The house of free books

September 14, 2008 | 36 comments

Guys! Guys! I have to tell you about the most amazing place I discovered last week: it’s called a “library, ” and it’s filled with wonderful books on all sorts of subjects, and you can borrow them for free!

OK, I admit, I knew what a library was before last week. But based on my experiences with them in college and high school, if I’d written my own dictionary entry for the word library, it would have read:

1: A sort of torture chamber located on college campuses where you spend up to 20 hours straight slaving away on research papers that you should have started two weeks ago.

2: A place to receive attitude and snippy comments about the fact that you technically don’t live within city limits and aren’t old enough to check out books anyway.

I had unintentionally written off libraries after a series of failed efforts to get a library card in my small town during high school, and after one too many painful all-nighters under the fluorescent lights of our college library. So when Hallie suggested that we do a “girls night out” where she could re-introduce me to this mysterious place, I reluctantly agreed. And, wow, am I glad I did!

It’s hard to believe that a grown woman could be unaware of the riches that her local library had to offer, but somehow I managed to be completely oblivious to it. I was like a kid in a candy store as I walked through the aisles, grabbing all sorts of books that I’d wanted to read but hadn’t had the money to buy. I even went at just the right time: the library is about to close for more than a month, so any books we check out now we get to keep until November 2. I went crazy.

For those of you who are fellow bibliophiles, I even took a picture of our family haul (I went back with my husband so that he could get a stack before they close). I am just so excited. I may never leave the house again. (Oh, wait, I never leave the house anyway. I’m all set then!)

I’ve been trying to be better about appreciating all the luxuries that I take for granted in my daily life: the abundance at the grocery store, air conditioning, my comfy car to take us safely from place to place. My latest thing to be thankful for is the local library. As a voracious reader, I don’t know how I missed the fact that we basically have a House of Free books just a couple miles down the road, but I am thrilled to have re-discovered this wonderful institution.


  1. Jordana

    Looks like you got a good haul. Did you get books to read to the kids too? I’d go crazy (well, crazier) if I had only the books we own to read to the kids over and over again.

    As a former librarian, I highly approve and recommend making use of the library. You’re paying for it after all.

  2. Bekah

    Just wait until you discover “inter-library loan!” That mysterious ability to receive almost any book you desire, for free, just by asking the librarian to find you a copy.

  3. Bailey

    Anne Lamott – you will enjoy that one!
    Please post later about which books you really liked/recommend.
    I, too, am enamoured with our library. Free books! Those words make me HAPPY!

  4. hallie

    You’re hilarious!

  5. Otter Mom

    Libraries are wonderful places! My daughter and I frequently visit one of the ones in our area. We try not to get more books than we can carry, but we usually wind up with way more than we can carry. I’m glad that you’ve discovered the library again.

  6. Owen

    We live in a smallish city that has a library system bigger than it’s britches. Lamott being quite liberal was no surprise (and I love Bird By Bird and Traveling Mercies but then who doesn’t) but imagine when I found Fulton Sheen! Old, but there it was. Enjoy your reading.

  7. bearing

    They wouldn’t let you have a library card in high school?

    What’s up with that?

  8. elizabeth

    I recently rediscovered the library, too! And I feel the same wonder you do. (“You mean this place that loans books for FREE has been here all this time?!!!”) I have yet to get many books for myself, though. They’ve all been for the kiddo. She’d be happy reading the same bunch we own over and over, but a bimonthly infusion of new picture books has saved my sanity.

  9. Catherine

    I adore the library in our city. They have an online request service and will find the books for me no matter which branch has them, and then I just pop into the nearest branch and pick up my stack. We rarely have under 100 books checked out.

    The best thing about it is that since I didn’t spend money on the books, and I’m not being graded on whether or not I read them, I finally have the freedom to put one down if I don’t like it.

    I’m glad you found your library, and I second the commenter who asked you to review the ones you like.

