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Welcome to the most underrated weekend activity: the library

Photography By Paul Hanaoka, Thought Catalog
Published 28.10.21

Growing up, I was a committed library devotee. But once I left school, it ceased to exist (for me at least).

If you’re a book lover like myself, you probably love treating yourself with a weekly trip to your local bookstore. Sure, your intention is always to buy one book, but you still manage to leave with four. Once you’re done reading them (congrats if you actually do, by the way), the usual protocol is to retire them to your increasingly crammed bookshelf and probably never think of them again. 

But, what if you did? At least to wonder if this seemingly harmless” habit was doing some real damage to your budget, not to mention the environment?

I recently found out that each book causes around 3kg of CO₂. The heavier the book, the harder its fall from ecological grace. Not to mention what happens after you’re finished with it. It’s estimated that 320 million books are discarded to landfill in the US every year. That’s around the weight of five blue whales in rubbish. 

Talking to workmates about my conflicted conscience one Monday, I asked whether they knew of a service that hired out books instead. With sly smirks, they replied: “Oh honey, that’s called a library.” It was a revelation. 

While I might have neglected the library for close to a decade, it turns out others haven’t. Libraries are currently undergoing a welcome renaissance. In the year to July 2018, about 7.6 million people visited Australian libraries – more than went to museums (6.7 million), art galleries (6.3 million), plays (3.9 million) or musicals and operas (3.5 million). 

Ironically, libraries have become a wild collision of gen Z and gen X cultures. When I finally broke my hiatus and made the trip down to my local book-filled haunt, I was surprised to see a much younger generation mingling with the stereotypical library-goers. A group of gen Zers occupied one corner – two curled up on a sofa reading books with headphones in and a couple huddled around their laptops discussing their weekend ventures. A group young ones around my age wandered in looking like they just returned from brunch down the road. As the generation driving the sharing economy, it’s no surprise they all felt at home within an institution that pretty much invented the concept. And to be honest, so did I.

It’s probably not a shock to say I’ve fallen hard for the library all over again. There’s a nostalgic pleasure in browsing books, taking a stack up to the counter, presenting my card for scanning, then walking out the door with a full tote bag. The knowledge that I haven’t spent a cent doesn’t hurt either. Of course, this isn’t the end of me buying books (let’s face it, that’s a part of my identity). But I welcome it as part of my ongoing personal pledge to buy less and return more often to the library.

Studio Media, Arif Riyanto
Haven’t been since school? Here are five reminders of what you’re missing 
The original co-working space

Looking for a free office location? Staking their claim as the original co-working spaces, libraries are perfect for meetings, internet, programming and community interaction. The communal spaces are often decked out with electrical points to keep you connected throughout the day, with some even having height-adjustable (sit-stand) desks. And forget the customary cone of silence, many have dedicated recording studios for you to get started on that podcast you keep saying you’re going to start (no excuses now).

Did you know you can borrow more than just novels?

If you think thrillers, steamy romances and nonfiction tomes are all that’s on offer, you’d be sorely mistaken. Libraries can offer a seriously wide range of items to borrow, from mahjong sets to new PlayStations. Of course, more generally you’ll see magazines, newspapers, language kits, video games and audiobooks. Some even offer Kindles and cameras. So, yes, that means the latest copy of Vogue for free, a new record for your friday night dinner party and a weekend trying your hand at photography. 

Can’t find the book you’re looking for? They will order it in just for you

Maybe you’ve been put off the library because you can’t ever find what you’re looking for. Whether it’s a new release or something a little more specific, most libraries will order it in for you. Look on your local library’s website and search for a section called “recommend a title” or “suggest a title for purchase” and be the first to open a new book’s pages.

If you want to learn something new, attend a short course or workshop

You would be surprised at the list of short courses or training sessions that are available at your local library – not including tech courses to teach your grandma how to use the computer. Many libraries are now filled with advanced technical equipment. The Westport Library in Connecticut has a robot lab, where you can learn to program robots to respond to simple commands, catch and kick a small soccer ball, and even dance. And some are even filled with 3D printers and laser cutters, for anyone tech minded.

If you don’t feel like physically attending, download books instead

While there are so many benefits of heading to the public library, you can also relax on your couch and download an app. Libby by OverDrive helps you borrow ebooks, audiobooks and more from your local library for free. Say hello to your own portable book collection. 

Since making numerous trips to the library in the last month, I’ve saved over $80 from not buying books, I’ve enrolled in a short course on romance writing and best of all I’ve even locked in a date with a cute fellow devotee. 

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