Advantages Free books, try new authors
Disadvantages You can't keep the stock, funding cuts, library fines
Have you been into a public library recently? If so, what did you borrow? What services do you use? If not, you should try putting your head round the door to see what’s on offer. You might be pleasantly surprised.I base the observations below on my experiences as a holder of 4 library cards for the last few years – London is divided for local government purposes into 32 boroughs which each have their own system – I have cards for the area I work in (the nearest branch is actually in the same building as my office – a great perk for me), the area I used to work in and where my boyfriend now works, the area where we live, and another central London borough. Mike has 3 library cards and yes, I do use his too. I am a compulsive borrower of more books than I can possibly read.
Public libraries now commonly offer• free books - the opportunity to read a range of fiction and non-fiction for free, including many of the latest bestsellers and some other less well-known books. Currently councils have to provide a library service which lends out books for free, although they can charge for other items
• audio books – both abridged and unabridged – the cost of buying these is out of many people’s reach – two of my library services make a small charge for borrowing these (30p/50p for an audiobook for 3 weeks) but they are free for blind and visually impaired people, and in Camden, for children’s audios (including the Harry Potters). When I was at school, I used audio recordings of two Shakespeare plays to help memorise useful quotations (which we were expected to be able to reel off in exam essays)• Music CDs for a small charge – when I first started borrowing music recordings they were on vinyl, complete with those skull and crossbones “home taping is killing music” logos. This is a good way to try music by a new to you band or singer. For those of us over 30, it’s also very useful if you’re reluctant to replace your old vinyl with CDs. Islington has to wait 3 months after a CD is released to lend it out, but that is no problem for me as I often want older stuff anyway. Charges in my libraries range from 50p-90p for 3 or 4 weeks (Islington lends for 2 weeks at 50p but offers a free renewal).
• Videos and DVDs – Libraries are often cheaper than video shops and have a far more diverse range of material available, including arty and foreign language films. Students who would like to see film adaptations of a book they are studying should try the public library. As the loan period is often just for a night or two, you do need to be able to get to the library concerned easily. I only ever borrow videos from the library branch in the building I work in, £1.50 for 3 nights (borrow Thursday for return Monday).• Free computer and internet access, usually on the basis of booking for a limited period – anyone who visits a library for any reason will see how popular the government initiative for bringing computer facilities into libraries has been with users of all ages from children to pensioners.
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