Library cards are for the birds

So, a fellow writer and blogger, Amy Sundberg, has started a new series she’s calling the Backbone Project.  The idea is to assert opinions and viewpoints without apology, to be unafraid of stating things others might disagree with, and generally to say “no” to writing bland blog posts.  Amy has also enlisted all of us to help her out.  Because I love Amy’s blog and think I could probably stand to be a bit less wishy-washy myself, I’ve decided to chime in with a back-bony post of my own.  So, after reading, feel free to share your outraged disagreement in the comments!

My opinion for the day is as follows:  I think library cards are for the birds.

I’m a prime candidate for a library card.  I read a lot (I mean REALLY a lot – usually upwards of 6-9 books a month).  I’m not rolling in cash, so forking over for every book I read is far from financially prudent.  I live in New York City, which (unlike many other places) still has a moderately functioning library system.  Also, our apartment is very small and shelf space is not to be squandered.  Everyone is always telling me “ooh, you really should get a library card.  It’s such a good thing.  You’re such a fool to pay for books” blah, blah, blah.

I ain’t gettin’ one and nothing you can say will change my mind.

Here’s why:

1. I’m the most impatient person alive. 

I often find it hard to wait for a book to arrive from Amazon (and we use Amazon Prime, so the wait is generally less than 2 days).  I want my booky-books, and I want them NOW.  The library never seems to have the books I want, or if they do there’s a wait of like 10 million years to get them.  Thanks, but no thanks.

2. The hoops the library requires me to jump through drive me nuts (I mean actually, hair-pullingly nuts). 

An example: I did, in fact, sign up for a library card when we first moved to Brooklyn.  I eagerly went home and fired up the computer to search for all the books I wanted to read.  The online system was impenetrable, a veritable maze of branches and rules and forms.  I was slavering with irritation by the time I finally finished navigating the darn thing.  I found like two of the 10 books I was searching for and gave up in frustration (see #1).  About a year later, I went into my local branch to check out some books for research and was told that because of the inactivity on my account I had re-apply for a card.  Not renew.  Reapply.  Really?  Yes, really.  I had to start all over, producing a piece of mail proving my local address and everything.  Forget you, library.

3. I love being the first person to crack open a new book. 

I love having rows and rows of all the books I read lined up on my shelf like trophies.  I love being able to pass books I enjoyed on to my friends and family.  You can’t do any of that with library books, which often (let’s be honest) smell like cat pee.

4. As a writer, I think it’s a reasonable thing to support authors. 

I know how hard it is for authors to make a living and I see no reason not to pay for the works they labor so hard to produce.  If I didn’t dislike the library for reasons 1-3, I would espouse the view that readers should pay only for the books of authors they really love, or for the books they can afford, and get the rest from the library.  But I do dislike the library for reasons 1-3.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think libraries are wonderful things.  Just because I don’t want to use them doesn’t mean millions of other people shouldn’t.  Just because I can afford (barely and arguably) to buy books doesn’t mean other people can’t.  I am NOT OPPOSED TO LIBRARIES.  I just don’t want to jump through so many stupid hoops, navigate confusing and poorly laid out online systems, and then wait and wait and wait just to read a book.  Hence, my opposition to the acquisition of a library card.

So, library-lovers, let me have it!

15 thoughts on “Library cards are for the birds

  1. Rick Zawadzki

    First off, I love the this post because there’s perhaps some unintentional humor in reading a semi-rant about why you’re not going to get a library card and damnit nobody can make you. 😉

    Working for Osceola County’s Information Technology Office down here in Florida, specifically on web related stuff, I can attest to you first-hand that dealing with libraries, even on what should be a peer-relationship level, is complete crap. Most of the library catalog software I’ve seen is complete shit. SIRSI is the product in-use by our library and it too is impenetrable and from a web developer standpoint, poorly written. My co-worker and I have tried coordinating with the library to see if there is some way we can make things easier.

    Does SIRSI have an Application Development Interface that we can tap into and write a custom front-end to try and make things simpler? Yes and no. Yes they do, but it is incredibly expensive because they really don’t want you to purchase it and show them up. Additionally, libraries are sometimes left to their own devices when it comes to purchasing software solutions. Ours very rarely consults with us on the minor things let alone the software intended to drive their whole catalog and public interface system. Decisions like that should make use of ample subject matter experts but it just doesn’t happen. As a result, labyrinthian web based catalogs end up being the norm.

