The Tyranny of the Library

You know what they say about the tyranny of the urgent, right? It’s bad news to put important things on the backburner because something more pressing–but less important–grabs our attention.

Well, book lover that I am, I experience my own unique brand of the tyranny of the urgent. I’m calling it the tyranny of the library.

My library’s reserve request system is magical. Any book that I want to read in the whole library system is mine for the asking–delivered straight to my local branch next door.

But this incredible resource gets me into trouble, because I don’t control when those books come in. Once they arrive, I only have 3 weeks to read them. If I’ve been waiting for months for a popular book, I need to read it immediately or I’ll lose my chance. Long-awaited library books often become “urgent” items on my to-read stack, jumping ahead of books I’m more interested in but don’t have a deadline on.

I recently realized that I’d been putting off two high-priority books–7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture–because of the tyranny of the urgent.Β  These two titles were my top priorities, but they were getting bumped because long-awaited reserve items kept arriving for me at the library. Since I owned 7 and Introverts in the Church and could read them anytime, I kept putting them off in favor of the less important–but more urgent–library books.

Consistently putting the urgent above the important is never a good plan, not even for library books.Β  Because truly, it’s not the library’s fault! The problem is with my own poor planning.

Here’s what I’m doing to make sure I’m reading the books I want to read, and not just because the library demands it!

1. Prioritize what’s important. When I clearly articulate what I want to read first, I can consciously plan to make that happen.

2. Don’t request library books that aren’t priorities right now. I’ve been guilty of requesting a library book because I was interested in it, without stopping to think whether or not I wanted to make the time to read it that month.

When a popular book comes out, like Susan Cain’s new release Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I place a request right away, so I don’t have to wait a year to get my hands on a copy. (And when Quiet comes in, I’ll drop everything to read it.)

But the library has many, many books that I’m interested in reading eventually, but aren’t in high demand. I can have a copy of these titles within days, or even hours if it’s sitting on the shelves at my local branch. I am breaking my bad habit of not requesting books that I want to read someday–just not necessarily right now. For these books I recommend…

3. Get a Goodreads account. Several of you readers recommended I get a Goodreads account to help me meet my goal of keeping track of the books I read. I did, and I’ve been faithfully recording what I read. But it’s also been helpful for keeping track of what I want to read in the future. (If you want to connect on Goodreads, you can find me here.)

Do you suffer from the tyranny of the library? How do you stay on top of what you’d like to read next?

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  1. Kimberly says:

    Our library is still using a card catalog system like the one in your picture. πŸ™‚ Not a lot of “new” books in these parts. Do understand what you are saying though.

    • Anne says:

      I remember when my library ditched the card catalog. That was a sad day for me, but I’ve adapted…finally! Perhaps you’re still able to request books? (Though I understand it’s much harder to know what’s available when the system isn’t so easily searchable.)

    • Katie says:

      I live in a very small town and they have often gotten a book for me that I wanted. If you go often you might be surprised at how helpful and willing they are to buy a book you would like.

  2. Katie says:

    This happens to me ALL THE TIME. The worst is when I have several “high-priority” books that I want to read, I request them, and I’m waiting for weeks. So I start reading other, lower-priority books and am in the middle of several of those and then SUDDENLY all the high-priority books come in ALL AT ONCE and I have twenty books to read in two weeks.

    First-world problems, I guess. πŸ˜‰

    • Anne says:

      Yes, I understand that scenario EXACTLY.

      And yup, it’s a first-world problem. Right up there with running out of coffee so I don’t have a hot cup to go with my good book πŸ™‚

  3. Angela says:

    Oh, I can so relate to this! I’ve recently discovered that my account in my library system has a shelf where I can put books ‘to be read later’, so I don’t need to reserve them, but I can virtually put them there so I don’t forget them and can reserve them later. Of course, that didn’t help with the 6!! books that came in for me at the library on Saturday. Better get reading!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, I’ve been there with the 6 books at once!

      A “save for later” shelf sounds wonderful. That’s what I’m using Goodreads for, but it’s quite possible that my library account has that option and I just haven’t figured it out πŸ™‚

  4. Ha, I agree with the above commenter who says “First World Problems” — but it’s a problem for me too!

    I find myself reserving things, and then playing that game where I wait till almost the whole 7 day hold period is used up before I go check them out, so that I can essentially “have” the book almost 4 weeks instead of 3. And yet still I often end up renewing things… and I’m falling behind on the books I got sent for review. I just made a little library ban for myself (no new reserves for at least 2 weeks till I get caught up on those ARC reviews that are due soon!).

