I wake up to a message from Winnie asking if I have read Helen Oyeyemi’s, award winning collection of short stories “What is Not Yours is Not Yours“.
“Yes, I have”. I reply via Whatsapp.
“I have just ordered it,” Winnie texts back.
“Why aren’t you reading books for free? I ask Winnie.
The conversation spurred on by that question changed Winnie’s life and it just might change yours too.
If you are like Winnie or me, you love reading novels.
When a new release from the stables of contemporary African literature hits the airwaves, you do a happy jiggle.
Now, if you are not a book reviewer who receives free copies of books in the mail, how can you afford to keep up with the booksies? Simply put, a library.
Did you just call libraries outdated?
When I first suggested this to Winnie, she retorted with a slew of library myths I want to dispel now. But first, here is a little background on why I am a HUGE fan of libraries and recognize their worth.
For my first two/three months out of college, I volunteered for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Author Events programs. You can read about when we hosted Nicholas Sparks for “The Longest Ride” and Ruth Reichl for “Delicious“. I had such a great time with the Paul Walchak led team and still have great respect for what Andy and his colleagues are doing. You can listen to past podcasts from the archives of authors who have been invited.
For another nine/ten months I worked in one of the 54 Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) branches, helping older folks get computer savvy, write resumes and cover letters, and fill out online job applications. Then, there were kids who needed help with college applications, essays, and learning languages with free software. Cue in Mango languages please. Yup! You can do all of that at a library, so maybe I should dispel a bonus myth many people have about libraries being outdated.
Now, that it is out of the way, let’s get on to the myths my “brilliant friend who buys books because she did not know better” held on to before.
Three Sad Myths About Libraries
Myth 1: Libraries in the United States do not have “esoteric books”
Definition of esoteric: “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.”
I smiled when Winnie sent this message because one of the first books I checked out from an FLP branch was Taiye Selasi’s “Ghana Must Go“. Winnie had recommended it and I searched and found it on FLP’s database. It was from this same database, I discovered Chinelo Okparanta’s “Happiness Like Water”, Okey Ndibe’s “Foreign Gods Inc”. and Teju Cole’s “Everyday is for the Thief”. Chimamanda Adichie held an author event session when “Americanah” was freshly off the presses in May 2013 and just before I joined the team (I know, I still cry about missing it). So, what was that statement about esoteric again? Yeah, I can’t remember it too.
Of course, the bigger a city is, the more diverse its library will be. And even though this post is not about why I love the Free Library of Philadelphia so much, never have I seen an institution cater to a diverse readership like FLP. If they don’t have a title, just suggest it, and it will be acquired.
FYI: Winnie lives in New York, and they have The New York Public Library. I rest my case at this point. Sigh.
Myth 2: I don’t have time to go to a library
“Lol.” That was my first response.
I have not visited an FLP branch in a year, but I have read over 20 books from that database.
Now, how is that possible? E-books and Kindle.
Most city public libraries have an online borrowing system where you check out books online, download it to your device, return it when you are done or your allotted time is up, and move on to the next title. FLP’s online system even allows you put a hold on titles, create a wish list, and get on wait lists. I am currently #58 on 18 copies of Yaa Gyasi’s, “Homecoming” and #47 on 18 copies of Trevor Noah’s, “Born a Crime”. Please read faster Philadelphians!
Myth 3: I would need a Kindle to reads books from a library
At this point, you probably guessed right that Winnie is not a techie person because we all know that Kindle is also simply an app.
But, wait. Before we fault her lack of tech know-how, doesn’t this make you wonder about what opportunities out there you and I are missing out of, simply because we do not know better?
I discovered the amazingness of the Free Library of Philadelphia because my 60+ year old very close friend begged me to fill a volunteer form and just try it out. I am glad I listened, because that institution transformed my life.
A Mini Tutorial on using Online Libraries
Back to the, I would-need-A-Kindle-device myth. All you have to do is download a Kindle app from your Google Play Store or Apple Store. You will also need to download an additional app such as Overdrive in the case of The Free Library of Philadelphia . Many public libraries use this app, so check if yours is listed among.
Overdrive is the app where you can scroll through your library’s database. You will need your library card number and pin to get in. So, sign up for a library card. For your first check out, you will be asked to link you Amazon account, so have that login information ready. With all these details plugged in, you should be all set for your first checkout.
A few days ago, Winnie sent another message. There is a public library right across the street from where she lives 🙂 What about you? Do you use a public library’s online borrowing system? Which titles have you checked out recently?
P.S Even if you do not live in a city with a public library system, why don’t you explore the resources available at a library close to you? Pay a visit for it just may change your life too.