Monday, December 28, 2009

How I learned to love the public library

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Yesterday I posted about how I've greatly reduced my newspaper reading since I wrote on the Media Consumption Diet meme two years ago. I've also completely changed my relationship to books.

Once upon a time, I bought books, usually new, occasionally used. Amazon.com was my friend. The books would pile up on the "to be read" shelf and I'd gradually work my way through them.

That is no longer the way it works around here. Partly this is because we've run out of bookshelf space. Partly this is because I've become a more intentional reader; I became concerned that I was reading so much in short online tidbits that I was missing the depth that only a longer treatment can offer. But even more, this is because my partner persuaded me (with a gift) that audiobooks are a great way to read. Since I also exercise a lot, I do both at the same time. Visualize if you can "reading" Too Big to Fail while running over the Marin Headlands. Works for me. I've read dozens of books in spoken form in the last two years.

But often, when I read a book, I want to write something about it here. How to do that when my access to the book is by ear? Easy: now when I start an audiobook, I use the San Francisco Public Library web catalog to order up the volume. When it becomes available, they deliver to my nearby branch for me to pick up.

And having discovered the ease of getting books held for pick up by the library, now I find myself getting almost all of what I am currently reading through that channel.

A few books that I've read by ear, I still decide to buy for future reference. These tend to be older and the copies I acquire tend to be used.

All this is somewhat cheaper for me than my previous buying habits, though I still purchase a goodly number of books to read by ear. If library audiobooks worked on an iPod I'd borrow them, but so far they do not.
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Living with an author, I'm well aware that no part of this way of acquiring reading materials that I've described above gets an author paid (except maybe a few royalties through audible.com.) I have no easy answers.
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I am however attracted by David Rothman's idea of a national digital library system using e-readers such as the Kindle. Think of the access that such a system could provide to people who aren't able to get out or need to use the font enlarging technology to make books accessible.

No, I don't know how writers get paid in that system either.
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Do you read books? How do you get the ones you read?

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