Before I say anything disparaging, let me first make clear that I probably live in the best public library system in the country, if not the world. The facilities are exceptional, they have an unbelievably current and comprehensive selection, the librarians are friendly and intelligent and well-read. And the wait-list system itself is wonderful and very useful. Pretty much any book you can think of, my library system has it, usually several copies, often in multiple media (i.e. hard copy, large print, CD, e-book). And I can request a hold on a book from any library in the system, to any library in the system, and it will usually be there in a week or less. Very efficient and necessary to my insatiable reading needs.
But here’s the dilemma. Once you check out a book, you only get to keep it for three weeks. After those first three weeks are up, you can attempt to renew for another three weeks, provided that no one else has requested it and/or there are sufficient copies for all those who are interested in having a copy. After those three weeks, you can attempt to renew one more time, and the same conditions of availability apply. Then you have to return it (I have actually on a couple of occasions sought extensions beyond these three three-week periods, and they have been graciously granted, provided no one else needed the book at that time).
For most books, especially if they aren’t too current or too popular, the demand is not huge and the copies are plentiful. In essence, you’re guaranteed at least nine weeks to complete the book, which is enough time to finish most books.
But if the book is new and/or popular, the wait lists are often impossibly long (for example, I put a hold on a book today, and the waiting list was 1077 people long on 22 copies. I’m not great at math, but if each of those people ends up checking out a book, and keeping it for the three week period, my copy should be coming available about three years from now. Thankfully, I have at least three years of books to read between now and then).
And this gets me to the real point of this post. If the number of people on the wait list exceeds the number of copies available, you’re going to have to give it back after just three short weeks, no matter how good it is getting, how close you are to being finished, or how long and challenging the book is. And that last part is what makes it particularly frustrating.
You see, just a little over three weeks ago, I checked out The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. It’s really good. Informative and entertaining. But it’s not a light read. In fact, the subtitle says it all: “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.” It’s a writing style guide, heavy on analysis and technical examples. Not only that, but it’s 359 pages long. I was reading other stuff too, and I had work and family commitments. I made it just about exactly halfway through before the three weeks were up. But then they were up, and when I went to renew, no dice. 8 holds on 6 copies. So I had to give it up.
Sure, I’ll get it back in 3-6 weeks. But I’ll have completely forgotten where I was and what I was reading. Bummer.
Now I’m up against the clock again. I just heard about this book called The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson. It is Ferguson’s literary debut, and I think it’s picking up steam, but the word has yet to really get out, at least in the circles I find myself traveling in. So I checked my library, and sure enough, they had it, 3 copies, but they were all checked out. So I put myself on the waiting list. A couple of weeks later, my number came up, and I rushed to get my copy. So far, so excellent. I am completely, completely sucked in, and I can’t put it down. But here’s the problem. It’s over 300 pages long, I am still a busy attorney and dad, and there are only so many hours in a day. It’s due in less than a week, and I am hovering right around that halfway mark. I checked, and there are three new holds. That means that if I don’t finish, I’ll have to turn it in, and then wait at least 3 weeks to get it back. Unacceptable!
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to binge read this bad boy, using every waking second, even if it kills me (okay, I don’t mean literal death. True readers know what I mean).
With 150 pages to go, this is totally doable. Worst case, I’ll probably be close enough that I can eat a couple of days worth of late fees to get the job done (though I do hate holding onto a book when I know someone is waiting. It’s not the 30 cents a day per book (though that does add up; 30 cents per day per item; at some point you’re better off just buying the book). I just feel bad knowing someone wants a book, has requested a book, but can’t get their hands on it. I have been that person. I am in a perpetual state of being that person).
But with other books, this would never work. Some books simply can’t be completed in 3 weeks, no matter how dedicated you are (David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, both 1000+ pages, come to mind). Other times, even if a book is a manageable length, life gets in the way. It’s frustrating.
But these are good problems to have. Books you’re so excited about reading you can’t stand the thought of having to put them down for three weeks. So many good books you don’t know what to do. Even the 1076 people ahead of me on the wait list for this super popular book that I will probably never end up getting from the library but will have to just suck it up and buy make me happy. How great is it that there are at least 1076 other people, right here in my area, that excited about reading the same book? Super exciting!
So I guess these aren’t really “woes.” Nerd problems for sure. So sue me. I just really, really, really like reading.