I can imagine folks reading my criticism of public library patronage and thinking, “Ha! That’s easy for her to say…sitting in her cozy library, surrounded by thousands of books. She doesn’t need to go to the library!”
That’s true, but even when I had acquired quite a lot of books, I still used to use the local library. Anyone with an advanced case of bibliophilia will tend to go wherever printed matter abounds. But over time (i.e., as I grew older and grumpier), I began to consider some of the implications of using the tax-financed library, as well as become concerned with the material there to which I didn’t want to expose my young children.
So what’s a bibliomaniacphile to do?
It has taken me a long time to build our home library. Not everyone is going to be as obsessed as I am about books, or have a husband who allows his home to be taken over by them. But when you homeschool your children, books are a necessity, and I think they can enrich your children’s lives as you introduce them to history, literature, and poetry that nourishes their souls and exemplifies the Christian virtues you want them to adopt, as well as sometimes providing vivid pictures of sinful patterns to avoid. So get books, but with all your getting, get them wisely.
Here are some suggestions: Frequent library sales
Is that sputtering I hear in the background? Didn’t I just discourage you from darkening the library door? Yes, but only insofar as you are using it as a source of “free” stuff. If there is a sale at the library, where they are getting rid of all the quality, out-of-print children’s books to make room for Captain Underpants, rescue those discarded books, by all means. You are paying what they ask, what they do with the money is up to them. I think of it as the lawful eating of meat offered to idols. If the meat’s for sale and it’s good, eat it, just don’t be caught aiding and abetting the idol worshippers. You can keep apprised of your local book sales through Book Sale Finder.
Go to thrift stores
I much prefer this to library sales, though I don’t find as many older books there. I can go when I want. The books are usually in much better condition. I don’t have to fight the crowds, who can be vicious at book sales. The prices are usually excellent (at the Goodwill stores I visit, children’s paperbacks are 50 cents, children’s hardbacks and adult paperbacks are a dollar, adult hardbacks are $2). I always separate out the children’s and adult books to make sure I am properly charged for them. I find some wonderful treasures every time I go to the thrift store (today it was a BBC recording of Romeo and Juliet with Kenneth Branagh). If you go to thrift stores bordering on more upscale communities, the pickings will be better.
Go to used book stores
This is my last choice because the prices are so much higher than library sales and thrift stores. But it is easier to find things you want if you go to a large book store. The prices are usually half off the cover price, unless it is a rare book (even libraries are getting savvy about charging more for rare books at their sales). My strategy is to look at the used book store for titles I know I probably won’t easily run across any other way. You can sometimes trade your unwanted books for store credit, but be aware that many stores are picky about what they will take. In real estate it’s location, location, location-in bookselling it’s condition, condition, condition.
Two places I look for specific used books are ABE Books and Amazon Marketplace (I also buy new books at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but we are trying to be thrifty here). At ABE, thousands of used booksellers list their inventories, and you can quickly compare prices as well as that important book condition. Amazon Marketplace has both booksellers and individuals who list books, and you can check out their reliability rating to decide who should have the privilege of taking your money. At Amazon you often find some very low prices for books that are easily available, and the shipping is usually $3.49 per book.
One other place I should mention, where you can get new, remaindered books (often publishers’ overstock or with small imperfections, sometimes with a black mark across the bottom of the pages or across the UPC on the dust jacket) is BookCloseOuts. When I have time, I browse their new arrivals and make recommendations on my site for what’s available there. I often find deeply discounted books which are popular among homeschoolers. It’s a great place to get nice copies of classics.
Shop with homeschooling booksellers
If you are looking for specific books for homeschooling, this is a tremendous resource. Almost all the homeschooling booksellers I know of have the lowest prices for the best books. I help moderate Bookroom-FS, an online list where homeschoolers can buy and sell used, living books, no twaddle allowed. Any member can post a “want to buy” list and will probably find several responses from other members who have what they need.
Encourage your church to start a library
I’m not against borrowing from all libraries, just ones financed by the government. I would love to see a return to membership libraries, and I think a church library would be a great step in the right direction. I began a library at our church a couple years ago, donating the books from the little bookstore I used to run, and I frequently add new books that I find on my treasure hunting trips. The elders occasionally provide funds to purchase some things, as well. If you can drum up interest in this project, you could ask church members for book donations. You might have to let people know that you will be picky about what you keep, but many people have books around that they no longer need or want and would be willing to part with.
Start a book co-operative with some like-minded friends
It is a good idea to keep a list of books you want to purchase and keep it handy so that you can refer to it when you go shopping, but you might think about combining lists with your friends so that you can help each other keep an eye out for things you all need. You can also think about pooling some funds to make a group purchase of books you all would like to use, and have your own small circulating library with one another. Make sure to have some simple rules about how long each person can keep a book before passing it on, and how the books should be cared for (adding some book tape to the edges of paperbacks will help preserve them). When everyone has enjoyed all the books, then you can either sell them for whatever you are able to get and add the funds to the next year’s kitty, or donate them to your church to start a library.
Let your family know that books make great presents
Take out that wish list when birthdays and other gift-giving opportunities arise, and help your family choose a gift which won’t turn out to be a white elephant. Though not as personal, make sure they know gift cards to major bookstores won’t be rejected. You should give your children books as presents, as well. My children are thrilled when they open a gift that is filled with books I have picked out just for them, from the thrift store! I make sure to put their name in each book that is theirs.
Put an ad in the penny saver paper or on Freecycle letting people know that you will take their books off their hands
You can mention the types of books you need (i.e. children’s, reference, etc.), but if someone has several boxes they want taken away, go ahead and take them if they seem to be in decent shape, go through them to see what you want to keep, then drop the rest at the thrift store on the way home. When older people need to move to a smaller home or downsize their possessions, they often have some wonderful book treasures they would love to see go to a good home.
Check out the price of gasoline
You should also calculate the distance from your home to the nearest public library. Have your children do this as part of their math homework. Multiply that distance times the miles per gallon your car gets, and divide by the price per gallon of gasoline. Then double the answer to account for returning the library books and then double it again to account for the fines for your overdue books. Every time you get the urge to head for the library (weekly?), put that amount in a special fund for book purchases. If you buy books by my method, you’ll soon have a library bigger than mine.