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Margaret Powling

I used to use the four libraries within the borough of Torbay: Paignton, Torquay, Brixham and Churston. Indeed, I think I was the bane of their lives; that, or I kept them going almost single-handedly! My modus operandi would be to get catalogues from publishers and select books which appealed to me which I would then order from the library. This used to be 50p per book but then the cost escalated. It wasn't unusual for me to obtain these 'ordering' cards by the dozen from the librarian, and then I used to phone them regularly to see if anything had come in for me!
As well as being a borrower I would regularly visit my favourite 2nd hand/antiquarian bookshop and seldom come away empty handed.
And then came the internet and, I regret to say, my borrowing has ceased. Also, for research purposes, my local libraries seldom had the books in stock I required and it cost almost as much to request them from another source than to search (and buy) them on (not to mention the time it took to obtain these books via the library system, when an obscure book I wanted had to be located in a some long-forgotten stack!

Peter the Flautist

Dark Puss comments on a related question also posed (to me) by Cornflower ...

As well as my social desires to use libraries I am also very space limited at home, but what if I wasn't? So if I have lots of space (but the same amount of spare cash - that is an important constraint) what would I do? I suspect I would buy more non-literature books, cookery, astronomy, musicology, natural history, art etc. than I do currently but I might still be rather sparing in my buying of novels. In my "old age" I find that although I have started reading novels enthusiastically again I am not much drawn to re-reading any of my
existing books. I'm looking, at least for a while, for new things (not of course necessarily recently written) to read. The really nice aspect of a good library is that taking risks is easy and painless. I can borrow books I really would almost never consider buying. Often I don't
get on with them (and do not finish them) but occasionally serendipity works wonders - e.g. the Kinky Friedman detective books or works by authors such as Marge Piercy, Teresa De La Caridad Doval or Angela Carter. Now at least two of those are quite famous authors but my point is that I discovered them by picking something up from a library shelf and taking it away at no cost to my wallet or to precious shelf space (which is a high cost item in London NW3). Not buying is quite liberating actually. I can have a go at some of the "great works of literature" without the feeling that because I bought it I have to finish it. Quite a few have gone back partially read, but although my success rate is not too good again it is low risk.

I may appear again to comment on comments!

Dark Puss

Simon Thomas

I am another buyer rather than borrower - and me a librarian, too!
Several reasons - firstly I am a hoarder, I confess, and even if I borrow a book, will later buy it, even if I don't think I'll re-read. For some reason it comforts me to have copies of the books I've read. Secondly, I tend to know what I want to read next, and after that, and after that - for a year. When I hadn't found my feet, readingwise, I would pick things arbitrarily from the library, and see how it went. Now my reading time is so precious (! - even more so than shelf space) I tend not to clutter up with too many potential non-starters.
AND (now I'm sounding defensive, aren't I?!) I tend to read older fiction, which lending libraries tend to have a dreadful supply of. The classics, yes, but I'm looking for more obscure works, mostly out of print, and I can't expect my local library to have them.

Simon Thomas

I should add that, until I was about 15, I was always maxed-out on two library cards! Finding my feet, as I said.

Mr Cornflower

Interesting topic.Could it be that as one's life changes so does one's need/desire to use libraries? As a bookish child from a relatively unbookish background, I craved the peaceful magic of libraries; later as an undergraduate and then postgraduate student they were my places of work. Since then the demands of work and family have affected not my desire to read but my time, and it is just easier to have a book permanently available for snatched moments (I'm currently reading Auden's Collected Poems on the 17 bus, which goes along Princes Street. I haven't yet been so absorbed that I miss my stop and end up in Morningside, but there have been a few close calls). Visiting the library to borrow a book which you then have to give back within a few weeks is, although I'm conscious this sounds a bit feeble, that little bit less easy.
And while we change libraries too have changed; they may never have been the havens we remember, but understandably those who run and fund them feel they need to 'engage' and attract a generation which has a vastly greater range of potential sources of entertainment and information.
I think Peter's altruism is admirable so long as you accept that while in general transferring wealth from authors to borrowers can be a good thing (this is what it amounts to) it is not going to be true in every case.


