One of the questions I get asked all the time is how I decide whether to buy a particular book or to borrow it from the library instead.
I’ve shied away from this topic for a long time because my circumstances are not normal and I’ve been uncomfortable talking about it.
I’ve been blogging about books since 2006, I’ve worked as a professional librarian, I’ve attended a TON of book conferences, and I’ve been a reviewer on award panels.
Between all of those, I’ve connected with many publishers and I’m now on the mailing lists of virtually every major publishing house and they send me boxes of new books every month. I would say in an average month, I get 20-40 new books (board books, picture books, chapter books, grown-up books) per month.
(This is also why, when I’m asked to review self-published books or accept a free book in exchange for a review, I say no 99.9% of the time – I just don’t have the bandwidth to accept MORE books, and especially not ones with strings attached).
All of this kind of makes me sound like a jerk, I know, but I hope it’s helpful to understand that my book buying habits are going to be different than most.
That said, here are the general guidelines I find helpful in deciding whether to buy a book or just borrow it from the library or a friend.
When I Opt to Buy Books:
- Classic Books. I’m a classics lover and it makes me happy to have Anne of Green Gables or Little Women on my shelf. And if it’s a beautiful copy? Sign me up. This goes for both novels and picture books – I love having a core collection of books that have stood the test of time.
- Picture Books My Children Return to Again and Again. If my children really latch onto a book, I love having our own copy so we can keep re-reading it. For instance, The Circus Ship has been read at least 500 times in our home. I’m so glad not to be checking that one out over and over again. And I love having books that I’ve read with ALL of my children as they went through those ages (this Nursery Rhymes book has been a massive favorite for all four of my children. I’ve probably sung these songs 1000 times over the years).
- Parts of a Series. My personality is a finisher, so I love having a complete set. It would kill me not to have the entire collection of illustrated Harry Potter books and it’s been so delightful for me to add the newest one to my collection every time they come out (not to mention that the binding on the original series is laughably bad across the board and they just DO. NOT. LAST).
- Reference Books. Whether it’s a cookbook I’m going to use for years or a book like The Read Aloud Family that I want to reference often, it’s something I want to own my own copy of.
- A book I want to lend out. I am not overly precious about my books (except for a select few) and I’m delighted by the option to hand over a copy of a favorite title to someone else to enjoy for a few weeks.
- Holiday Books. Holiday picture books especially are a nightmare to get from the library because they get checked out so fast and the window for enjoying them is usually not much longer than time it takes for them to finally get returned to the library. I love owning our own favorite holiday books so we can enjoy them on our own timetable and pull them out year after year.
P.S. I almost never buy paperback picture books – they look tattered so quickly and they are so tiny they disappear on the shelf. I hate myself when we move and our books weigh 10,000 pounds and take up 50 boxes, but all the rest of the time, I’m much happier with a hardback. For chapter books and adult books, I can go either way – it’s easier to carry around a paperback and I treasure the paperback novels from my childhood.
When I opt to borrow books
- If it’s a buzzy bestseller. I love a good bestseller (probably more than many – I can’t resist buzz!) but I don’t want to pay for a book that might not be any good. I’m willing to wait in outrageous hold lines for these. Or I might buy a Kindle version if I’m REALLY anxious to read it and don’t want to wait six months.
- Any sort of character book. Do my children want to check out every Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol book at the library? Yes they do. And I’m fine with that. But I’m not fine spending my book money on those books. (For the same reason, we rarely buy books through the Scholastic Book Orders – my girls generally aren’t that interested in the books anyway. They want the diaries or coloring books, etc. So we just skip them entirely or they can use their own money).
- Books I don’t know anything about. In general, I’m just not a shopper, so the idea of just buying a book that looks vaguely interesting is completely foreign to me. I’ll always opt to get an unknown book from the library or request that my library buy it if it’s not currently in the system.
I’d love to hear what your criteria is – when do you buy books and when do you borrow?
If you liked this post about when to buy books and when to borrow, you might like these posts too:
- How to build your home library on a budget
- 5 ways to keep track of your library books and avoid fines
- How to get library books on your Kindle
Ashley V says
I don’t buy books. At all. My aunt shares her Kindle downloads with me, so I am occasionally gifted books, but I don’t think I’ve purchased a single book in the last 5 years. I’m also willing to wait ages in a library line!
For adult books we only buy books we’ve read and LOVED. Like it has to be a favorite. For the kids I’m a little more lenient, but 98% of our books are borrowed from the library. We just don’t have the space for a ton of books and we love going to the library often.
I just want to say that your transparency and candor are so refreshing. I’ve been reading your blog for over a decade and have always appreciate how honest, practical and authentic you are. Thank you!
I almost never buy books and follow many of the same rules you’ve listed. I’m a little more lax when buying books from our library’s book sale. We have volunteers who staff it every day so it’s easy to pop in any time and most children’s books are between 25 cents and a dollar. I’m happier to buy a buzzy book or fill out my kids’ current obsession when it costs less than a candy bar.
