Loving (and leaving) the library in my own backyard.

Loving (and leaving) the library in my own backyard.

Five months ago today, we moved out of our first home. (I can barely believe it’s been five whole months already, but that’s another story.)

We loved that place for many reasons, not the least of which was that it was literally next door to a public library.

I went to that library almost every day. Most visits were quick: I just needed to return a book, or pick up a reserve item I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. When we were in major decluttering mode before the move, I’d take over magazines for the give-and-take bin and books for the library sale table over daily, sometimes taking multiple trips for multiple loads.

The kids and I would occasionally go to special events and story hour, but usually, we just popped in for fifteen or thirty minutes here or there.

When we moved, I knew we’d miss living 100 yards from the library, but I was unsure (and a little apprehensive) about how exactly our library usage would change. It’s been five months, so I’m getting the idea.

My library fines are up.

I’ve always had library fines, though fairly modest ones. It wasn’t often that I just forgot (although that happened): I’d accrue fines because I was buying time to finish a book before I took it back, or because nobody could locate an overdue item. That happened way too often with my kids’ library items.) It was no big deal to run items next door right before the library closed—it was close, and I needed the steps.

Now that I have to plan ahead to go to the library on purpose, I find myself choosing between getting in the car or just paying the extra twenty cents. I usually choose the latter. Hey, it’s for a good cause. (That’s what I tell myself.)

My steps are down.

I’ve been tracking my steps for almost eighteen months now, and one of the reasons I went to the library so often was to get more. I loved to pop outside when the kids were in bed for a short walk around the block and a stop to pick up a book on reserve, or to return the novel I’d just finished. I don’t do that anymore.

On the other hand, the library is now a pleasant bike ride away, and that’s good exercise, too—especially with twenty pounds of books on your back. But I don’t do that nearly as often as I used to walk.

buckle up library books

My library hauls are nearly unmanageable.

I used to go to the library every day, and now I go about once a week. For a family of six heavy readers, that makes for a heavy load. (See above.)

library stacks diaper

The kids don’t go to the library as much as they used to.

The kids used to pop over with me all the time to the library. Now they don’t go nearly as much, because I don’t go nearly as much.

On the other hand, they’re now learning to request their own books: to be deliberate about what they want to read, and to plan ahead for it. I don’t think this is necessarily better or worse—I believe in the serendipity of the stacks, and I believe in reading deliberately.

Living next door to the library, my kids have had plenty of bookish serendipity. Now they’re learning to read deliberately. It’s not better or worse, but it’s certainly different.

We’re reading as much as we ever did.

In the big picture, nothing much has changed. We used to be 100 yards from the library, now the distance is a little over a mile door-to-door. Both are enviable positions to be in. But all is relative, and having a library in the neighborhood is not the same as having one in your own backyard.

When the library was next door, my kids (and myself, honestly) took the library for granted. It was easy to do, and I didn’t mind it terribly—how lovely for my children to grow up knowing that books were part of their daily lives, in the house and out of it.

Now that the library requires a deliberate—if not difficult—effort to get to, my kids are able to see from a slightly different angle that books matter to our family, and we believe them to be worth the effort.

I’d love to hear about your experience with the library—near and far—in comments, and how that has affected your reading. 

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  1. Leigh Kramer says:

    I adore the library in my hometown and consider it to be one of the very best. I’ve always been a regular library patron but my habits completely changed when I moved to Nashville. There’s the main downtown library (which I didn’t set foot in until a couple of months ago) and there are neighborhood branches. I stop at my branch about once a week but I hardly ever browse. I’m there to pick up whatever I’ve reserved. I miss browsing but my branch has such fewer options that browsing is usually more miss than hit. I have to be more intentional about what I borrow but I miss the random, unplanned for beautiful finds that accompany browsing.

  2. Eve says:

    Unfortunately, most of my library experiences from the time I was a child to an adult have put a bad taste in my mouth. The library to me is grumpy old ladies who are anything but excited about reading and act like you are greatly bothering them if you ask for help. The few times I’ve used our current library, I was charged for books I “didn’t return” only to find out that they didn’t check them back in before putting them on the shelf, or I would pay a late fee only to be told the next time that I still owe it because they didn’t record that I paid it! Sometimes I feel like I missed my calling to become a librarian and actually encourage people to read.