I use my local library for books I want to read but not own. I went through a period of buying books rather than checking them out from the library. (We were living in Italy at the time.) When it came time to move back to the States, we had way too many books and came close to being over our weight allowance for that move. When we got home I began donating the books I knew I'd not read again to our local library for their book sale. Now, I use my library unless I am unable to find it in the system or want it for a reference book.

I should mention I homeschool my teens so we have quite a few classic books around for them to use. We still have 5 full bookshelves with a couple of boxes in the basement.

adele geras

I am a library junkie. I used to go to my local libraries every single day if I possibly could. In the last few years I go less frequently. This is because
a) books have become much more readily available much more cheaply. It's VERY hard to resist the latest thriller by John Harvey at £3.73 or whatever in Tesco. I used to devour thrillers by the yard in my twenties and thirties and just could not have afforded to buy them. BUT they used to be there in the library. Nowadays, because funds have been so cut down, you'll be lucky to find more than a couple of new books each month. It's dreadfully sad that there isn't enough money being spent simply on BOOKS. I still order hardback novels I'm not sure of liking/wanting to own and the library still gets them for me, but it's one copy of a hardback novel which has come from a distant Manchester library to my branch. The days of buying a copy of the book for each branch is long over. One used to be able to count on the hardback sales of novels to the libraries but no longer...this is all part of the drive towards everything in paperback. As for They came like swallows and other lesser known US books, you can forget about it! It's enough to make you gnash your teeth.
Amazon by being ultra efficient and also very cheap has made further inroads into the library's function.
I think the future lies in Book Groups...bringing a bit of life to the branches. All sorts of book groups for all ages.
I routinely give ALL my review copies to my branch. I also give them copies of my own books. They have not bought A HIDDEN LIFE, my latest....they are waiting for the pbk....GRRR.

adele geras

I see there is no B in my rant! Sorry! Not feeling very methodical.


We currently use the library quite a lot, though for a time I didn't use it at all. It seemed, oddly, that I'd forgotten all about it. We borrow loads of children's books. With an emerging reader at home it's bliss to supply her with a new stack of beginning reader books every week with new words to learn. So many of these are not really books I feel we need to own. I borrow heaps of cookbooks for myself, not so much to cook from but to be inspired and determine if I'd like to own them. I borrow a wide range of everything else, but do want to own books that I've loved and for reference (non-fiction). We also borrow DVDs and CDs which is a nice benefit as well.


Libraries are crucial, a truly democratic institution in the U.S. I live in Cambridge, Mass., which is blessed with a main library and 6 branches, one of which is two blocks from me. I borrow lots of books I just want to read once -- chiefly mysteries -- and buy more serious nonfiction and reference works. Among its other uses, the library seems to me an important communal space that goes far beyond books per se, and I'd love them to be open 24/7 -- or at least every day. Sadly, libraries everywhere are cutting back in every way, but it would be a deprived world without them. Forgive the rant; I feel strongly about this.


I used to buy books and resell them (usually on amazon) when I was finished reading them. After I decided to stay at home with my daughter I couldn't justify the expense any longer. Now I borrow knitting books, best sellers (sometimes you must wait 6 months before your name reaches the top of the list!), and old favorites that I like to reread every few years. Luckily I live in a very large city and if my library doesn't have a particular book, it available by interlibrary loan.


I love my local library, and always try to borrow before I buy. My rule of thumb is that I don't buy unless I know I will use it again and again. If it's a one time read, it has to be from the library. :0) I also couldn't find They Came Like Swallows, but I did pick up Alias Grace the other day! Often, if I really want to check out a book we don't have here, I will request an interlibrary loan, and they will bring in the book from another library that does have it. I especially love this for reference books, knitting pattern books, etc. Living up here in the north, we don't have a great bookstore, and I really like to have a close look before I invest.

We also love the library because it is so family friendly these days. I usually take the toddlers once a week to "story time", and I love the "reserve a book" feature, as it means I can reserve online, pick up my book at the front desk,and not have to drag small children up the stairs to the quiet, adult book floor. :0) Better for everyone, I think!


