As expected, e-books are more environmentally friendly than paper books. At the rate e-readers purchase books (3 books/month), they would have paid back the carbon footprint of the device within six months. The article notes that libraries spread the carbon footprint across an entire community, but does not provide actual numbers, besides noting how underutilized libraries are. Since I almost exclusively read books from the library, I feel okay about my environmental choices here.
Still, the underutilization of libraries was kind of shocking to me. Apparently, only one third of Americans visit the library once a month, and only one half went in the last year, checking out an average of 7.4 books per year. I average 7.4 books checked out at any given moment. My current library is crazy convenient so I’m there a couple of times a week, but I’ve rarely gone two weeks between trips in my life, even when the library was farther away.
I don’t really understand why people wouldn’t use the library. Potential reasons:
- They prefer browsing in bookstores. I do appreciate that bookstores generally present the books better than libraries do. I solve this problem by browsing in the bookstores to find a list of books to request from the library.
- They don’t want to wait for requests at the library. I’ve gotten myself accustomed to waiting 2-3 months for newer books at the library. On the rare occasion when I purchase a book and get it immediately, I feel like I’ve cheated the system. Still, it’s possible to avoid the long waits by being proactive and routinely checking for upcoming releases so your name will be at the top of the queue when it opens. I’d been impatiently awaiting the release of Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, but thanks to my obsessive checking of the library website, I was able to put my name high enough on the list to receive a copy on the day it was released.
- They want to share books with friends. It’s possible to share a book recommendation with a friend, but it is more effective (and intimate) to share the book itself.
- They like the look of books. This one I do understand. I love the look of full bookshelf, and it’s even better when it’s filled with books I love. I l have fond memories of Seth’s parents’ library, and I was entranced by my Aunt Sue’s built-in 14 foot high book wall (with rolling ladder!). Still, my natural aversion to buying things stops me from owning too many books. My partial solution to the issue: I of course own some books (my favorites which I reread every couple of years or so). To fill out our living room bookshelf, Jacob and I each bought a box full of books for $5 apiece at the library sale. If we want to fill additional bookshelves, Jason and Amber have offered to let us borrow their boxes of stored books.
- They don’t read. It occurs to me that I’d just assumed anyone who didn’t use the library was acquiring books elsewhere. Is it possible that (a significant portion of) 2/3 of Americans just don’t read for pleasure?