    As for waiting- perhaps going with a Nook, Kindle, or iPad would help resolve that itch? I know you’ve posted about eReaders in the past and even then I think we both expressed reluctance at the implementation. I think they’re great ideas in concept, but what I’ve seen of Amazon censoring what they’re going to sell via the Kindle Store and, in worst case scenarios, actually pulling a purchase from your device, the implementation is something that worries me.

    1. mirandasuri

      Hey Rick!

      Glad to entertain 🙂 I guess I can see how library cards might be a funny thing to get worked up about 😉

      It was interesting to hear a sort of ‘insider’s’ view of the software and systems…glad to know it isn’t just me getting too easily frustrated. Do you think the poor designs are a result of insufficient funding, or is something else at work there?

      You make a really good point about the Kindle and Nook and such. I am working my way up to getting one, but I’m not there yet. While they solve the problem of waiting, I still love having actual books to paw over. Maybe next year 😉

      1. Rick Zawadzki

        I honestly don’t think it’s a funding issue. I can’t speak to any other library system, but ours pays a hefty six-figure sum to SIRSI for that catalog software. SIRSI is a for-profit company that specifically markets their catalog software to libraries so with their client base and the money coming in for their annual license agreements, they have no reason not to hire competent web application designers and developers.

        From an internal point-of-view, I think the issue stems from a lack of “informed experts” that sit on the procurement review committee that goes over the Request for Proposals bid responses. My co-worker and I are very rarely consulted when it comes to purchasing any web-based vendor solution even though we are inarguably the most informed individuals in the County when it comes to well designed software (though I don’t know how much that actually says 😉 ). As a result, you have uninformed panelists making decisions on very expensive software without considering its actual use-case scenarios in the real world and how it can be adapted to fit the County’s specific needs when it comes to an exposed web front-end.

        What needs to happen is that organizations that make these decisions need to include and listen to their subject matter expert’s input. Too often excuses that “x municipality / organization purchased this software so we need to as well” end up being the justification rather than anything remotely related to usability or return on investment.

  2. Darice Moore

    Aw, I’m a library lover. As a voracious reader who is now the parent of a voracious reader (and another soon-to-be reader), I love my library, and I’ll tell you why:

    1. My budget is finite. No, make that “stretched to the nth degree.” I want to support authors, and I do when I can, but I also need to feed my family. Therefore, the library. (This is particularly important when your elementary school kid decides to read every book in a thousand-book series.)

    2. The world of books is cool, and one of the best ways to bring a kid into it is to take him/her to a really great library. Or even a rinkydink podunk library, which is what I grew up with. It had books I hadn’t read yet. That was what I needed.

    3. Delayed gratification is tough, but I’m already practicing it with television and movies, to a certain extent. (Except Doctor Who. I CAN’T QUIT YOU.) Our library has, for example, an excellent YA section and they keep up with the latest; I usually wait until the buzz has past and then read the books. Sometimes I can’t wait and I buy it, but at least knowing the book is available and I’ll get to read it is usually enough to hold me back.

    4. If I reeeeeally want to read the book now, sometimes I can get the e-book from my library — and how cool is that? You have to read them pretty much when you get them, but isn’t that the point? (This system in particular is a bit rickety but it does work.)

    5. I often use the library as a “trial run” for certain books, like knitting books or other reference works, where I might want to buy it but don’t know if I should make the investment. Often, if our library doesn’t have it, another library in the system does, and I can get it to see if it’s something I need to own.

    6. Related: We have a small house. Our bookshelves are stuffed. There are piles on the floor. From a purely practical standpoint, I just have nowhere to put all the books I’d want to buy.

    7. This one may be particular to our library, but I adore it: we have a drive-through. Not just for dropping off books, either — I can ask for books online, they’ll be collected up, the library gives me an automated call to say my books are available, and I drive through to pick them up.

    In short, the library (like the Internet) opens up worlds of possibility for me and my kids, and for that I will always be grateful and pay my fines. The search catalog system for our library isn’t terribly bad (could be more intuitive, but it’s okay) — but given the options, I’m willing to invest a bit of time and effort to make it work for me. (Drive-through!)

    And speaking of the library, I have a couple of books to turn in…

    1. mirandasuri

      Hi Darice!

      You make some really good points. One thing in particular that I think makes our experiences and views different is that you have kids and I don’t. I suspect that if I ever become a mom, my attitude towards the library will change dramatically; I know my sister is always taking her daughter there for activities and to get books and videos and all kinds of things. You are totally right about the library being an ideal place to introduce kids to the world of books.