  5. HopefulLeigh says:

    I completely relate to this! The nice part of my library’s request system is that you can save books to a list(s) you create. The last several months I’ve been using my list for books I’d like to read eventually and requesting only the ones that I want to read now. I have vast piles of books I already own (thank you very much, library, for always bumping them until later). I finished Unbroken last night and will return it to the library today and I’ve decided not to request any more books until I’ve made a good dent in the stack in the office. We’ll see how I do.

    • Anne says:

      Yes, you know I hear you on the books I already own piling up! I’m curious to hear how you liked Unbrokwn, though…planning on blogging that one?

  6. I used to suffer a LOT from the tyranny of library fines πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Not anymore…but my tendency is to request too many books at once, I don’t read them all. I renew them a few times, still don’t read them because life happens, then I have to turn them in πŸ™ πŸ™ Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather πŸ™‚

    • Nikki says:

      I had always been such a rule follower that library fines were something I tried to avoid. That ended last month when an 800+ page YA book I had checked out twice still wasn’t finished. I decided to calculate how much I was willing to pay in fines ($5) and just give myself the ‘extra’ time. My total ended up being $4.20. Lol

  7. Grace says:

    Haha, I know exactly what you are talking about! None of my friends who live here use the library, so I sometimes feel silly talking about it. I’m so glad I’m not the only one. It actually just happened to me this week. I have a novel that I am reading because I want to. Then there is another non fiction book I am reading for a book club. Then a book I have been waiting months and months for came in for me at the library. Well, the library book just got priority over every other book. It doesn’t help that my “to read” list grows much faster than the list of books I’ve read.

  8. Annie Kate says:

    Yes, that happens at our home too. Some of the books, like The Happiness Project can take months and months to become available.

    Thanks for mentioning Goodreads. I’m going to check it out.

  9. Rebecca says:

    I like this post! Because I completely relate to it! I am notorious for having like 10 books come in at once at the library and then they are due back way too soon! Ah! And then it gets stressful! But I want to read ALL the books!:-)

    Now I’m doing book reviews for my blog as well and it’s adding to the stack of books.

    But I love having access to all of these wonderful things to read. I love that it’s free. I love that it’s accessible. I am thankful!

    I use my Amazon wish list to help keep track of things I want to read in the future.

    • Anne says:

      I am thankful for all the wonderful things to read, but it does get a little overwhelming.

      I run into extra trouble when I’m writing about a book, because then I keep it around “just in case” I might need it again to refer to–instead of returning it to the library and getting it out of the house!

  10. My husband is reading Introverts in the Church right now! He loves it—he feels like it describes him perfectly (but doesn’t give him any excuses).

    And I feel the tyranny. It never fails that the books I order come in while I’m on vacation or something. Never. Fails. Then it’s too late to cancel them, and I get charged a fee for not picking them up. Argh!

    • Anne says:

      He’s reading it right now? Crazy! I’m so glad he’s enjoying it.

      And you get charged a fee for not picking items up? Ouch! I understand why, but still πŸ™

    • Nikki says:

      A fee?!! I’ve never heard of that. My small town librarians call me the last 1-2 days of the hold to ask if I still want it. No fee though. That sounds ridiculous unless it costs for interlibrary loans or something.

  11. I do this all the time – don’t read my own books because I’ve got library books that have to go back.

    This year I’ve started making specific monthly reading goals, and I’m trying to make sure to include at least one of my books, so that I’ll slowly work my way through the backlog.

    I’ve also recently started using Goodreads, as opposed to having an account but never touching it. It has been really handy for quickly adding books to a to read list, as opposed to the numerous slips of paper I was always trying to keep track of previously.

    • Anne says:

      I’m recovering from my old habit of leaving little slips of paper all over the house, too! Thank you, Goodreads πŸ™‚

  12. You’ve inspired me to get a goodreads account again! I had one several years ago, but didn’t use it much. This is something I can totally relate to, though. Managing books from the library can get a bit crazy. And now, when I actually get to check one out on my Kimdle (there’s always a long wait for most books), it just adds another degree of craziness!

    I tend to go directly to my library account and add any books I hear about that I want to read. What a great idea to track it all on my goodreads account. Thanks for the tip!

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  14. I’m one of those people who can’t read more than one book at a time, so I’m always running into the problem of “Whim Books v. Waiting Books.” When I’ve finished one, do I choose my next book based off of whatever I feel like reading next…or choose one I’ve been meaning to read for a long time?

