On Loving the Library While Building Your Own

This is a guest post from Maddie Rodriguez. Maddie has her MA in English Literature from the University of Victoria. She is a freelance blogger and communications specialist. A passionate bookworm and television junkie, Maddie loves all things literary, historical, fantasy and young adult. She currently lives in Ottawa, where she caters to the whims of two demanding cats. Follow her on Twitter @maddiemuses.

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Confession: I have seen hundreds of  films and watched thousands of episodes of television, but even as a grown-up woman, I still think one of the  romantic moments in all of cinematic history is the scene in Beauty and the Beast when the Beast gives Belle a library. Seeing that scene for the first time as a bookish seven-year-old, I felt a thrill that never really left me. Too young to care about the actual romance, what I really fell in love with was the library.

As a kid I would spend hours in the local library combing through the stacks. I only knew it was time to leave when my haul became too much for my arms to carry. When my parents took us on a trip to Ottawa, the only thing I knew I wanted to see was the giant, gorgeous wood-panelled Library of Parliament. It was just as good as I had hoped.

Even into my young adulthood, the thrill of the library never wore off. One of the greatest appeals of university for me was studying in the library; I never felt more adult, more academic than when I was studying at the library. University also gave me more opportunities for indulging in my love of libraries. During a semester abroad, I got to spend time in the British Library in London where I got to experience the ultimate library erotica: putting on gloves and flipping through the pages of centuries-old books.

So what happened to transform me from an avid library-goer to someone who doesn’t even know where her library card is?

I should note, if it’s not already abundantly clear, that I am an unabashed literary materialist. I do not own an ereader. I love smooth slippery dust jackets, soft fabric coves, and the smell and texture and weight of paper. When The Order of the Phoenix came out just in time for my first trip to Europe, lugging the hardcover across borders felt like an accomplishment to me, like I had truly earned my reading experience.

Once I finished graduate school and made my entry into the “working world,” my materialism collided with two new, intoxicating factors: a small influx of cash and the freedom to set my own reading list. While I had always had a healthy collection of books, suddenly I became book-buying addict. Over the course of a year, books moved to a different category in my budget: they started out as entertainment or splurges, along with clothes, makeup, and movie tickets, but somewhere along the line they got upgraded (note the rather telling passive construction here) to the “necessity” category, along with admittedly more vital expenses like food and rent and utilities. I justified this to myself in a variety of ways (books are technically nourishment … for your mind! It’s important to pay for the art you enjoy! and so on)

But the truth of it was, I also just loved building my own library. I discovered that when it came to my collection, size mattered. I loved looking at the bright shiny spines spilling out over the sides of my bookshelves. I also loved honing in on the library’s territory by lending to friends and family; selecting the perfect book from my collection for someone and actually putting it in their hand filled me with a proprietary pride.

There is, however, a dark cloud to every silver lining: when I completed my Goodreads challenge for 2014 and calculated how much that challenge had cost me (with nary a single trip to the library), I momentarily became a little short of breath. My partner and I always joked that if we didn’t save enough for retirement, one day we could build ourselves a house of books. At the rate I’m going, that might be a little closer to becoming a reality than I had previously thought.

So where does that leave me? Presumably this is the part where I am supposed to say I learned my lesson, where I am supposed to come to some grand-yet-tidy conclusion. I won’t. I cannot say that I am reformed. I still love building my own little library and I still strongly believe in supporting authors by buying their books. I’m going to try to re-read books that I already own and to turn the tables and start borrowing books from friends, but I know I’ll still buy more books than I probably should. What I do want to change, though, is my estrangement from the library. I want to get a new card and start dropping by, to borrow a bit or even just to sit and write. We may have been apart for a while, but I’m certain that the thrill isn’t gone.

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