  10. Sarah L.

    I “discovered” our town library this year, too. It’s a dinky little thing, but the kids love it and they do have a nice children’s reading program in the summer. Once my boy started learning to read, I found that he’d just memorize our books instead of really reading each word. So, the library gives us plenty of fresh material to work with.
    Someone else mentioned the interlibrary loan, which is awesome. Our little library is not well stocked, but they can get pretty much any book I want by borrowing from another library. I can order them myself online.

  11. Anonymous

    Oh, you haven’t even gotten to the best part. I don’t know your local library system, but most libraries now have large audiovisual collections, which means you can borrow DVDs. A lot of times the popular DVDs, like the popular books, are perpetually on loan. But you know how to get them? *whispers* use the library request system. It’s wonderful. With my local library, I get online and request books I want to read, even brand new ones, and then wait for them to be delivered to my neighborhood branch. It’s almost too good to be true.

  12. Karen E.

    Oh, Jen. Oh, Jen. The treasures that await. I lurve our library.

  13. Courageous Grace

    I too found that going to the library was a wonderful experience last year. When I was a kid, I spent all my time at my local library, then when I moved to Texas the small town I lived in had a horrible tiny library.

    I tried to avoid the college libraries except Armstrong-Browning at Baylor (and that was just to stare at the stained glass).

    Now I realized I can take George to the library and he loves it! So much to see, and it will set a good example for him when he gets older.

  14. SuburbanCorrespondent

    Alas, for me, they are free books only theoretically.

  15. Marit

    Isn’t it just lovely? Nothing like walking into a building filled with books. It’s like being surrounded by an explosion of possibilities. Don’t know where to start!!

  16. breagha

    Oh my goodness. I think I (re)discovered the library in college. For me, I have one addiction: books. And there is no way I could afford that addiction, so my policy is to not buy books. (There are exceptions, such as books of a certain author, which I collect, and books that I’ve borrowed and have loved. But normally I don’t want too many books around. I’ve got enough from all my years in college and grad school, traveling, etc.) But as bekah said… wait until the ILL monster comes to visit. Goodness… it can literally reach books from ALL OVER THE WORLD. It’s truly a gift that we have. And a shame that more people don’t take advantage of it.

  17. expat

    A library is indeed a blessing that deserves to be appreciated! I envy all who have access to this treasure.

    There’s not much I miss about living in the US, but the public library is near the top of the list.

    Good hunting, Miss Jennifer!

  18. razzler

    Aren’t libraries wonderful?!!

  19. Christine the Soccer Mom

    Oh, Jen…I love you!

    You know what *I* discovered not that long ago?

    Library DVD’s! And if I check them out on story time days (Wednesday), they are due back on Sunday. Oops! The library isn’t open Sunday, so I get to keep them until Monday! Hooray!!!

    So we get movies for the weekend on story time days, and it’s glorious!

  20. Anonymous

    Browsing is fun…but using the interlibrary loan right from my laptop is fantastic (and ap big time saver). Of course (I think someone was hinting of this) the books are only free if you return them in time 🙂 I don’t mind, I figure my constant library fines are part of my support! I received a copy of the PBS catalog once, with all sorts of great documentaries and biographies…and then I promptly requested everything I wanted to see via ILL. Wow! And, alas, my poor young sister: when I was near graduation from Ohio State Univ and my 15 year old kid sis came to visit me…I couldn’t wait to show her the 12 story library in the middle of campus!! Last but not least Honey For A Child’s Heart is a lovely book with wonderful recommendations for every age level to read…GET IT!

  21. JackieD

    When I was growing up we lived outside city limits, but my Mom paid a little extra for out-of-town cards at the 3 closest small town libraries, and we happily shuttled back and forth between them.

    My favorite part about libraries? Audiobooks ^_^ they’re so expensive if you’re trying to buy them, but so great for housework!

  22. Trina

    I am with on this! I had not been to the library in about 10 years, since my single days. Now I have two youngsters and on a whim a few weeks ago I took them and they LOVED it! We checked out a nice load plus some Charlie and Lola DVDs (i secretly heart that show lol). I haven’t read so much to my kids since they were born and they are really enjoying it.

