How Half-Interesting Books Could Help Save Public Libraries

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!

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16 Responses to How Half-Interesting Books Could Help Save Public Libraries

  1. I’ve long been half interested in William Boyd – I even bought one of his books – and I’m still there…non-fiction’s where the library comes into its own for me – I’ve had some lovely borrows of oversize art books.

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  2. I agree that libraries are great for sampling stuff I’m not sure about and don’t want to spend money on. I tend to be “half-interested” in very prolific authors like Joyce Carol Oates – she has written lots of highly acclaimed books but I wouldn’t know where to start!

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    • Jeff says:

      I’ve seen so many authors like her regularly pass through while volunteering in charity bookshops. I’ve read a few authors who seemed to be among those who are part of a general awareness of fiction today. I’ve never studied literature formally that much, so there’s so many authors I couldn’t comment on or understand anyone else’s comments on. I’m also drawn to a lot of non-fiction that’s a bit more serious than the quirky stuff that’s aimed at a popular audience by stating the opposite to a widely held belief and being illustrated with slightly cartoony graphic design. All this stuff can be expensive, even secondhand, when you add it up. I found myself very half-interested when thumbing through The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson recently. Maybe, maybe not!

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  3. Ste J says:

    When I get the urge, I try and use the library for all those books that are on my wishlist that I really don’t want to take a punt on in case I’ve hyped them up so much. Trying a few philosophers and some of the more technical books like architecture or archaeology to see if they are too challenging for my current level of knowledge is always good as well.

    appealing to people’s pockets is always a good way in to encouraging anybody to do anything.

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    • Jeff says:

      The tougher stuff often needs to be returned to later. You can always re-issue whenever you like. I’m working through a book on the historical development of ‘forgery’. It’s scholarly and nuanced, so I know it’ll take longer than usual, and it’s pretty expensive to buy. I’m soon going to review a lighter book on the same subject that’s got distinct forgers in each chapter so it’s possible to read only those of interest. Partial reads are so much better when you haven’t forked out for them.

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      • Ste J says:

        Too right and the best pints are the free ones as well! The forgery books sound fascinating, I may be wrong but wasn’t Isaac Newton involved ins topping forges or something at one point, hope that’s not a spoiler.

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        • Jeff says:

          You’re probably thinking of him as the ward of the mint. I think that was in his later career, but I should imagine that he had to deal with counterfeiters. The books I’m onto are about art. Interesting parallels between banks and the art market have been made by contemporary artists who do what’s called ‘institutional critique’. For example:
          http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/contemporary-intervention-capital
          Note that we are in the realm of ‘cultural theorists’ here. This means that the intended audience is probably other artists and theorists (or those studying to be in the hope that they won’t end up in a call centre instead because there’s only a dozen vacancies per year). Pretty niche.

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  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I have ridiculous amounts of lists of books to explore and like Ste J I find it handy to check out something rather than give in to the buying urge. Alas many of the books I’d like to read aren’t in the local place – which is a shame.

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