This small change had not only changed the way I spend money but also changed the way I read.
I was never a fan of The Great Gatsby in high school, but the opening scene in Gatsby’s library left a big impression on me. During the famous party scene, Tom describes Gatsby’s beautiful, mahogany-paneled library. I became obsessed with collecting books and building a library of my own. At the time, I was working at a local bookstore, making it all to easy for me to pick up a new book everytime I clocked out.
This literary spending habit stayed with me through college. I became a local at bookstores the same way people became locals at bars. Being in school limited the amount of free time I could dedicate to reading, so my budget stayed relatively modest.
Then I graduated. With more time to read, my need for new books flew through the roof. And having to fully support myself, I no longer had the money to buy every book I wanted.
Thankfully, my limited budget didn’t have to limit my reading. My new apartment is within walking distance of a local branch of the Providence Community Library, and I have become a regular face at the circulation desk.
I know the money-saving powers of the local library is not news to anyone. Libraries have been providing free access to books for years. But their use as gone out of style. For the past few decades, book ownership has become a kind of conspicuous consumption. Just search the #bookstagram on instagram to find the greatest example of the phenomenon. With artsy photos of huge personal libraries and color coded bookshelves, it is easy to think that real book lovers need these vast, private collections. (Running a bookstagram account myself, I know I play into this dynamic)
Reinforcing the trend towards book ownership is a broad and consistent public divestment in public libraries. In Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg points out that even in communities where libraries remain popular, serious funding cuts have shrunken their hours, limited their ability to buy new books, and reduced their staff. In my neighborhood, there are only three days a week where the library is open during the times I am not at work. These limitations make it especially hard for full-time students and professionals to take advantage of their awesome resources.
Nevertheless, my budget would not make room for more books. I was left with no choice but to hack the system at the library and rent all of my books. By the end of the summer, I found that this small change had not only changed the way I spend money but also changed the way I read.
The first major change: I started listening to more audiobooks. My library is a subscriber to Overdrive, and this service has been life changing. The service provides essentially unlimited access to ebooks and audiobooks for free. The app is super user-friendly and, at zero easy payments of zero dollars per month, I really had no excuse paying for an Audiable subscription.
The second major change: the total number of books I have been able to read per month has nearly quadrupled since opening my library card. This change is partially due to my new audiobook habit. Reading no longer requires that I sit down with my eyes glued to a page. I can read while I drive, or cook, or fold laundry. I also listen to everything at double speed, so I get through books a lot faster.
My reading volume has also increased because I am no longer constrained by cost! Before, I had to slow my reading down to avoid finishing books before my next pay period. Now, I usually rent two to three books at a time and keep another three on hold.
This fiscal constraint not only limited how much I was reading, but also which books I was choosing to read. When hardcovers cost upwards of $30 each, it’s hard to keep up with new releases or popular books – especially since I refuse to buy my books from Amazon (a rant for another blog post). In the two months I’ve been reading books from the library, I have saved $280! This savings comes at no sacrifice to my reading list. In fact, it enables me to expand my reading horizons.
Leading me to the last major change: going to the library has made me a more adventurous reader. Just as buying my books limited me to the cheapest options, it also limited me to books that I already knew I was going to like. It didn’t make sense to take a chance on a book I’d never heard of, because the cost of disliking it was too high. Now, I am choosing books that I would never have picked up at a bookstore, and I feel like it is making me a better reader in the process.
I’m letting go of the fantasy of the huge Gatsby-like personal library. His private collection a symbol of wealth, not knowledge. I still love my trips to the bookstore, and my book budget will probably remain larger than average. However, I am more strategic about my purchases. I only buy books that I would want to read again or books that I need to annotate. My little bookshelf is home to a collection of the few books that have a lot of meaning to me. For everything else, I have my local library.