  3. Courtney says:

    I can really relate to this right now. About a month ago I moved from my small city hometown to a much larger city. My hometown library had an incredible interlibrary loan system, and I was there at least once a week for books and a homemade lunch from the little, one-person cafe. Now that I’m in a larger city, they interlibrary loan system is essentially non-existent, and there are huge wait lists for every single book I try to check out (including ebooks). It’s kind of ironic that I finally have access to book clubs like I’ve always wanted, but now I don’t have access to library books to read for the clubs!

  4. Tuija says:

    I love our local library system. The nearest library is about 10 minutes’ walk from us. (For going there, my favourite library bag is a backpack…) So we pop in to the library at least once a week. Sometimes we browse longer, sometimes we just return books and pick up requests. But we also sometimes go to other libraries in the same system, if they happen to be on our errand route or we just want a little ‘field trip.’

    I really love the online service, though: being able to request books (for free!), being able to renew our loans so we can avoid those late fees, having my own wishlists in the system… And this year I’ve also started to use the Overdrive e-book loans.

    When I was a child, we had two library branches within an easy distance – 1-2 kilometres, a quick bike ride. I remember going often, with my dad, carrying big loads to and fro. We kept track of our loans by writing them into an exercise book, by date borrowed, and with a space to fill in the return date. I think those exercise books are still somewhen at my parents’ home – a wonderful record of what I read between 6 and 18 (and what my dad read, too)…

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, those bike ride/library log books sound like fascinating historical records! I hope they’re still in safe keeping somewhere. 🙂

  5. Jenna Pirrie says:

    While I was in school I would go to the main Chicago library once in awhile (I was in love with that huge, amazing building), but I didn’t have as much time for reading for myself as I would have liked. Once I started reading much more again, I’d gotten in the habit of constantly reading on my Kindle, including borrowing books from Overdrive. So even though I graduated a year and a half ago now, I never took advantage of the library two blocks from my first apartment,or, now, the one that’s a fifteen/twenty minute walk away.

    But I should, right? I feel like I’m missing something in my life, with the only library I frequent being a webpage. Now that I’ve been pushing myself to put down my Kindle more and pick up hard copies instead, it might be time to do something about it!

  6. Having so many kids is SUCH a hassle with the library!!!! I always had fines. The library we moved to here is awesome. No fines, no book limit, and a 3 week checkout time. It was 4 weeks, and they reduced it and I’m honestly suspicious we had something to do with that, haha. We are always so late taking our books back. I should get better at that before they start charging fines! We actually went to today and I imposed a 5 book limit per kid to try and reign that in. It’s half a mile to our library. You’d think it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to go more often.

  7. Virginia says:

    For as long as I have had a library card, I have had fines. I make myself feel better by believing that I am contributing to them keeping their lights on so I can keeping coming back for more. But, I have only once ever lived close enough to a library to walk there. It was when my oldest child was between the ages of 3-5 and we’d go almost every weekend because it was less than a mile’s walk away.

    I love the idea of encouraging deliberate reading. I shall add that phrase to my repertoire.

  8. Ginger says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has library fines. I always feel awful, like I’m not being a model citizen, but I don’t live particularly close to my nearest library, and it’s very often more economical to pay the few cents rather than make a special trip when a book I’m almost finished with is due.

    I like your perspective — it’s going to a good cause. And even if I were to rack up $10 a year or so, that’s still half the price of one book generally.

    But oh how I long and dream to live within walking distance of a library someday!

  9. martha schmidt says:

    What is worse is moving to a small town with a library smaller than the one in your house – Thank the Lord f
    or interlibray loan!!!

  10. Nancy says:

    When I was little my parents intentionally bought a house a block from a county library, so we were over at the library all the time. For the last few decades, even though we live just a 5 minute drive from our local library, I stopped going there and drove 20 minutes away to purchase books from a bookstore. Now that I’m retired, I’m back to using our local library. I can place holds on books I want online, and save money on gas as well as the cost of books I’ll only read once. Libraries really are priceless, even when you have to pay fines.

  11. Jane Cohn says:

    What is the NM Library Association? I have been in Albuquerque for 45 years, have gone to the library for as long and have never heard of this. Is the NM a different acronym?

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