    I’ve actually got this problem right now! I’m debating between Treasure Island and the Divergent series. Any advice? πŸ™‚

    • Anne says:

      “Whim Books vs Waiting Books.” Love it!

      I haven’t read Divergent, so I can’t speak to that one. I CAN say that this year I’ve already read quite a few of those books I’ve been “meaning to read” for YEARS, and it’s felt so satisfying to finally cross them off the list! (They’ve all been fantastic, too–I’m not just clearing my conscience. πŸ™‚ )

    • Nikki says:

      Whim vs waiting–great line. I go in phases. Whim is fun for just feeling like it. But Anne’s point about crossing off the list & working through the TBR waiting stack is also deeply satisfying to this ISFJ. ?

  15. Kristie says:

    I love this post so much. For a while, I was buying most of what I wanted to read (my favorite thing is Kindle/Audible WhisperSync), but I had to buy a new furnace and A/C in November, so I’m back to trying to get books from my library more, both through their Overdrive service and physical books. A couple of my requests came in earlier this week, and when I stopped on Wednesday to pick them up the checkout computer told me there were in fact three books ready for pickup. Thankfully, the third book wasn’t actually on the shelf for me yet, so I could easily put picking it up off until next week. I can only have The Girl on the Train for two weeks due to the demand, so of course it went to the front of the line! But eventually I need to get back to the 10 other books I already in progress… (There are really 11 others, but one is an audiobook I’ve been continuing to listen to during my commutes.)

  16. Michelle says:

    Hello from a fellow library request addict. You described me so well. Our library has loads of books, but I always want to check to see if they have the particular book I’ve just heard about. I’ve been using Good Reads, but it didn’t seem to help keep me from clicking “reserve”. So the next best thing when the pile gets too tall and seeing MY books on the shelf starts nagging me? I’ve started writing titles into “your” book journal and returning the books to the library!

  17. Nikki says:

    I keep a running wish list on my library account, Amazon account, Notes app in my phone, & Overdrive account. So far Goodreads is just tracking what I’m reading/have read. That being said, I still run into tyranny. I put several popular books on hold on Overdrive at once b/c they have loads of ppl in the queue, but inevitably they drop close together. And even with 21 day check out, I have had to rerequest or renew many. Mostly b/c I belong to several book clubs & have monthly reading for them, and I’m loosely participating in my library’s book challenge again this year. The big crux for me is one of my intentional goals for this year is to read through my TBR shelves here at home-books I’ve bought over the past 10 years that I want to get to, even just to try the first 50 pages & if it’s a dud, sell at my local bookstore. I am not allowing myself to buy any more until the stack is reduced. But ‘required’ reading seems to get most of my free time lately. I know I can cut back on book group activities, but I enjoy them. Any thoughts?

  18. Charles Hess says:

    I too, suffer from a library book conflict. Right now I have four books checked out, one and a half of them read. And I have two books that I have to get, that just came off my list of books i’ve requested. And, at this moment I have 138 books on my libtsry list that I want to read. And this list seems go grow almost every day.

  19. Brandyn says:

    I love that I “rediscovered” the library a few years ago. I wasn’t organized/disciplined enough before they added all the online tools and was just forever forgetting to return them and racking up some fairly impressive fines.

    Now I have books on hold every week and the website tells me what’s due (and can’t renew). That said I struggling with the same problems as you. Library books have a time limit – the 100+ books I own and haven’t read do not. I had 5 holds come in this week and four of those have waitlist behind me. Starting with The Invisible Library. My currently in progress book (The Wangs vs. the World) will be relegated to audio only for a while.

  20. Robyn says:

    Our library system has the option of placing books on hold, then pausing the hold when you are near the front of the line but not ready to receive that book immediately. Later, you can cancel the pause and move right back into your place in the queue. I use this option frequently, most recently when several long-awaited volumes were due to become available just as I was going out of town for a week. Genius!

  21. Judy says:

    Dear Anne! I have library AND the Modern Mrs Darcy Kindle deals of the day tyranny! ? I read your descriptions of books on sale and like an addict whose hands are shaking because they have to have that next drink or hit, I’ve got to have that next book!!! ? Yikes, I just can’t seem to keep up. So many books, so little time! ? So, I’ve been trying to borrow the books instead of buying them, and voila, the library book tyranny. Help!?? Evidently, I will be reading, reading, reading till my last breath, but I feel like I just can’t read fast enough. Okay, deep breaths. I will go make myself a tea and read my book/books.????? Love your site, keep up the great work.

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