I always use my local library a lot, partly to save money:) but also a great way to try books before I spend money on them. I do find that with the type of books I buy (knitting) there is such a lot of stuff in them I won't use that I'd waste money elsewise. One thing with our library if you order and they don't have it in stock you have the option of asking them to get your book from elsewhere. We currently have books from Norfolk and Liverpool, we live near lancaster.
If you order online there should be an additional search option if book not in stock, it asks if you wish them to try elsewhere.


I have only begun to read with Cornflower Book Group and decided to go to the local libray and order They Came Like Swallows. No surprise.. but they did not have it and could not find it in any other branches so I am going to order it from a bookseller. I have been a member of at least two libraries for most of my life (a long time). I use the library to read all kinds of books but I am increasingly buying reading matter at various charity shops to keep costs down. I find this is also a great way to discover a more varied selection.


My parents inculcated the library habit in me at such an early age that my first sentence was, apparently, a very earnest "clean book, clean" as it had been impressed on me that these were objects to be treated with reverence. (My favourite book at the time was called "The Cow Who Fell in the Canal"). At an early age I decided that my dream job would be to drive the travelling library bus around the Norfolk coast. This dream has been thwarted by my lamentable driving skills.
At the moment, though, I can't use my local library. It is being refurbished with the development of a new shopping centre in Cambridge. It closed over a year ago and was due to re-open next month but structural problems mean that I will have to wait until November. In the meantime, there is a mobile on the market place once or twice a week. Not the same! What worries me is what the new building might contain. There are rumours of bigger and better computers, more DVDs and so on--all in the name of "increased accesibility"-- but no mention of books... Happily, we have an Oxfam books and an amazing treasure-trove of a shop that sells remaindered and damaged books (it has All Passion Spent for £2)


Like Simon, I am a buyer rather than a borrower, in general, anyway. I try really hard not to buy books at full price but I do sometimes fall for cheap supermarket editions or (less often) 3 for 2s etc. Anything I decide I really want, I will first of all look for on Bookmooch. If they don't have it, I will look on Amazon and hope there will be a 1p used copy. If I have to buy full price I have found the Book Depository good as they don't charge for postage. The Book People sometimes come up trumps, too. I constantly trawl the charity shops, too, and pick up anything that takes my fancy. The library I use somewhat less often -- though the Elizabeth Bowen I have just read was one I just spotted on the shelves and checked out, and I have just ordered a book on inter library loan, too -- and of course I sometimes use my own university library. But I do love to own books, so buying them gives me huge pleasure.


I'm definitely a buyer. The funny thing is I'm a librarian -- in an academic library, so we don't have tons of fiction, but we do have some. However, I could get anything I wanted through InterLibrary Loan (free!). I also have access to several branches of my public library. But, I just want to have my books around me. I don't want to have to give them back.

Pink Lady Bug

My parents are avid users of the library system, though they also own several rooms full of books. When I was growing up we paid regular visits to the local library to borrow books and participate in literacy activities. I also made extensive use of the school library which was very well stocked (I think being a private school it may have had a larger budget for purchasing). Most of the books that I owned were gifts or purchases from book fairs or garage sales.

Since leaving home, however, I have rarely used the library. My local library is not open in the evenings, and only open Saturday mornings on the weekends. Working full time makes accessing it difficult. These days I tend to buy what I want. For older books I will search at book fairs, in charity shops, Ebay or on Abe books. For recent releases or hard to find classics, I tend to check the Book Depository or Borders (if I have a discount voucher). If I have to have it ordered in I go to Dymocks where they have a book lover programme where you earn points for your purchases.


I suppose living a 'simple' life would pre-dispose us to not having to own something to enjoy it. We're currently in the stage of having young readers and so the library is a regular feature.

If I think a particular book will be read over and again, then we add it to our library, but as with anything, I guess we try to keep the amount of 'stuff' (books included) to a manageable amount.


