I’ve just had the most amazing library experience, one that surpasses the Amazon experience in terms of (a) instant gratification; (b) use of public resources; (c) complete lack of any cost and (d) did I mention instant gratification?
Here is how it works. I’m going to guess you can do this in your own city, so give it a try.
I was browsing around the Boston Review, whose fiction editor is the wonderful Junot Diaz, this year’s winner of the Pulitzer for fiction for what is, by all accounts, a truly fine book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Many journals have available, online, some of the things they have out in print. In this case there was a long, really nicely done, review of Elizabeth Taylor’s work, a review which, charmingly enough, talked about the first thing I thought when I realized there was a writer with that name (this is obviously the first thing pretty much anyone who is twenty-five or older thinks): “I thought she only made movies and perfume and marriages….” (The Elizabeth Taylor review, by the way, was written by Neel Mukherjee, whose first novel, Past Continuous, just came out and sounds really good.)
And then I decided I really need to read her. Like, now. Particularly her stories, but anything really. The truth is, though, I’m broke. Totally. (Have I not mentioned the three-children-who-must-be-sent-to-college problem?) And that’s when I remembered the San Francisco Public Library, an institution that’s basically across the street from my building.
I went to the website. I typed in Taylor, Elizabeth. I didn’t get an ad for the perfume or any references to dvds of National Velvet or Cleopatra. They know what people are really looking for, those geniuses at the San Francisco Public Library cataloging department. There were a lot of Elizabeth Taylor books available.
The thing I loved the most about the library’s site is that they’ve set up the catalog so it’s kind of like an e-commerce website — there are little shopping bags (they look like they’re paper, which is a nice eco-touch) and you can, basically, put your chosen books in these nice shopping bags.
The best thing of all though is that you can ask for the books to be put on hold — what that means is that someone at the library will go upstairs to the fiction section, take the books you want off the shelf and bring them downstairs to the main desk. All you have to do is stroll over there, on what is looking to be one of the nicest spring days on record here in the City by the Bay, and pick up your books.
It’s faster than Amazon. It’s cheaper. Anyone who lives in California can become a patron of the San Francisco Public Library. They’re incredibly generous about handing out library cards. And the cards are fabulous. Many of them feature colorful illustrations by local children. The artist behind my card is “Wing, 4th grade.”
After I pick up my books, I’m going to go over to the local independent bookstore in Opera Plaza, Books, Inc. and buy a copy of Junot Diaz’s book. Yes, I know I’m broke. But I just saved all that money borrowing four Elizabeth Taylor books. If I go without take-out lunch for four days, I’m even.
Don’t you love the library?