I was speaking to a neighbor the other day who’s lived here for over a year, now. She mentioned her love of books, so I said, “Oh, then I’m sure you’ve been making good use of the library. I go there all the time.”
She looked puzzled. “Library? No. I don’t even have a library card. I just buy whatever books I need. Although it is a strain on the budget,” she admitted.
“Library cards are free!” I said. “Why would you not get one?”
She simply shrugged.
We changed topics, but later her lack of library card befuddled me. I could sort of understand a non-reader not having a card. Even then, though, libraries are such fonts of cool stuff I would get one, anyway. You can borrow DVD’s, magazines, comics, CD’s, and other fun things. Some even have toy libraries for kids, tool libraries for adults, or other things to lend like cake pans. (Yep. If you need a themed cake pan for your kid’s birthday party, try the library.) They have interesting programs and classes, and tutoring for kids. There are community events like art shows, music, movies, and summer camps for kids. Even if you aren’t a reader, there’s still value in the library.
But for someone who’s a reader not to have a card? Mind boggling. Every time I’ve moved, the first thing I’ve done after establishing water and power service is go to the library and get a card. Most of the time it’s completely free. And even if there is a charge, it’s nominal compared to what you get. It’s often way less than the cost of one hardback book.
Being a big reader and researcher, I’ve got multiple cards. I have one for my local library (free), and I paid for one in the next county just so I could have access to more books and services. (The county next door is substantially better than my local library. More money=more books, sadly. Interlibrary loan is great, but it comes with too many limits to be practical for me and since the other county is only a few miles away, I just pay to use their stuff.) I also have one for the nearest university library and cards for some out of state ebook libraries to give me access to bigger collections. Even with all of that, I haven’t exceeded the cost of three hardcover books.
Heaven only knows exactly how many books I’ve actually gotten out of this arrangement. I stopped counting a long time ago. And everything else I’ve ever borrowed or used – DVD’s, records/CD’s, magazines, comics, book clubs, classes, computers, etc. – has just been gravy.
Over the years I’ve heard more than a few people say that they don’t have a library card, despite being big readers. They don’t like the amount of money they spend on books, but the concept of a library is either foreign to them, or somehow seen as something they shouldn’t use. Some of the mind blowing reasons for not getting a card I’ve heard over the years (and my rebuttals):
“Library books are gross. They’re used and might have germs.“ How do you function in the world? Everything out there is full of germs. A door handle is probably more of a petri dish than a library book will ever be. And that book you bought new at Barnes and Noble was likely handled by a lot of people (some with colds and the flu), and read in the cafe where it picked up cookie crumbs and coffee dribbles. So, yeah.
“I don’t have time to get a card.” Not buying it. It takes a few minutes to sign up and in some places, you can do it all online.
“Library books might have bedbugs.” True, some libraries have been found to have bedbugs. But so have movie theaters, department stores, hotels, busses, trains, planes, warehouses where online shopping is packed and processed, and restaurants. In short, anywhere you go carries the risk of bringing home a bedbug. Libraries are no different and shorting yourself because of the unlikelihood of bringing home a bug is kind of silly. Unless you never go anywhere or buy anything, you’re always at risk of a bedbug.
“Libraries are for people who can’t afford books.” No. Just no. Libraries are not welfare programs. They are for everyone in a community. Your tax money pays for the materials and services. Might as well use it. Rich, poor, doesn’t matter. The library is a service provided to improve and enrich the community at all income levels. There’s no stigma attached to a library card. (I’d actually say there’s more of a stigma attached to not having one. It shows you’re not interested in supporting your community, you’d rather waste money than save it, and you’re not much of a learner.)
“We have plenty of money. We can afford to buy books.” Great. Happy for you. But what if you saved that money and used it on something else? Like retirement, or a great trip? You know, something you can’t get for free? And if the book is bad, you won’t have wasted money if you got it from the library. Just return it and move on. But hey. If you like blowing money unnecessarily, then more power to you, I guess. The economy and our capitalist overlords thank you.
“I’ll never have time to get to the library.” Fine, but with the advent of ebooks, you don’t have to. You can borrow from the comfort of your couch. And many of the electronic databases and resources can also be accessed from home nowadays.
“I don’t have kids.” So? Neither do I. Neither do a lot of people. While libraries offer a lot of programs and homework help for kids, they also offer a lot of fun for adults. And, again, there are free books for all ages. I have no idea what having kids has to do with having a library card, but some people seem to think that kids are some kind of prerequisite. Whatever. I’m sure the seniors I see there every week have housefuls of toddlers. *Rolls eyes.*
“I don’t want to deal with overdue fees.” Okay, this one I can almost give you. Yes, it can be a hassle to keep track of what’s due when and avoid overdue fines. But here’s the thing. Even if you screw up and miss a due date, the fees are so tiny as to be almost meaningless. That dime you owe for a book that’s two days overdue is silly. Even if you have to pay, remember the money goes to buying more materials so it isn’t wasted. And if you lose a book? Worst case you’ll have to pay to replace it. But if you didn’t have the library, you’d have paid for it anyway, so not really an argument there. And if you really worry about this, stick to ebooks. Fines are never assessed because books are automatically returned.
“I don’t read.” This is the biggie. People think if they don’t read, there’s no need to have a library card. If you don’t read, there are still plenty of reasons to have a card. Maybe one day your internet crashes and you need a good place to use some free wifi. Or you need to print something and your printer’s busted. What about the day your kid is making you nuts and you want someplace free to take them? Suppose you want to borrow a DVD or CD? Or you want to take a class or join a craft or coupon club? Maybe you get the genealogy bug and want to research your ancestry. Suppose you need a place to host a meeting? Yep you can do all of these things (and more) at many libraries. And you never have to “read” anything.
“The library is out of date.” Doubtful. Yes, some are better than others due to more funding, but I’ve never been in a library that was completely hopeless. And now many are on the front lines of technology. Some offer 3D printers or advanced software like Photoshop or CAD programs. You can use computers that might be faster than the old laptop you have at home. Most libraries keep up with the current hotness, book-wise. They offer ebooks and audiobooks, plus access to databases that you, as an individual, either cannot access at all or which would be cost prohibitive to do so. Some even loan out computers, ereaders, or tablets. Some provide office space so you can work while on the road or when your home office is out of commission. Out of date, my butt.
“I don’t want my reading tracked by the government.” With all the data available about you out there on the web, is what you choose to read that much of a concern? Big Brother already knows where you live, where you work, what you eat (if you have a grocery store card), what you buy (if you use credit or debit cards), what you drive, and where you travel. If you’re on social media, the world probably knows a lot more than that about you. Even if this legitimately worries you, many libraries don’t keep your reading records by default. They may give you an opportunity to opt in so that you can see what you read at a future date, but most don’t do this by default. Once you turn in the book, it’s off your record forever. And many libraries now offer self-checkouts, so you never have to hand over your weird books to a librarian.
All of these excuses are just that: Excuses. So when someone says, “I don’t have a library card,” I just shake my head. They’re missing out on so much. And it’s free!
Why on earth don’t you just go get a card? There’s simply no excuse not to have one.