only DVD I actually own is The Mole.

    Libraries win all the time. :)

    They may or may not have the magazines you want in the library as well, but sometimes it’s harder to get ahold of them due to longer wait times or shorter check-out periods.

  2. Not for recreational reading, no. And definitely not at $500/year. My whole point here is that I’m trying to figure out how to spend less on reading materials, after all!

  3. I have no useful advice. All I can do is identify with your feeling of “why the heck didn’t I figure this out sooner?” ( That, and point out a side benefit of this approach: discovering other books you might like. That does happen at bookstores, but many if not most bookstores are smaller than many libraries (I’m thinking of the bookstores and libraries in Ottawa that I know of), and libraries often have more obscure freaky shit (and I’m all about the obscure freaky shit) than bookstores do, because they don’t really care if they can sell it or not. So, yes: libraries good. We are dumb. Or were.

  4. We, too, went through a similar “library rediscovery process” both up there in Ottawa and now here in Burlington, VT. I think in Ottawa it was largely brought about by the sheer “sticker shock” of the price differential between paperback books in the US and then in Canada. We also enjoyed the walk up to the Carlingwood library where we could browse and get books. I definitely liked the Ottawa Library online systems, too, for its ability to bookmark. (Something missing from the one here in Burlington.)

    The one big thing I find that I miss, though, in a library versus a bookstore is the ability to easily browse other books of a similar topic. The library here in Burlington is all ordered by the Dewey decimal system and then by author name. I think Carlingwood was as well. Whereas in a bookstore the books are all grouped by subject. So if you want to find books on a particular topic, odds are fairly certain that they’ll all be grouped together. In the libraries I’m familiar with, this doesn’t happen. Which has led to the bizarre situation where I’ll find a book online, see what other similar books are like it (using something like Amazon)… and then see what’s available at the library. Not exactly overly efficient.

    I almost want the bookstore type of organizational format married with the library ideas.

    On magazines, I have no useful suggestions, either… I subscribe to a bunch and pick up others randomly when I’m travelling or flying.

  5. Subject is exactly what classification systems (including Dewey) do! I strongly prefer Library of Congress classification, but that’s just because that’s what McGill uses so I had to learn big chunks of it inside out.

    But if you take, say, Curling for Dummies (796.964 W395), you’ll find it around all the books on curling (796.964) which are around the books on ice sports (796.96) which are around the books on ice and snow sports (796.9) which are part of the books about athletic outdoor sports and games (796) which is in the section about recreation, sports and performing arts (790) which is part of the section on the arts (700).

    Have you discovered LibraryThing? It puts bookstore shelves and Amazon recommendations to shame. Let’s say you enjoyed Linus Torvalds’s Just for Funhere’s what LibraryThing thinks you might like. (That it also keeps track of your own library and can use all of what you own and have read to decide what else you might like is icing on that cake.) On the other hand, you might want to stay away from these!