“You work at a library, why do you still buy books?”
That’s a question I get asked a lot, especially by some coworkers and patrons when I mention I recently bought a book (or five). I get why they ask that, I mean, I have access to free books every day I go into work! How cool is that? (It’s pretty cool, but there’s a lot more to being a librarian than books)
Despite this, I still prefer to buy my books, and I have several answers as to why I (or any other librarian) might still want to purchase their own books.
Answer #1: Shared Books
Look, I’ve always been a fan of the library and getting to read books for free and save some money. However, after working in a library for six and a half years, I’ve seen where some of these books go… and it’s not pretty. Sorry to gross y’all out, but it’s the truth. Especially after the pandemic, I’ve become a little more germ-conscious and if a book looks like it’s been through some stuff, I’m not as likely to take it out anymore.
The other issue is that library books tend to go missing or get damaged. I once tried to read a book that had sand stuck in the plastic covering, which made it feel gritty to read. This was before the pandemic, by the way. I might be extra picky about the books I read, but it’s hard for me to concentrate when pages are bent, ripped, colored on, and the book just looks like a toddler had their way with it.
Answer #2: Hyped Books and Wait-Lists
With all the hype that some books get with social media nowadays, when a highly anticipated book is released, it can be months before you even get your hands on it… unless you buy it. A great example is Where the Crawdads Sing because not once, but twice, this book has had an extensive waiting list. Once, when the book first came out (we ended up needing to buy 4 extra copies to get through the list of people on hold for it!), and then again when the movie was about to come out.
Right now we’re getting a lot of demand for Colleen Hoover (thanks BookTok *eyeroll*), but we only have a couple of her books. We have some on order, but they’re going to be on a waiting list as soon as they come in, so even one of my other coworkers who doesn’t usually buy books is buying her own copies because she doesn’t want to wait. I don’t blame her, I hate waiting for a library book to come back when I really want to read it right away.
Answer #3: Supporting Bookstores
I’ve always enjoyed going to the bookstore, ever since I was a kid. I have faded memories of one we used to have in my hometown before it closed, and after that it was all Borders and Barnes & Noble trips that would take my allowance (RIP Borders). I still take annual trips to Barnes & Noble, along with many unplanned trips just because I can.
However, I know the importance of supporting indie bookstores, and I want to do more of that when I can. Yes, I’m a librarian at the present time, but it’s always been a dream of mine to open a bookstore, so I want to keep supporting them as well. There’s just something about going to the bookstore, hanging out and finding new books to read, and them purchasing them that makes it comforting to me. It’s an experience that I never get tired of.
Answer #4: Inaccessible Books
This sort of goes along with the waiting list answer above, but it’s honestly the worst thing when you really want to read a book, not buy it, but it’s out from the library so you have to wait for it to come back. Now, most of the time the books thankfully come back home, but there are times when a book never comes back. This has happened to me a number of times in my years working in the library with books that I wanted to read, but they never came back. The worst thing is when our catalog says the book is here, but guess what? It’s not.
Some books you just can’t get at a library. This usually goes with independent authors, as they’re more likely to use an easy self-publishing service like Kindle Publishing or Nook Press. At least, the indie authors I know personally do this. There are times when self-published authors get their books in a library, but it’s not very often I’ve seen that. I find that a lot of times, books are only available on Amazon, either to buy (print on demand) or as a Kindle book.
There have even been a couple of traditionally published books that are no longer in print, but also not at the library anywhere in my state, so I have to either find a used copy on Thriftbooks (which I’m always wary about because they’ve messed up my orders before) or read the digital copy that’s still available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Answer #5: I’m a Librarian… Duh
I mean, librarian or not, what bookworm doesn’t want their own personal library in their home? Librarians just tend to be more nerdy about organizing their books (at least I am). It’s just being able to pick up a book at any time I want to read it. And sure, I don’t always keep the books I buy because sometimes I know I’ll never reread it or I didn’t like it at all. It sucks to have wasted money in that case, but you live and learn. I’ve become more picky about the books I buy, but that’s not foolproof either.
The main thing is, I just love having my room overflowing with books or having a selection of books with me anywhere I go with my Kindle and Nook e-readers/apps. For me, having my own personal library is another fun hobby because I love to organize them, take inventory of them, and even lend them out (to certain people).
So, yes, maybe it’s a little crazy for me to spend my own money on books when I work in a library, but that’s what it is. I will say that I’ve gotten more into the mindset of “if I’m only going to read this once, I’ll just take it out from work” and that’s helped me save some money. However, it can also go the opposite way because if I really loved a book and I know I’ll reread it, I’ll end up buying it anyway. It’s really a no-win situation with me.
To my fellow librarians, do you still buy books for your own personal library?
Everyone else, what are your thoughts? Would you buy less books if you worked in a library or be about the same?