      I also hear you about the ‘trial run’ idea. I cook a lot and I could see the library being a good way to test run cookbooks before buying them. But, even though I too suffer from limited finances and shelf space, I just can’t break the book buying habit. What can I say? 🙂

      1. Darice Moore

        Book buying is indeed a hard habit to break. ::looks at the piled shelves:: We are headed toward book thunderdome here…

        Having kids does make a difference; before I had my kids, I used the library less and bought more books, because I could. But I am so, SO happy it’s there. And I have definitely saved myself a lot of money by “test-driving” books.

        (And it helps, too, that my TBR pile is so high that even if I wanted to lay hands on the latest thing it would still be a while before I got to it!)

        The other thing? I live in an area that’s not so bookstore-blessed. We’ve got two B&Ns that are each a good drive away (the Borders closed), and the closest indie bookstores are even farther. I sometimes buy a book from the grocery store, but mostly I end up ordering online.

  3. The Ferrett

    The reason I don’t do it is the late fees. Oh my God, I never remember to return them, even with Gini breathing down my neck.

    Seriously, it’s cheaper for me to buy.

  4. Matt Hughes

    I suppose it depends on where your Library is at.

    To get a card at my local library (in a town of 8000), it was a matter of Name, Phone Number, Address, and here’s your card. That’s it. It took me longer to walk from the parking lot to the front desk than to get my card.

    That said, my library has next to nothing in my interests (sic-fi/fantasy). There are more Danielle Steel books than in the entire genre. So I often don’t visit just because there’s nothing there for me to read.

    Having worked in a library for the past 8 years though, these strength of a library is not the books but the librarians. They can and have helped me find some of the most obscure things in the world. And Interlibrary Loan allows me to get anything I want, if I’m willing to wait a few days for it to arrive.

  5. Amy Sundberg

    No library card? Sacrilege!

    Oh, just kidding. I was a library girl for a long time, and the way I managed the wait was by not tracking favorite authors and not reading new series. Yup, I’m serious. I was just so grateful to have new-to-me books to read, and my budget would never have stretched to cover my reading habit, given my fast reading speed.

    But now I rarely go to the library and buy lots of books, because I can afford to do so. And I’ve gotten a lot more impatient! Of course, with the Kindle I can have many books instantly.

  6. Pingback: Backbone Project: Link Salad #2 « The Practical Free Spirit

  7. Joshism

    I’m a lifelong library user. I own almost zero books despite reading approximately 3 dozen a year. Given that I read mostly non-fiction which is never released in paperback purchasing those books would kill my wallet.

    Besides the cost why do I even want to own the book? 99% of books I watch I will never read a second time. Maybe it’s different for people who read mostly fiction and want to revisit the same beloved characters again. I also own zero DVDs and have little interest in changing that because there are few movies I want to watch more than once even if I really like that.

    I’ve never found library catalogs particularly difficult (I think my local library still uses SIRSI), but then again I’ve been using computers almost as long as I’ve been reading books so I’m a little biased there by lifelong experience and aptitude which isn’t something most people have.

    If my library doesn’t have a book I want, I can request they borrow it from another library system for me for 2 weeks via InterLibrary Loan.

    Patience? Every time I hear someone complain about patience, I want to give them a smack and tell them to learn some. EVERYONE should learn to be patient. While alot of my other beliefs could require a knockdown-dragout fight I think that’s one we can all agree on, right?

    I’m on GoodReads. It allows me to see book ratings, keep track of what I’ve read, and keep track of what I want to read. I’ve marked 345 books as Read and I have another 297 To Read. If I want to read a particular book but it’s not available I have 296 others to choose from.

  8. 3mur

    you dont need a backbone! you know exactly what you are doing, you know why you are doing it.

    2 things on libraries,
    1. the atmosphere – what a library can give you in terms of community, I realise that this isnt necessarily a library card but it is the rest of the function of the library. bring people together, bring interested people to the one place. a place where at the moment you do not go. are you missing something there?
    2. other books. that librarian might say – “have you also read..” or they might not, depending on the librarian. or you might just be perusing the shelves and discover a new adventure within a book that you hadn’t even heard of. (you might not want to hear of it – valid as it is, you are not pursuing the potential of the opportunity)

    new book smell is definitely a valid point, so is the ability to look at those books and smile at your own small collection of treasures.

  9. John P. Murphy

    I have to admit, when reading the post and the comments I was mostly puzzled because you seem to have a different idea than me about what a library is for. I can’t remember the last time I checked out a book. To me, a library is a research destination. I go there for an afternoon, read maybe 20 pages of each of a dozen or so books, scribble my notes, and then leave the the books for someone to shelve. If there are books I want to actually read, I buy them. That’s not an argument to get a card, though, as you don’t usually need one for this purpose.

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