Recognized myself in several others' posts. Growing up, I had to have a book or two going all the time and living in a smaller community 20 mi. out of a larger town (where I commuted to high school and college), I had to rely on the weekly bookmobile.

I'll always buy books, even if I first read a library copy - some things I just have to keep (am very much a hoarder as Simon mentioned).

Living in a compact five-college area (in three towns within 10 miles of each other) - and being a retired employee of one of them - I have access to all by an online catalog, can pick out something from my home computer, order it, and pick it up at my former workplace (has the easiest library for me to get in and out of). If I don't find something I want, it can be ordered (ILL).

Online, I usually start eith abebooks, then amazon (most of these overlap) - but have discovered several more places today in these "comments."

I'm sad to say I don't get into the local public library - too lazy, I guess - and it is one of two great public libraries in the area (though both have been cutting hours). My husband, a retired academic librarian loves his volunteer time his puts in each week, reshelving books at the public - and bringing home more.

What I want to know is how/where Dark Puss discovered the Texan, Kinky Friedman!!? :-)


Dark Puss - and perhaps others - should join the London Library, which has all the books you mention, and which provides a postal service for those who don't live in London. Dark Puss and Lindsay are meeting for a drink at an undisclosed but not bookish location tomorrow and I will recruit him!

Peter the flautist

Dear Nancy - ah the Kinkster hmm, can't really remember but perhaps I knew something of him in his music days. I think I was attracted by the cover of one of his books in my local library (possibly When the Cat's Away) read the first few pages and thought that it sounded fun. It was, I have now read five of his detective stories (all borrowed), but unlike his silent cat I can say something!

Dark Puss


Cornflower, could you please tell me why there are images of bees in the corners of 2 of yesterday's photos. Is it a subliminal signal to "be" something.... I don't think I'm sophisticated enough to understand it. Please help me, as I've noticed them often on your blog pictures.

Wanda J

I am more of a borrower than a buyer; partly due to budget, mostly due to lack of space. Having worked for over a decade in both public and academic libraries I know how accessible even rare books can be, with persistence.

Reading other comments makes me aware of how fortunate I am to live in an area where InterLibraryLoans (ILL) only cost $1USD. Even small, backwoods libraries are almost certain to be connected to OCLC and WorldCat opening the door to libraries around the world. (I may be dating myself since it's been over two years since I worked in ILL.) Libraries are keenly aware that they are competing on the world stage so they are working to stay current with technology and acquisition.

The more you are active with a viable presence in your library system the more voice you will have.

That said, I love walking into the house and seeing bookcases against the walls housing our favorite books. Down the hall is a bookcase full of children's books from my young days, the weaving room has shelves taking up a good portion of one wall with most of my fiction, weaving, and fiber books. Just today a box arrived from Amazon with two books for Ed. :-)


When we lived in the UK, I had four library tickets for the family maxed out at all times, the largest number were mine - totalling at least 36 books. I read all kinds of genres, and took back ones that I didn't like without feeling guilty that I hadn't read them.
Now we live in France, and when we pop back to the UK, I nip round the local libraries for their 10p bargains, and the charity shops too. I have loads of books, but somehow have lost the reading habit I used to have. Maybe it was the pressure of a date stamped in the front, maybe it was to keep up with the endless supply of new books.
If I moved back to the UK, it would be for the libraries, so please keep supporting them in my absence!!!

Lyn Baines

I both buy & borrow books for myself. I'm the Collections Manager of a large library service (in Melbourne, Australia) and have the lovely job of buying all the adult materials, so I really have no need to buy books at all. But, I can't resist. I rarely buy novels in hardback, I borrow them, but if I've loved a book, I may buy the p/b to keep. I also buy some non-fiction, and I'm always on the lookout for second-hand/remaindered books. I can also comment on your query as to library selection policy. We have over 500 fiction authors on standing order & I see lots of new non-fiction every week to select from, but I also keep track of what's popular, who's been on Oprah (!), reviewed at the weekend, on the local radio/TV shows etc & buy more copies of a title if a reservation queue is building up. I also receive lots of requests from our borrowers for titles we don't have. If they're in print, I consider buying those as well. I'm also very conscious of keeping classics (fiction & non-fiction) in stock. So, it's a mixture of supplying new & classic books & keeping up with demand as well.