  23. Joy of Frugal Living

    As a former librarian, your #2 made me laugh. Not the best PR thing, is it?

    I love the library too. I never buy a book without a test drive first.


  24. Mimi

    Hi there! I am a huge fan of your blog! You are a gifted writer indeed. And yes, the library is a magical place! The best thing about the library? The next time you move, you won’t have a ton of books to move along with you! God bless!

  25. Bekah

    Oh, you ladies have me feeling so much better about my problem with library fines. I want a button or some other commemorative item which reads “I’m a proud supporter of my local library.” I think there should be contribution levels for prizes, just like PBS or other fundraisers. Or maybe books with book plates reading, “Graciously donated by:”

    I’ve had to pay fines of at least $40 on several occasions, but never triple digits. Thank goodness!

  26. Christine

    Best of luck reading! We are library fans also!

  27. JH Straub

    Libraries rock! Most also have story times for the children, and our local library system has DVD to check out for free (new releases too).

    I was an anti-library type, but now I see the library system as a great government resource.

  28. Lucretia

    Lucky, lucky you! We haven’t been to the library since July. Our cards ran out on Aug.1st and since we live outside of the “limit” it costs us an annual no-where-near-free $125+ (tied to the tax rate). Add in the gas to get there (5.25 miles each way) and, sigh, we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got.

  29. Jess

    You are so funny! We go to the library at least once a week, the children’s activities at our local library are really great. Even better, I make lists of books I want, request them ahead of time (because some books are within the county wide library system but not at our particular branch) and then they gather them up for me and put them on the holds shelves with my name. It makes it EASY with little kids to get all the books I want and still let Ella browse, color, play in the Lego room, do storytime, etc. without losing my mind.


  30. asv

    As a second time Houston evacuee (first in Oklahoma City and now in Austin) I always visit public libraries!! It’s one thing I really enjoy and only have time for it during these situations..
    Pray for all of us, specially for people that stayed…so we can have energy back on soon…

  31. Esther

    Welcome to the ranks of those of us who plunder the secret treasures that lie behind those doors! Blessings on your reading…

    PS Along with Owen, I appreciate Fulton Sheen. His writing is easy-to-read and concise, yet so poetic. Many theological jewels reside within his prose!

  32. Jen Rouse

    how have you been living with no library? Glad to hear you’ve rediscovered its joys!

  33. Sandy

    I’ve written ad nauseum about growing up with a public library 1/2 a block away. My dad checked out a stack of books every week and from an early age I would walk with him. One of my earliest thrills was the day I got my first library card. (I was 6?) I’ve been blessed with good public libraries in every place I’ve lived. We now have free access to a small library in our nearest town and also pay $45 per year to have a library card in a bigger town near us because they have a much bigger selection of books and books on CD. That library will often buy books that I or my family request that they don’t already own and we get to be the first borrower!

    Congratulations and welcome to the wonderful world of FREE reading!

  34. The Koala Bear Writer

    This is funny. I grew up hauling books home from the library – I had an adult card in my teens because I couldn’t borrow enough on the kid’s card. My hubby and I were delighted to discover that we could get DVDs at the library – much cheaper than renting them all the time! 🙂 Good luck with the reading. I tend to limit myself to one or two books at a time, and hope that I can get them read before having to return/renew them… 🙂

  35. Agnes Regina

    Ah, the library. Paradise.

  36. Catholic Bibliophagist

    I used to have a Los Angeles Public Library card. That was so cool! It’s such a large library system that you could request (and get) almost any book you could think of, and it would be delivered right to your local branch — for free! But now, alas, we’ve moved to a different county, and though our new city has a nice library, there’s a fee when requesting books from other libraries and they also charge rental fees for DVDs, videos, and audio books. Sigh.

    But the books in their collection are still free and I regularly check out stacks of them even though we have thousands of volumes in our home library.

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