Library Love

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?

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30 thoughts on “Library Love

  1. lovely [blog]lily —
    also broke and without space in my new house for the 2000 books i used to have in the old (yes, really, 2000)…I’ve become a junkie of the Oakland Public Library system…the branch by my house is just one of many. It’s small. But online I can order any book I choose shelved anywhere in Oakland and the wonder-gnome (I can say this gnome word lovingly, working in a library as i do) in said branch will get it off the shelf and ship it to my branch, who then send me an email. If you swing by after work on Monday or Tuesday, the boy can read Mad Magazine and the latest on video games, while I pick up the treasure. It doesn’t take Mad Magazine to do that…but I of course am lost browsing among the shelves, happily.

    The only problem with this is my very poor memory. I love stories, and authors, and characters inside of stories, and I want them to be part of my live forever (hence the 2000 books on my own shelves, waiting at 2am whenever I want to chat.)

    But broke is broke, and ain’t Libraries wonderful!

  2. Yay LK! No longer an outlaw library-user. Me too, I went in there and paid for the lost Calvin & Hobbes, and Sports Illustrated for Kids. Ouch. Still, it’s nice to be a lawful library user.

    There’s always google, Gail! You know, you’re thinking to yourself, who said “death is the mother of beauty”? Instead of having to look in a zillion poetry books, or calling me at 4 a.m. (the answer is Wallace Stevens, which shouldn’t surprise you), you can just pop open your laptop. It’s not very tactile, though!

  3. “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.”

    BL, that is exactly the kind of bargaining I do when I want to buy books!

    I enjoyed your post about the library. Despite my being a rather grumpy librarian (I am working on this), I do think libraries are wonderful.

  4. It’s so nice to hear from you SS! I can think of a number of reasons for library-grumpiness, not the least of which is patrons who don’t treat books with the respect they deserve.

    My admiration for librarians is undiminished by a little grumpiness.

    In fact, this is one of the posts I most enjoyed writing and it is about how wonderful library-workers are:

    http://bloglily.com/2006/05/22/bald-man-with-sword-attacked-by-a-rabid-dog-and-bitten-by-a-snake-in-the-arm/

  5. I am editor of Boston Review, and loved reading your post. Junot is great, and Neel Mukherjee, who wrote that piece on Elizabeth Taylor, will be delighted to read your post. Taylor’s daughter sent him a really nice message about the article.

  6. I do love the library! There’s a teeny, tiny branch about three blocks from my house, and my kids and I walk over there whenever we can. Though it’s amazing how I can still incur fines, even though the library is so close! I enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor’s book Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, and I understand they made a movie of it a couple years back. Let me know which of her books you read, and if you like them 🙂

  7. How fun! Yes, I love the library, going there of course, but I especially love its online services. I live 150 miles from the closest metropolitan area, but my little local library is all hooked up to everyone. I can request books from just about anywhere–including research university libraries–and they show up behind the front desk here in no time. And, like you, I can have my library’s own holdings retrieved for me in advance as well. Amazing and so economical. I was at the library this week and felt so righteous about my pile of borrowed books that I stopped at Rainy Days (a local independent) and bought the newest Mary Oliver and also Alain Botton’s book on Architecture (but I did skip the latte on the way home). And someone said the internet would be the death of books! Au contraire.

    I have an Elizabeth Taylor in the original Virago edition…somewhere. I’ll have to dig it out and have a look see.

  8. I recently rediscovered the library and found I was bringing more books home than I could possibly read and the best thing was that I started taking out all the children’s books I had missed or loved as a child. With no call to buy these books (I don’t have kids and already spend way too much on books as it is), it was great to read Anne of Green Gables or Charlotte’s Web.

  9. Thanks for the link to your earlier entry on libraries–it was spot on! Libraries are definitely a sanctuary, and I spend hours of free time in them for that very reason. I loved looking around on the Bodleian Library site–so cool!

  10. You’re welcome, SS. It is a fabulous site. I like thinking about who did the obsessive cataloguing.

    Eoin, Agreed! And how nice to hear from you — hope all’s well in the world of books.

    Kate, that sounds like such a fun use of a library card. I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables as a child, but listened to a terrific book on tape of the first book. We all liked it.

