As a blogger and instagrammer, it’s kind of expected to have lots of books. You need books to make the content needed for those platforms, and the common way in doing that is spending money on books. I’ve recently been thinking about how much I spend as a consumer on books, and how, realistically, it’s not financially viable all the time.
I’ve recently joined the library nearest to my work, making it the third library I have access to in person and the fourth library I have access to digitally, and I love it. The library is a safe, welcoming space for everyone, and it’s time we give it the hype and attention it deserves.
Publicly owned libraries are funded by the state government, typically under the subdivision of the arts sector, a sector that is traditionally underfunded and overlooked. On various bookish platforms, the library as a whole is not frequently discussed. Curious about the various views on library usage, I took to my instagram stories (@bookswithmary, feel free to follow!) to gage people’s opinions on the library system. Here are the results:
- 84 people believe that libraries are underfunded
- 64 people actively use their local library, while 40 people do not
- 69 people prefer the physical collection of books, and 26 prefer the online database
- 82 people do not think bookstagram talks enough about library usage
- 75 people currently hold a valid library card
- 71 people do not know the current laws/legislation/acts that govern their local libraries, with a surprising 23 people saying they do
Libraries are governed by various forms of legislation and acts, regulating their operation and internal decisions to keep them afloat. They also rely heavily on state funding, as well as private benefactors. Recently, a document restartegising the public library systems in Western Australia was released, outlining how the libraries are envisioned to be operating by 2025. Within this vision is a notion to not only appeal the Library Board (Registered Public Libraries) Regulations 1985, the current regulations governing the operations of public libraries, but strategise a way to maximise the use of funding in libraries, to make it as productive as it can be. It is encouraging to see the government taking an interest in the library system, and noting how important they are to the community, however it doesn’t stop there. Patrons are of huge importance, so it is vital we show support for the libraries we frequent.
While I acknowledge the results of my instagram stories do not offer insight into everyone on the platform’s opinion, it does show significant belief that the library is often overlooked and underappreciated. You would think that a platform that promotes and shares books would be happily engaging more in discussions about using the library, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. This is where I believe bookish consumerism comes in. As more new releases are being published, readers are continuously encouraged to support authors by preordering, often times for an incentive (for those unaware, a pre order incentive could be something like free merchandise, such as a print and a bookmark, in exchange for pre ordering a book), and buying a physical copy on release day. This is primarily the way that readers are encouraged to support authors, with the addition to online book sales being encouraged too. There is never ever mention of supporting authors by requesting the library buy copies of their books, or even borrowing them if they have them in.
It is becoming clear across varying platforms that the notion of an ‘ideal reader’ owns lots and lots (and lots) of books. Oftentimes if you scroll through bookstagram, it is filled with photographs of bedrooms lined with bookshelves. As the mindset of not being a proper reader unless you have hundreds of books increase, so does the growing problem of consumerism. Now, I can’t deny that buying a new book is a great feeling. There’s just something about spending money in the bookstore, I totally understand. But the problem lies with how readers are encouraged to constantly drop money on book after book, while not being told of the cheaper (and often free) alternatives, such as the library.
I think it’s important in a discussion like this to mention the privilege buying books comes with. As much as this is an unpopular opinion, buying new books is not necessarily a necessity, and it is a privilege that you have the means and spare budget to do so. To have disposable income that can go to new copies of books, whether it be new releases or new paperbacks or whatever genre is your go to, it is a privilege to buy a mass amount of books. This privilege is important to keep in mind, especially when posting on social media platforms, because you are using your position as an influencer to encourage and showcase a bookish lifestyle to people, without taking into account the other options available. The default should not be for the wealthy. The default should be inclusive of all incomes. And this is where the promotion and support for the library comes back into play.
In most countries, libraries are free. It is free to sign up for a membership card, and from there, it is free to borrow books within the limit set on your account. This system eliminates the cost often assigned to reading, and it’s beautiful! Having a free library encourages people of all income statuses to read, no matter what their budget may look like, no matter how much disposable income they have. They can simply show up, find a book they like, scan their card, and off they go! So why isn’t it discussed more? To put it simply, library books do not fit the bookstagram standard of aesthetic, and it’s time for that to change. In order to make bookstagram and the bookish community more inclusive as a whole, we need to encourage other means of reading, and encourage people who do seek out library books as their primary form of reading to join the community and share their experiences with us.
In a community full of books of different genres and diversity and inclusiveness, doesn’t it seem odd to exclude a large group of people just because of their financial means? Seems rather classist if you ask me.