There are narratives about public libraries that are becoming all too familiar. The borrowing of physical books is in decline. The usage of computers is on the rise. All those additional services that have built up library remits are, along with everything else, under threat as recessionary cuts bite hard. The maxim with borrowing from stock is ‘use it or lose it’. It’s hard to justify unused stock. But what if we revitalised its use by paying more attention to books that only half-interest us?
The usual reasons cited in support of libraries are familiar. They’re community meeting places, they improve the life-chances of people on low income, they’re one-stop shops for many council services, they help business start-ups, and crucially, they save money on book buying. This last point is typically framed in terms of all the wonderful discoveries you can make. The logic goes that libraries are a great way for people to discover new books (which is, in turn, great for publishers), and maybe more can be done to help recommendations. It makes intuitive sense that the recommendation mechanisms that work for online booksellers can work for libraries. Yet there is a side to this that’s not discussed.
[The gallery above of one of my local libraries comments further about half-interesting titles.]
Everybody has a list of books in mind that they’re curious about, but not committed on. Sometimes an author that a reader doesn’t like writes a book that sounds interesting. Sometimes a book is about a subject that a reader isn’t normally interested in. There are many reasons why a book can be half-interesting. So here’s my point: public libraries are the perfect vehicle for investigating half-interesting books. You don’t have to buy those books, so if you don’t like them, then you’ve lost nothing. Likewise, if you find a half-interesting book that you like, then you’ve gained, and also at a cost of nothing. You win either way. Better still, you don’t even need to read all of a half-interesting book.
I’ve recently used this approach for looking over some self-help books to review what is, in my opinion, a genre neglected by book bloggers. I’ve not eschewed e-books, but even this one that I bought was one that I might have been able to borrow. The nice thing has been that I’ve been able to get an overview of the genre at no cost (excepting a few fines for missed return dates!). And I can re-borrow the ones that I want to return to at my leisure (in my case, for reviewing). The same can be said about any list of books that you are half-interested in.
So now I wish there was a campaign to encourage more readers to adopt this strategy for extending their reading range. It’s an approach to reading that could make a huge difference to the use of public libraries. Making a note of titles that half-interest you could benefit those libraries as well as your reading.
How might such a message be turned into a campaign? And which books / authors are you half-interested in? Come on: there must be loads!