Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ma nouvelle bibliothèque

I have always liked libraries, but there have been some years in my twenties where I went to them rather infrequently and somehow began to buy books I wanted to read instead of going to the library.* About two years ago, after the accumulation of too many books resulted in over-flowing bookshelves, I decided to check out the online website of the Chicago library and saw that you could order a specific book to be sent to your preferred library branch for pick-up.Genius.

Then it hit me: Libraries are like Netflix, but for books.

I mean, it's a revolutionary concept in our consumerism-driven society: You can borrow books you feel like reading and then give them back when you are done. FOR FREE. It's brilliant. So after my epiphany of the miracle of public libraries, I began checking out books again. I adjusted to the idea that you do not have to own a book to read it.** And even if you really like it, you don't necessarily have to buy it.***

However, since living in Québec, I hadn't explored the public library system until yesterday. Armed with proof of residence and a photo ID, I went to get my library card at my local branch. After a few painless minutes, I received my card and set off to expectantly wander among the stacks to acquaint my proud-library-card-owning-self to my new library home. After browsing through two floors, I think what stands out most is the realization that French books and English books are intermixed on the shelves. This surprised me, as I guess I had expected it to be like my local library in Norway, which had a somewhat lacking separate English section off in a corner.**** So I was surprised by the amazing opportunity to be able to chose from books in both languages, side-by-side within an arm's reach on any given subject! It says something about the frequency of bilingualism in Québec that the books are arranged this way.*****

Yay for eco-friendly and economic book reading!

*This might have come from living in Norway with a local library that had a very small English section. Or perhaps because my local library in Chicago didn't have the books I wanted to read and I didn't want to trek all the way down to the main branch.
**Though I am a fan of underlining and marking in books, so that obviously had to stop. 
***But every now and then, I will still buy a book because there are just some I'd like to keep.
****Which is completely understandable in a non-English-speaking country, of course. But sometimes you just want to read in your native language.
*****Unless, of course, this kind of stuff is regulated by the government, which, I guess, is possible.


  1. Ooh, I need to do this. I'll let you know if Ontario mixes French and English books!

  2. Got my public library card yesterday. Sadly, the French books here are sectioned off on their own sad little shelf. Then again, my neighborhood is much more heavily populated by Russian speakers than by Francophones, so perhaps there's not much demand for the French books.

  3. @petitechablis: Oh, I am sad to hear the French books are separated on their own sad little shelf at your library. (As in only ONE shelf?) That surprises me a bit that there are not more, but I guess I am not surprised that French books are not mixed with English in anglophone Canada. I think it is FAR more common for people from Québec to speak both languages, than people from anglophone Canada to speak both language.

    Now I am all curious and want to explore more libraries here and see how they do it! :) Maybe my library's method is rare?

    Congrats on the library card! Yay!

  4. i was an AVID reader when i was a wee one. i could never understand the concept. you mean i get to read these for FREE?

    every time we went to the library (my parents were literacy fanatics, so it was weekly), i would ask the library what the book limit was and take out as many as possible. i always remembered from the week before, but couldn't understand why she was GIVING me so many books. so i checked again each week.

  5. @elizabeth: I bet you were super cute and the librarians loved you. You story of being so enthusiastic reminded me of a slightly embarrassing recent trip to a library. A couple months ago I went to a library in Montréal to renew a book and said to the lady at the counter, "I really hope I can renew this book!" And she looked down at my rather academic book about various interpretations of the Québécois legend, "The Chasse-Galerie," and held back a laugh and mumbled something about me being pretty enthusiastic about that book. Haha. Oops.

  6. When we were looking for our house, one of my specs was that it be within walking distance of the library. I probably get about $10,000 worth of books and DVDs from the library each year - and that's calculating used prices. I could never afford to buy everything I want to read. It makes me feel like I am getting something for my [very high] property taxes.