    I think that library/book buying procedure is very sound, Deborah. And I’d like to hear what you think of the Taylor you have stashed away.

    Anne — I’ll go look at my library record & see. It was a selection I made based on passages from the wonderful article I’d read in Boston Review. I got very excited, I have to admit, and pretty much clicked on everything.

    Dear Gentle Reader, I will! As for fines, I think there’s something about books that makes people want to hold on to them, even if they belong to someone else, like the public library system.

    Hello Joshua, and welcome! I’d be so pleased if you let Neel know how much this reader enjoyed his piece on Taylor — it was so smart, both on her as a writer and on her as a “woman” writer. And now I’ve got five new books to read, thanks to BR — one Junot, four Elizabeth Taylors.

  11. The problem with libraries is that you have to give the books back. And I am bad at that; my books are always about 6 months late back, no matter how close to the library I live. But, in principle, they are a fine institution and should be supported! (Hope you like Elizabeth Taylor, I have read ‘In a Summer Season’ and ‘At Mrs Lippincote’s’ and thoroughly enjoyed both of them).

  12. A customer introduced me to Elizabeth Taylor a few months back, but I regret to say that I have not yet read her — my non-poetry reading hours are much curtailed post-Vincent.

    That’s quite the library you have! While I love the folks in my small little village library, their poetry section is more of a shelf, so I tend to use the Jones Library in Amherst — very very nice — or order books from my bookshop.

    Back in my early 20’s, when I was seriously $400/month poor, I used the library much more, biking nearly daily. Age has definitely made me more acquisitive…

  13. i can’t remember the last time i was at “the library.” this thing called “the internet” makes me want to sit in front of my computer all day and order stuff like books for exorbitant sums of money, all in the comfort of my own home…

    i rarely make it to the library; then again, while i’m a cheapskate, i will shell out for books…

    i remember a commercial in the late 1990s — it painted the library as this gray, hulking, nasty monolith and your home — and the research you could do online instead of the library — as paradise…

  14. I just had to brag about my own wonderful library system. See, we’re small. And out on the prairie. But there are all of these other small towns with small libraries and then there are a couple of bigger towns 1-2 hours away with bigger libraries and all of these libraries are linked in our computer system.

    I always picture the person whose job it is to make the daily drive between all of these libraries so that we can all have our books. I thank this person mentally each time I pick up a new stack.

    (And depending on how far away the library is that had my particular book, it may or may not be quicker than Amazon but it’s still fairly quick and it’s still – free!)

  15. I just discovered Elizabeth Taylor too, thanks to an article in the Guardian about underrated authors. I’m interested to hear what you think about her!

  16. Yay for the library (public or academic!!!). I use both types of libraries shamelessly–taking advantage of every service I can. Isn’t it wonderful? And free! I love ET and I need to read more of her work. Thanks for the link to that article by the way!

  17. Beig a librarian, semi-retired now, I was really glad to see such a big and positive response to Bloglily’s post. Back in the ’60s when I started library work, public libraries were doing pretty much the same things, though the arrival of computers and E-mail has speeded things up a lot.
    Way back in the days of Andrew Carnegie, about 100 years ago, some people were opposed to public libraries because they thought people would stop buying books. It wasn’t true then, and I can see from several of the responses that libraries actually encourage people to buy books.
    Nowadays, of course, people are using the same wrong argument against internet file-sharing…. but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

  18. Here’s another thing one can do: read book blogs on the road in Salt Lake City, log onto the library web site back home to find out if those books that sound so wonderful are available and at what branches, request they all be sent to your local branch, and have them waiting for you to pick up when you get home from your trip. Yes, libraries are magnificent places!

  19. As a shelver in the library, I get to see all the books. It’s like getting paid to be at the bookstore. And I must confess, as an employee I incur no fees. So the answer is to get a job at the library! Take a look at my shelving blog, Shelver Scratches

  20. It’d yesrs since I’ve browsed physical library shelves because our local Christchurch City Library also has a facility to order online. I read reviews, then order the books I want – it costs just $1.50 per book.

    I’ve never read Elizabeth Taylor, but I enjoyed the film of “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont” so maybe I”ll add her to my online reading list.

