A few years ago, I learned the most shocking fact about public libraries:
Not everybody uses them!
“No!”, you may say, “That’s impossible – how else do people get their books?”
The scary answer that I discovered is that some people have developed a habit of regularly buying books which cost them $10 – $30 each, reading them, and then collecting them on an ever-growing series of bookshelves.
When you talk to a compulsive book collector, you’ll hear things like, “Oh, but I just LOVE books. They are my guilty pleasure. I love the feel of them, the smell of the paper, the beautiful covers and the way they look all lined up on my bookshelf. I love just being able to move slowly along my bookshelf on a Sunday morning, looking at all the titles, picking out books I haven’t read in years and sitting down and re-reading them, and blah blah blah”
I can relate to all these feelings, because I also get pretty excited when I walk past a big collection of books. I read whenever I get a chance, and I am overjoyed that so many books exist to provide me with a lifetime of unlimited learning and entertainment. The only difference is that I have several hundred thousand of them, and a paid staff who roams through my modern curved-glass 20,000 square foot book storage facility, automatically maintaining them and buying more for me constantly. I have so many books that I share them with everyone in my entire city, and we’ve even come to an agreement where we ALL pay just a few dollars per year each for the facility, and yet any one of us can borrow any of the books. By pooling our buying power together like this, everyone wins, and yet none of us have to waste space in our house storing books that we are not currently reading! We love our book sharing facility so much, we decided to call it the “Public Library”.
I know the home-based bookshelf is emotionally attractive to many who fancy themselves to be intellectuals. But if you are really that smart, why are you paying dearly for something that you can get for free?
All of us probably know one of these people, who buys “just a harmless book or two every week or so from Amazon, because hey, it’s only twelve bucks, and I’m a highly paid office worker, and I don’t really have many other vices”. But unless this person is already completely financially independent, he might eventually wake up and notice over ten thousand dollars leaking from his ‘Stash every ten years from such a habit. A large book collection also amounts to a boat anchor of unnecessary belongings making future moves more difficult for you, not to mention the sizeable amount of natural resources that went into harvesting, printing, and shipping a thousand pounds of dead trees to your house.
But instead of the negatives of book collecting, let’s focus on the positives of library membership. The Money Mustache family can speak from experience here, since we have become enormous fans of the place over the past six years.
My city’s library is an unusually nice building, located in a scenic part of downtown. It’s within a 7-minute bike ride of my house, which has nothing to do with luck – we picked our current location specifically to be close to the library as well as the school, grocery stores, and the rest of the city’s amenities. Because of this nice proximity, all three of us tend to visit at least once a week on average.
It romances all of us and sucks us in by catering to every one of our interests.
A kid in a library is just as amazed as a kid in Disneyland. The children’s section has thousands of kid-oriented books on all subjects, placed on low shelves encouraging them to dive in. There are also play areas, educational computers and games, and a gigantic model train set that was donated and maintained by a local model railroad club (i.e., friendly old dudes who still like toy trains and kids).
With no experience in turning to broadcast television for his storytelling entertainment (in fact, I’m not sure if he even knows it exists), Junior ‘Stash naturally turns to books. He reads simple ones to us, and we read complicated ones to him. It really seems to add up over time – we’ve read him somewhere over 50 full-sized novels during the normal bedtime reading sessions, including most of the Harry Potter series and more recently Ender’s Game.
Mrs Money Mustache heads upstairs and loads up her backpack with books about gardening, parenting, and intelligent-looking Lady novels with obscurely artsy titles and drawn-out and emotional subject matter.
I’ll usually end up in the non-fiction section and get books about economics, investing, technology, social trends, as well as cheesy self-help books, construction guides, and on a special occasion a little bit of science fiction or action – like Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
Between all of us, we tend to have 30 books checked out at any given time, and we make the most of the generous six-weeks-including-renewal holding period.
What a wonderful place. When you visit the library regularly, you start to notice that it’s not just a local government service that lends you books. It’s a place where the whole community of people interested in learning gathers together, secretly avoiding the TV and the shopping mall that gets the attention of everyone else. Local experts come in and give free talks in the conference rooms. People stop by to donate their recent issues of magazines after reading them. Volunteers raise and donate money and books. Surplus library books get sold off for a buck each. Little display tables get set up with currently applicable themes. There was a “peak oil” display recently with some articles, magazines, and books all laid out, free for anyone to sign out and read. And there is free wi-fi access throughout for those who want to just tune in and read on their laptop or phone.
Overall, you can get the equivalent of another complete University education in a different field, every few years, just by being a regular visitor and letting your curiosity lead you around. You’ll learn new skills even while you enjoy the ultimate free leisure activity. All in a nice building surrounded by relatively cool people.
So your local library is much more than just your well-stocked home bookshelf. It’s really a Temple of Mustachianism, at which you would do well to start worshiping if you are not doing so already.