One of our kind stockists, GmBH, has recently moved into online trading. Our third and fourth issues are among their stock, as well as lots of other counter-culture, arty and small-press magazines. Worth a look.
These days, I rarely buy books. They’re too much of an encumbrance for my new travel-light philosophy. Even back in my book-buying days, I managed to avoid buying a single boring academic book for my university studies. How? Because I know how to use a library properly. People are sometimes mystified by this. “They never have what I want!” is a popular complaint.
A good understanding of how to use a public library will counter most claims that libraries are too limited in their bookstock. Most of them are very well stocked by expert librarians whose purchasing choices are informed by clever online “current awareness” systems. Moreover, most UK libraries were given massive sets of hardback Everyman Classics by a millennium government initiative, so they really should have something to pique your interest. Some tiny parochial libraries can be pretty ill-stocked due to poor funding but even these can work to your advantage if you use them as portals to the Interlibrary Loan system.
Use the catalogue, not the shelf. Whether you’re looking for a specific book (Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre) or have a more general request (“Something about Bad Faith”), the online catalogue is the best place to start. You can probably access this from your home Internet connection or by asking a library assistant to search on your behalf over the telephone and you can almost certainly access it from specially-designated terminals in the library building. The catalogue will show you precisely where the book is located and whether it is currently available for you. If the book is already on loan, you should be able to place a reservation at no cost.
Ask a librarian for alternatives. If the library doesn’t own a copy of the book you want, make an official recommendation to a librarian. If the book sounds like it might be useful to people other than yourself, the librarian will buy a copy for the library and you will be able to borrow it upon arrival. If they remain skeptical, ask whether you can acquire it via Interlibrary Loan. There is a cost attached to this process, which they might ask you to pay. It’s up to you whether you pay this or visit a different library.
Be a member of several library systems. Your public library will be part of a wider network of libraries, to which you will also be welcome. For example, if you’re a member of Dudley Public Library in the British West Midlands, you will also be a member of the various branch libraries scattered around the borough. Your library card will work in any of these. It is worth getting a library card, if possible, for another neighbouring public library system too (i.e. Wolverhampton Libraries as well as Dudley Libraries), though whether you can do this will depend on the geographical location of your home.
If your national library (such as the British Library in London or the Library of Congress in Washington) is within commuting distance, I recommend getting a [free] library card to this. Your national library will be the best-stocked library in your country (if it’s a copyright deposit library, which it probably is, it will have a copy of almost every book published in the last couple of centuries).
Many universities also offer a low-cost membership scheme to non-academics. You can probably get an annual subscription to your local university for a sum of money. See their website for details. Remember that their remit is to cater for students and researchers though, so don’t expect them to have copies of the latest Stephen King paperback.
The more library cards you have, the greater access you have to the world’s literature. I never felt so rich as I did when contemplating the value of the books to which I’ve had free access in Glasgow’s Mitchel Library or Montreal’s Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
Of course, you don’t even need a library card. If you can’t get borrowers’ rights in a public library, you can still use it as a reference collection. Feel free to stroll into any public library in the Western world and read as many books or periodicals as you like while on the premises. I’m not a member of Westmount Public Library or Atwater Library in Montreal but they are among my favourite places to spend time in this city.
If all else fails, use eBay like a lending library. Buy it, read it and immediately relist it.
This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of New Escapologist. I’m posting it in honour of the current library situation in Britain, but if you enjoyed it, please consider buying a copy of Issue 4 or one of our other publications.
800 public libraries are threatened with closure in the UK. A terrible thing for Escapologists, who often use public libraries a base of operations. To all of us – Escapologist or otherwise – public libraries are invaluable.
Ages ago, in the Idler, I wrote:
A good library can be a comfortable oasis amid the hubbub of an otherwise busy city and the best sort is host to everything the urban flaneur holds dear: peace and quiet, dog-eared books, crackly old jazz records, fascinating characters lurking in every corner and haphazard furnishings liberated from innumerable closed-down gentleman’s clubs. Today’s library directors are forced to go the extra mile to make these oases all the more appealing: these days the daily papers are laid out ready for you; access is granted to the digital delights of the Internet; librarians are getting younger and more attractive and it’s all absolutely free. Many public libraries are even installing coffee and tea facilities for their punters. No wonder Ray Bradbury described these as “birthing places of the universe”. All we need now are on-site tobacconists and somewhere to get some shut-eye and we need not ever bother going home.
I really don’t want the libraries to go. There are at least an encouraging number of people coming forward to do something about it. Activism is happening everywhere, from Twitter campaigns, to celebrity action, to full library occupations and shelf-runs.
Let’s show the authorities that we still love our libraries. Most of the threatened libraries will have special events coming up and petitions to sign, so do pop into your local library and ask how you can help.
I know some of our readers are librarians. If your libraries (threatened or otherwise) would like to stock New Escapologist, get in touch and I’ll send you some complementary issues.
It’s effectively a shopping channel of stuff that could have been yours, if only you’d been born in America and learned to rap instead of sitting on your arse in Taunton watching Cribs.
I minimised my wardrobe by vowing to dress smartly every day. I now own a suit, a few shirts, some t-shirts, underwear and some casual pants. I have three pairs of shoes: formal, casual and snow. Half a suitcase. Why any human male would need anything else is beyond me.
I wrote a little piece about my relationship with minimalism for Miss Minimalist’s blog. Enjoy!
Nihilist.org.uk is the website of New Escapologist‘s typographer, Tim.
Here, you can see his other typographic projects, including his latest: A year in Pyongyang by Andrew Holloway.
I can personally vouch for Tim’s own account of a trip to North Korea in 2002: an amazing book available for a couple of quid through Lulu.
Among Satie’s pieces (which often have brilliant names along the lines of Flabby Preludes for a Dog and Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear), is “Sonatine Bureaucratique“: a musical satire of a bureaucrat’s walk to work. The lyrics on this video rendition are great, and someone has also set some office CCTV footage to Satie’s music. The result is very funny: