The Art of Browsing

library In mid-August, I joined my fourth library system after I moved to Mobile, AL. Libraries are very important to me – not just on principle, or because I have many family members that work for libraries, but because I rely on them heavily for my reading. Until very recently I was a poor college student; now, I’m a full-time volunteer. Expendable income is not in my vocabulary. I buy very few books new, because I simply can’t afford it.

I used to think that other library systems had decent romance sections. Not great, but they had the big name authors, and every once in a while they had a favorite of mine (usually in downloadable e-book format). The library in my hometown was where I was first introduced to romance, but their Romance section trends towards Women’s Fiction and drugstore aisle books (like Luanne Rice, Debbie Macomber, Danielle Steel, Fern Michaels — none of whom are my cup of tea). But at least they had a Romance section; in London and Washington, DC, my local branches didn’t even have that. In Washington, all the mass-market paperbacks were shoved together on a single bookshelf.

Here in Mobile, I feel like I’m in heaven. My local library is the main branch, and once I found the romance novel section, I have barely ventured past it. It is far more extensive than any I’ve seen outside of a Borders or Barnes and Noble. One of the greatest pleasures I’ve had there is that of browsing.

I don’t particularly enjoy browsing at bookstores, because I know I can’t buy everything I want; I limit myself to the book I’ve been eagerly awaiting that wasn’t available at my library, and that’s it. There is very little experimentation with authors outside of my job as a reviewer – and then once I find a new author I like as a reviewer, they are rarely available at my libraries.

Mobile is different. With all the selection, I’ve stumbled upon authors I’ve reviewed and enjoyed – such as Kate Noble, Alissa Johnson, Robin Kaye, Jill Sorensen, and Grace Burrowes – but was never able to follow up on, because my budget and library availability limited me. It’s like my reading world has expanded tenfold; finally, I can follow up on a series of which I read one book, or check out the backlist of a midlist author. In the past, I had to search specific titles or authors in the web catalogues; now, I can run my finger along the spines of novels and authors I’d only ever heard of, but never had the chance to read.

For someone who reads as voraciously as I do, it’s strange that I’ve never had the opportunity to truly browse before; I read at least a book a week, if not two or three, but they are all either review books or re-reads of old favorites, many of which I bought used. I am feasting in new books after ages of a relative famine, where I would go months with the only new books I read being those I read for review.

My goal is one day to afford to buy books new, to support the authors and publishes financially more than I do now. But for now, I know I’m going to enjoy the year I’m spending in Mobile, exploring the lesser-known authors and hopefully finding a few buried treasures.

- Jane Granville

14 thoughts on “The Art of Browsing

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  2. I’ve been using my library since I was 12…many many years ago! I love browsing online and I can make lists of books I would like read and keep them online. I do however have a little black book in which I keep track of all my favorite authors.

    I no longer browse in person and that’s ok. I read between between 2 and 4 books a week. My local library is great at keeping a big selection of romance and bestsellers available.

  3. If you’ve exhausted your library’s meager romance selection (as I have) definitely look into your library’s Interlibrary Loan service. It’s WONDERFUL. I’ve borrowed Carla Kelly’s entire backlist from libraries throughout the state of Michigan. For free. New releases aren’t always available right away, and, yes, it may take a while for books to arrive. But it’s free (usually) and they can get items from all over. Just a few months ago I received a Veronica Stallwood paperback from a library in Georgia!

  4. LeeAnn~

    For those of you who can part with their books, donating them to the library when you’ve finished reading is a great way to help, too. They don’t often keep the books for their own use, but the book sales they hold raise money for new books. Romance books sell well at the book sales, as do children’s books and, of course, “bestsellers.” Plus you get a tax write-off for your donation.

  5. I love the library option. Like many of you, I keep a running list of books I’m looking for and regularly check my library’s website. It allows me to put books on hold and delivers them to my local branch. How magical is that! However, in talking with my branch librarian I found that money for new books (no matter what the genre) has, in these difficult financial times, pretty much evaporated. So I’ve made a pledge to myself to donate some money – even a small amount – for the purchase of new books.

  6. I went to school in Chapel Hill, NC and I agree the library does not have many romances. However, I live in Newton, NC and I love my library. I use their website to select the books I want to read and then have them sent to my base library.

  7. It frustrates me when libraries refuse to buy romance books because of the mistaken belief they aren’t worthy. Since romance books make up the overwhelming majority of books sold in the US (3:1 ratio over the next genre, which I think is sci-fi/fantasy), it’s crazy to alienate that many readers! Where I live in Durham, NC, the library has a good selection of romance books, as well as a worthy advocate in the person of 2010 RWA Librarian of the Year, Jennifer Lohmann. Our neighboring city of Chapel Hill, the home of the University of NC, has no romance books in their libraries. A sad testimony to snobbery, imo.

    The Durham County library system is one to be proud of, with recently build or remodeled regional (branch) libraries that are large and well-stocked. The main library has a romance section, while the branch libraries shelve the romances with the rest of the fiction.

    I have money set aside to buy books, either in paper or on my ereader, but since I read 250+ books a year I can’t afford to buy them all. I make several trips weekly to my nearest branch and usually spend at least one afternoon a week doing paperwork for my part-time teaching job. I get more done there than at home, and I can always take a break and browse the shelves.

  8. I’ve been blessed in the Columbus, OH, area to have a wonderful supply of romance books available. Libraries have always been the first place I look up when moving to a new town. As the quote goes, “so many books so little time”!!

  9. I live in a small town and our library doesn’t have much selection in romance. They are, however, very willing to get books for you from other libraries or if it is not available, they will purchase. But, as much as I read, (and I have some disposable income) I get most books from paperbackswap.com or purchase on my Kindle.

  10. Welcome to Mobile, Jane! Glad you’ve discovered our library system. I tend to just go online and reserve books and then pick them up at my tiny branch, where the browsing isn’t so great. But the big libraries do have a great collection, that thankfully is available all across the county!

  11. My library thinks romances are too low-brow. They don’t have a section and they rarely buy anything but the biggest names. It’s a bummer.

  12. I love libraries with a passion. My local library is very good at getting all the hardback books I want; not so good at the paperback ones, though, unless they are well established authors. Since I can’t figure out the e-thing and I read at least 3 new books a week, I’ve opted for subscribing to booksfree.com. For a monthly fee they send me x number of paperback books, sort-of like Netflix. I’m a happy reader; between the library and booksfree I can feed my book addiction without breaking my budget.

  13. About two years ago I discovered the joys of using my library system”s website. Now I’m not tied to just the selection at the libraries nearest me, but I can order a book from the whole system, which i think is two counties linked together. I tell it which library is my base, so it knows which one to send my books to. i can get almost any romance book I want that way. I recently discovered Loreli James and Erin McCarthy books. Library! The only bummer is that sometimes you have to wait a long time for a book. But, hey, its free…I can be patient.
    If I see a book I want to read reviewed on AAR, first I switch over to the library website and search it and order it. If its not there then I might break down and buy it. I really like havig the library option because it encourages me to try new authors with no risk. Also I’m obsessed and read a few books per week. I can’t afford that! Nor do I want to clutter my house with books I’ll read only once. The library has worked so good for me I don’t even have a Kindle yet. Although my husband will find out soon that he’s getting me one for Christmas. :)
    -Michele

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