This Place Will Lend You Books For Free

Today is the anniversary of the first ever lending library in the UK. Why not go and join one?
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Do you read books? Hundreds of them? Are your shelves, rooms, bags, cars, offices full of books? Do you buy them on impulse at train stations and airports? Read the first few chapters before your journey ends? Do you come across a car-boot sale, second hand bookshop or a charity shop; and walk away with books that look like bargains but only have a 25% chance of getting read?

Do you hunger for new releases by favourite writers, get lost scouring Amazon and Ebay and fan sites for rare editions, or volumes you only just heard about. Then never buy them. Go through books in a night, a week, one sitting. Lose sleep over them. Clinging on till the very end. An end that leaves you in tears, angry or spent? Or do they drag on for months and months while other easier to digest stories come and go.

Do you look forward to holidays because you know there’ll be a literary lottery on the hotel’s second hand library shelf? Do you buy books like a habit? Do you find it hard to move them on after you’ve read them, caught between wanting to give them to a friend, or get some of the cover value back, and wanting to retain them as a physical memory of the time you enjoyed reading them?

I do a lot of all of that and more. You can also add the following to books I have:  presents I receive, the books I borrow from friends, and the ones that arrive from publishers and writers. But I did something on Saturday that might change all that.  I joined a library. And I was shocked, exhilarated and inspired by the experience.

Next time you’re driving or walking past your local library maybe break the habit and step inside. It’s even cheaper than Amazon.

The Library in question has been there for a short while, in the high street of a small town I visit regularly, Rye in East Sussex. It is less than a year old, a huge, clean, well-stocked affair that now sits in what used to be Woolworths. It has computers, computer games, DVDs, talking books and most importantly books. Thousands of them, and as my son, my girlfriend and I all individually noticed, hardly any of the books have ever been taken out. It couldn’t be more different from the libraries I remember from years gone by.

When I suggested joining the library my girlfriend laughed at me, and  accused me of  looking for a money saving scheme but it just seemed to make sense. I’d walked past this big double fronted shop full of literature many times and hadn’t bothered to venture in. Meanwhile I was suggesting going to a table sale just to see if an old lady I’d once talked to had any more Rebus crime books and the g/f was getting antsy because she’d run out of books by an author she was consuming at a rate of a book every 48 hours.

I’ve not been a member of a library since I was about ten years old so I wasn’t too sure what to expect but I figured you’d have to pay something to join and something to take each book out and it would take ages like everything else does to join or sign up for nowadays. So I was stunned when the lady behind the counter explained it was free to take a book out, free to join and you could prolong your borrowing of a particular book beyond the three week deadline online. Plus you can order a book and they’ll get it in for you for 80p. So I’ll be ordering some of the books written by our writers. So that was it, all of it’s free. No wonder those that use libraries regularly are up in arms about proposed closures of them. It just strikes me as something a nation can boast about – we lend people books for free.

A couple of forms filled in, a card signed, a proof of address and boom we were in. Crime books – masses of them – Le Carre, Michael Connolly, Elmore Leonard, James Elroy, David Peace. History books, war books, books by Sabotage Times writers, sports books. I’m not too sure what my girlfriend was examining at the time but my son was just staring at all the books and films wondering what to take. It was like being in Borders but free. Eventually I had to call time on the browsing as we were running out of reading hours. We left with a Michael Connolly novel, an early le Carre novel, a kids novel and the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid film.

Back home to read, great books in hand, no money spent and knowing the house won’t have yet more books in that no-one else ever gets to read. Next time you’re driving or walking past your local library maybe break the habit and step inside. It’s even cheaper than Amazon.

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