Breaking My Library Habit and Reading My Own Books

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

I haven’t set any formal reading resolutions for 2018, but here’s one that I’m generally working towards: I would like to read fewer books from the library, and more books that I own. I love the library. It is, in my opinion, a shining beacon of all things good in the world. As soon as I hear about a book that sounds interesting to me, I can search to see if the library has it. If they don’t, I can see if another library has it who will interlibrary loan it. If no one does, I can request they carry it, and often they will. If the library has it, I can put it on hold and just run out and grab it on my lunch break. It’s incredibly convenient.

So convenient, in fact, that 70% of the books I read last year were through the library. (23% were eARCs. Only 4% were books I owned.) The funny thing is, unlike most of the bookish internet, I don’t have a book buying problem. Because the library is so convenient, I rarely buy books. But I do have a backlog of books that I own, most of which I bought years ago, before I got my book buying habits under control. (In those days, I had just started working at a bookstore. I couldn’t resist.)

That means that I have hundreds of books I haven’t read, most of which I’ve owned for more than 5 years. I don’t have a problem with having lots of unread books; the idea of having no unread books at home—just in case—makes me nervous. But there’s a different between having a buffer of unread books and having a collection of books that I’m pretty much guaranteed never to read.

The thing is, library books have a due date. So they always are top priority. Those owned books I could read any time. That hold that I just picked up? I have to read it by the 22nd! It says right on it! So although I’ve been meaning to read books that I own for years, I feel like I get caught in this frantic library book cycle. I put books on hold, forget about them, and then end up with a giant stack to pick up all at once. I scramble to read them before they expire, lining them up according to due date and noting which ones have holds and so can’t be renewed.

By the time I finish that stack, I have somehow acquired enough holds to do it again. I may be able to resist buying books, but clicking the hold button is a lot harder to fight. As much as I love the library, though, I’ve gotten a little sick of this cycle that I put myself through. I miss spontaneous reading! I don’t want to feel like “I want to read this book, but I have to read this book.” I don’t get assigned reading! I shouldn’t put myself through that!

As I write this, I have a giant stack of library books looming over me. Maybe I’ll take some of them back unread. I know I won’t stop using the library this year. For one thing, most of the books that I own are by white authors, and I don’t want that to be all I’m reading. Hopefully, I can control my library habit enough so that it just supplements my reading, instead of overwhelming it.