As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the library.
Heck, there was an entire class in elementary school devoted to the library, and I loved it. Sure, we had to learn a few monotonous tasks – like how to use the Dewey Decimal System, and check out books – but, we also got uninterrupted time to read.
Meanwhile, my parents took my sister and me to the local library for the summer reading program every year. We kept track of the books we read and earned prizes for our efforts. Sometimes, that even meant free pizza.
At the time, I thought it was a local program. But according to a 2004 report by the Department of Education, 95% of all public libraries have a summer reading program, most of which are coordinated by the local school districts. That’s pretty incredible, if you stop to think about it.
But as I grew older, something changed.
First there was Barnes and Noble Inc. (BKS). The bookstore became a place to hang out, get coffee, browse the titles, and maybe buy something to put on my bookshelf. Next came Amazon Inc. (AMZN). Suddenly I didn’t even have to leave the house to buy books anymore.
Meanwhile, my bookshelf became something more than just a storage unit – it became a statement. What titles made the cut, and what did they say about me? I made sure my collection spanned genres and eras, from Plato to Palahniuk.
Not surprisingly, buying books is big business. In 2014, Forbes reported that Amazon’s annual revenue from book sales was $5.25 billion. The following year, Barnes and Nobles reported just over $6 billion in sales. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been busy filling my shelves.
But here’s the real question: Why are we spending so much money on reading material?
Learning to Love the Library
After all, it’s extremely unlikely that any of the books being purchased will be read more than once. Ask yourself how many books you’ve ever read twice, and be honest. I’m willing to bet the number isn’t very high. And this presents a fiscal problem.
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In 2015, the average cost of an adult paperback title was about $18, while a hardback was more than $27, according the School Library Journal. That’s a lot to pay for a one-time-use item, and it doesn’t even factor in the cost of storage – what businesses might call carrying cost – either. And, don’t get me started on the toll (mostly on your back), of packing and moving all of those books if you ever leave your current residence.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution to the codex conundrum: the library.
In nearly any town across the country, you can find a collection of free books – or nearly free, since your taxes fund the library – with very few borrowing restrictions. These days, you can even reserve, request, and renew your books online. In addition, many libraries can boast a huge collection of movies, TV shows, and games, as well.
True, the library may not have the very latest titles, and the book you want to read may even be checked out. Yet by simply visiting your local branch’s website, you can browse the entire county’s catalog for a title, put it on hold, or have it delivered from another library to the one most convenient to you. All told, the wait for even the most popular books is now relatively short.
On top of that, many libraries allow you to check out books on your e-reader, meaning you don’t even have to leave the comfort of home to get books for free.
In short, stop spending money to own books you’ll only read once. Stop wasting valuable real estate in your house with shelves full of paperbacks that only gather dust. Instead, let’s start putting one of our most incredible public resources to better use.
To living a richer life,