To buy or not to buy?

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The other day I pre-ordered a sequel to a YA book that I have been quite looking forward to reading since finishing the first book. I got the call – the book was in! – so I wandered into The Bookshelf to grab my copy and take it home. The Bookshelf is such a delightful independent bookstore and even though I am surrounded by books pretty much all my waking hours, I still adore browsing the shelves and scoping out books.

The thing is, I don’t like buying books. How awful does that sound!? I am adamant about borrowing books from the library. If I see a book I am interested in reading while I am out, I will immediately jump onto the PINES application and see if we or another Georgia library has it available. If they don’t, I try out the Inter-Library Loan system (this is another borrowing program available that involves libraries outside of the Georgia Public Library System). If ILL fails me too, only then will I consider buying the book and then I buy it used.

I tell people I’m cheap (books are expensive!) but really, I don’t like buying books because once I read them, I am done with them. I’ll give them away to a free little library if friends or family are not interested in reading it, or if on the off-chance I buy a new release (because I am too impatient to wait until the library new book freezing period is over), I will donate it to the library if I know they haven’t purchased it. I will only donate new-release, non-used books as these are the one’s more likely to go into circulation. And honestly, I tend to only buy new YA books, since I know that the budget in that department is smaller that the adult budget, so it is more likely that said book will not/was not already purchased.

I makes me feel slightly hypocritical that I will not buy books because I really do want books to continue to be around and available to everyone, but by not buying books, I am not helping to support the artist – the authors – to ensure those books are written in the first place. My boyfriend and I were discussing my hypocrisy (he being a poet and an adamant purchaser of books) and it got us discussing and thinking about fellowships, as in fellowship programs. Back in the day, if an artist was lucky, they would be supported by a wealthy patron or benefactor to the arts. This lifted the weight of trying to carve out a living and survive in a society while simultaneously trying to work on their art.

Writing a book, painting a picture, carving a sculpture, or whatever medium an artist works in, is really labor-intensive work. Honestly, if you ever have the chance to speak with an artist on their process and flow, do. It takes a mental and emotional toll on the artist, not to mention the time it takes to gather the research or solidify the focus of the message plus the time going into actually *creating* the work itself. It is a much different way of “working” than most people define as “work” and I don’t think many people fully understand how much goes into the art. That is probably why the word ‘work’ was attached to ‘art’: so that it would give the artist credibility and value in a money-driven society.

My book purchase got me thinking: do public libraries hurt the artist? They definitely help the artist in reaching and introducing more individuals to their work. Like I said, books are expensive, and if you are reading 50-60 books a year that is going to cost you somewhere between 1,500-1,600$, if you are buying new. If you are buying your child books, maybe reading 250-300 books a year, that Is going to set you back 5,200-5,4000$. Many people do not have that much expendable income and without the public library, they would not have access to the works of all those artists. Most libraries buy only one copy of a title, but larger library systems will buy more than one and, as of the American Library Associations most recent count, there are 9,057 public libraries in the US. If each library were buying an author’s debut book, that would be about 253,596$ right there. That is well over what many people make in a year! So: are public libraries really hurting the author?

I mean, I know much of the money from the sale of a book is going to the publishing company and that every library is not buying every single book that is published, but I’m just speaking hypothetically here. When a book is purchased by the individual, it may or may not even be read (how may books do you have sitting on your shelves you have yet to pick up?) and once read, it will probably just stay on that shelf, never to be seen or shared with another person and, in a way, hurting the artist, as their art is not being exposed to more people who may encourage the artist to create more work.

Maybe I am just creating a defense to my cheap-ness and making me feel better about my hypocrisy, but I do believe that public libraries help the artist. Public libraries create more exposure to the community; the artists provide the assets of the library; the assets spark creativity in the borrower, who may go on to be one of those artists or a benefactor to those artists, and etc., etc. Sharing and exposure is essential to maintaining the arts, I think…Which is really helping the artist more?

But maybe I am biased. I do work for the library, after all.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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