  21. Happy to see that you’ve been bitten by the bug too. The US Public Library system is a national treasure and it is a pity that more people don’t utilize it. I discovered it in Minneapolis when I was a broke graduate student and have been amazed ever since.

    Have you seen their multimedia section, BL? Imagine my surprise when I looked for a 1929 movie and there it was. Documentary films and videotapes are available in their thousands. I gorged on the National Geographic and NOVA and Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot tapes.

    In contrast, in my neighborhood Blockbuster, I asked for the documentaries section, and was shown a miniscule shelf marked “Special Interests” with about 10 DVDs.

  22. Libraries are wonderful gems–and a lot like Flickr: you visit for one thing and end up browsing and browsing, savoring all this really great stuff for free. The “new books” section is remarkably stocked at my local library, so it’s like visiting a bookstore. I visit Amazon to discover new releases and then request them at the library so they’re waiting for me almost as soon as they’re published.

  23. Dear Ms. Summer Picnic, Welcome! I love that picture on the header of your blog. It’s so inviting. (Your blog is too). You’re right about the library — it’s a fabulous place to browse and dream.

    Polaris, Yowza! Or something like that… The dvd/music,etc. section at the SFPL is fabulous. I’m afraid to check anything out there though. You have to be good at returning those things or the fines are steep. Still, I love it when a public institution kicks the butt of Blockbuster.

    Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is one of the books I ordered, Ruth. And yes, the virtual library is very satisfying, isn’t it?

    Mocove! How cool is that — you’re a page! I was a page when I was in high school. It was my favorite job of all time. And welcome to BlogLily. I’m so glad you’ve come by.

    Emily, Ooooo, Emily, very nice use of the public library.

    Hello Ofendi and Welcome! Like you, I don’t think that giving anything freely diminishes anything or anyone.

    Dear Danielle, You’re welcome. It’s a good article, isn’t it? The author’s the fiction reviewer for the London Times and just published his first novel. It’ll be fun to talk about the books when I get done with them. Soon, I hope.

    Hi Julia, It’s fun when you realize you’ve just discovered someone you might really like and then you find out they’ve written a ton of books. Mary Wesley was like that for me.

    Hey Diana — Hooray for the prairie libraries!

    Bookfraud, The hulking monolith turns out to be our lovely local library where the children’s librarian takes an interest in the reading of my kids and you can request pretty much anything you want and have it there pronto! You need to get out of that house, dude, and stroll down to this little nirvana…

    It’s true, Marie — the pleasure of owning the actual book is huge. I save that for things I want right away and can’t get from the library, for poetry, because I go to it again and again, and things that will take me the rest of my life to read, like War & Peace. Oh, and cookbooks. I can’t check out cookbooks. I always get freaked out by the stains on the pages.

    Becky — I can’t wait to dig in to ET — and I too have that late return issue!

    Good to hear you’re busy Eoin. That can never be bad, can it? xo

  24. My library works much the same way yours does and I adore it. When I’m making the rounds of my favourite book blogs, I frequently have the online catalogue open in another browser window so that I can immediatly request any books blog mentions of which pique my interest. The Toronto Public Library nearly always has the books I’m after and more often than not manages to get them to my local branch for me to pick up within days. Of course, like you, I then spend whatever money I’ve saved that way in the bookshop that’s just down the street from the library…

  25. since I’m in the same city as Kate (Ottawa), you know we have a great library service here. We have a super inter-library loan, so if our library doesn’t have it, it will look for you at other libraries! And most often with either no charge or a minimal payment under a few dollars…..sadly, I always bring home far too many books and even though we can renew three times before bringing them back, I still don’t read them all….. I just can’t resist them, they all look interesting! I know Emily thinks she’s #1 bookslut, but I think I’m a close second……and lately I’ve been coming across so many books to read (thanks, book bloggers!) and now my husband’s contract ended and he’s looking for work, so I think it’s back to the library for a bit….very poor with two kids in daycare! Thanks for reminding us of the joy of the library, which is where i lived as a child!!

  26. I love libraries. They’ve been my favourite places in the whole world ever since I was very small. Currently, I have about eleven books and four CDs out, though studying gives me access to a well stocked college library, Of course, I run up appalling fines all the time but I figure it’s in a good cause.

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