I am an avid lover of libraries. When I started borrowing books the librarian (lovely Miss Collins) allowed me to take out two books on each ticket as I came back so often and so quickly (perhaps she was tired of seeing me...?) I have belonged to libraries all my life and do now, but as I have written on my blog some time ago, I no longer visit my local library mainly because of the noise levels, the coffee shops, the internet surfing taking place et al. The junior library is in one open space next to the adult section where they are dumped sans parents and end up running around shrieking and generally treating the place like a playground. it is no longer a library it is now 'a resource centre'. And yes I know I sound like a miserable old bag, and probably am one, I do sometimes yearn for the quiet days of a library where you could sit quietly and read a book undisturbed. I find the selection pretty poor, if I want a dannielle Steele or a John Grisham, no worries anything that is slightly out of the ordinary, don't bother.
Actually, I have just realised that I have not been in for at least six months so perhaps I ought to check it out to make sure that my diatribe is not totally unfounded.

Most of my books now come from Amazon, publishers, charity shops and book sales. I am sad about this but having once reserved a book, nothing too outlandish merely a history of the Proms, and it took over a year for them to get it, I have now given up.

And I am speaking as somebody who worked in the library service for 15 years so can see both sides of the story.


Very interesting Karen. I do visit the library with the children and that section is reasonably good but I do feel they are missing many essentials. Lots of good baby books and a reasonable selection of picture books for the pre-schoolers but once you go to age 7 and up the selection is much poorer.

While visiting, I always optimistically dash to the reference section, hopeful to find a wealth of interesting knitting, craft, ceramics and arts books. I am always disappointed. Cookery and gardening are an equal let down, not up to date at all. These are the sort of books that I would like to borrow from my library but my library is hardly ever able to supply.

My library is in quite a large town but really feels very neglected. I do remember loving my city library as a teenager and I spent hours in there browsing the arts books (under the pretence of study)and choosing from a wealth of well laid out fiction. I have not been back to the Linen Hall Library in Belfast for many years, I wonder if it is still as good or are city libraries suffering too?


I support my library by providing book discussions for patrons and for that reason I am glad that inter-library loan exists. The library that I work with is outstanding in tracking down copies of various titles.

On the other hand, personally, I purchase the books that are for my own leisure reading because the public library doesn't tend to go very deeply into any subject. The public library exists these days for the very young and the senior citizen. The assumption is that the massive population in the middle of the spectrum of users is either willing to make do with the best-seller style of collection or will buy their own.


I've always hated spending money on books that just sit around and get read only a few times. I used the library so much, I finally got a job there, and I love it! I do have a few well-worn favorites, all bought at second hand shops.


I used to buy nearly all the fiction books I read - but after moving house and truley discovering just how many paperbacks we had stashed all over the place (and most only read once of course)I decided to use my local library more often. It is very well stocked and has a great system whereby books can be ordered and delivered for collection from another 25 or so librarys in this area. Having said that though, not one library between here and San Franciscio had a copy of the Maxwell book that I wanted for our next book group discussion. But got lucky eventually as I found one at a charity sale only yesterday.

Peter the flautist

Post scriptum: The cat doesn't give up easily and has this morning tracked down a public library from which he borrowed a copy of "They Came Like Swallows".

Karen Beadling

Coming in a bit late, but I wanted to add that I couldn't find They Came Like Swallows in my entire county library system (upstate NY), which surprised me. They're getting a copy soon, because I found a used one on Amazon for little except the shipping charge. But I suppose they will put it into their annual sale as an undesired/outdated book. So what goes around comes around once more. Still, too bad that such minor classics aren't on our library shelves.

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  • Sidebar book cover thumbnail pictures are affiliate links to Amazon, and the storefront links to Blackwell's and The Book Depository are also affiliated; should you purchase a book directly through those links, I will receive a small commission. Older posts may also contain affiliate links to one of those bookshops. I am not paid to produce content and all opinions are my own.


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