I also love that our elementary school has a school wide book exchange at the end of the year. For every book you bring in you get to choose one to take home. It’s a great way to rotate through our less permanent collection!
This is a fabulous post!! I’m so glad you took the time to put it together! And YES! Why are the scholastic orders horrible now??! I feel so guilt giving them to my students. When I use the bonus points i have to scour the website looking for half decent books!
I rarely by adult books. I went on a kindle spree awhile ago and am still trying to catch up. Kids books we get a lot at holidays and birthdays. Otherwise, we rely on the library.
Mary S. says
I am more likely to purchase a non-fiction book that will used for reference. For example, we started chicken keeping two years ago and I bought several books that I reference constantly when issues arise or we decide to expand our flock. I also purchase beloved book series for my Kindle (Harry Potter, Kristin Cashore’s books, Hunger Games, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants etc.) because I re-read those books every several years. I am a sucker for children’s books – I want my students and own children to be surrounded by beautiful books!
I buy non-fiction books which I want to underline passages in, and write in. I don’t buy fiction! And I will buy a cookbook, but usually it is after I’ve checked it out of the library multiple times and renewed it each time, that I realize I want to own the book.
Maybe you’ve addressed this in another post, but do libraries typically buy the books you request them to buy? Our library system in weber county has a very small selection. Coming from Salt Lake county where almost every book was in the library system, I have had to buy many books since moving here that aren’t in the library system. I send requests to the library all the time, they are probably sick of me, but as far as I know they have never gotten a book I suggested.
I’m in a small town in Idaho and when I talked to what seemed like the head lady, she found a way to make it happen, at least with one book that I wanted. I haven’t tried more though. Worth a try!
I have many of the same criteria as you, I VERY rarely buy anything before reading it and then will later get a copy if I’ve really enjoyed it and know I’ll want to reread (for myself and my sons). I am more likely to buy Christmas picture books for the reason you mentioned – those library hold lists! I say that with having about 50 Christmas picture books checked out right now but most of them are older and I jumped on those hold lists in November! But I do buy more of those (relatively speaking) than general picture books. And I do like gifting my boys books every Christmas, so I will pick a favorite library book of the past year and buy it for them.
I will always buy a book if it is for book club. I have been part of a book club for many years that DRIVES ME CRAZY, because most of the members will not buy the books. They are willing to get them from the library, but we all live in the same town, so that might work for one person if the book is old and not currently popular. They are also willing to borrow from other members of the book club, but that puts a lot of pressure on the few who purchase to finish early so someone else can borrow the book. Most of the time they just show up, not having read the book and the three people who did buy their own copy discuss the book. I love these ladies, but still…
P.S. It is not a money issue. they can all afford to buy the books.
I rarely buy a book for myself unless I’ve read it and loved it. I am an avid reader and simply could not afford to buy all the books I read in a year and definitely could not store them! The exception is second hand books. When we go on holiday we frequently spend more on second hand books than anything else. I buy lovely editions of classics and my husband buys New Zealand history. When I worked as a journalist I often reviewed books and was given the book. When we moved last I gave away literally dozens of carton of once read books. So now a book has to earn it’s place on our shelves!
Question: with your hardcover picture books, do you always leave the dust jacket on them? 🙂
Janssen Bradshaw says
Yes, until my children take them off so many times that I just throw them in the recycle bin 😅
My mom thinks you can never have too many books, but I beg to differ. The library has 95% of what I need. I don’t want to be surrounded by shelves full of books I didn’t love, and I don’t need to have them to prove I read them because I have it all logged on Good Reads.
For adult fiction, if it’s something I’ve reread a few times, I’ll sometimes buy it. Also if it’s something several members of my family enjoy, I might buy it.
I like to read a few dense non-fiction books each year, and sometimes I’ll buy those since it takes so long to read them and I might want to refer back to them.
LDS books aren’t often in the libraries on the east coast, so I might buy one of those if it has good reviews. But usually those are scholarly books like A House Full of Females or Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling, which again take a long time to read and I might want to refer back to them.
I’m VERY picky about which picture books I’ll buy. I have to love it a lot. My kids are really bad at putting books away, and life’s too short to spend it picking up crappy picture books off the floor.
I do like to give books to my kids for Christmas and birthdays.
If I find a good deal at a used book store on something I’d like to share with my family, I’ll buy it.
I’ve spent money buying books to teach my kids to read because it’s hard to find phonics based easy readers at the library and it’s nice to be able to read them more than once.
I am on our local library board and love libraries, but I have a few authors for whom I will buy every one of their books in hardback as soon as they come out. I get to enjoy reading them and then get to enjoy how pretty they look all lined up on the shelf!
I plan on homeschooling soon. So I’ve been hunting down the most requested homeschool books. Things like The Tuttle Twins and Life of Fred. (And, like you, need the whole series!) I’ve also been building my classics collection. I’m more interested in hard copies of beloved favorites or books I can reference– Cookbooks, books like rhythm of the family and parenting breakthrough. I have more than I want because as the oldest child I’ve inherited all of my parents books. (I’m also the only one who can store them!) But as my kids grow in not keeping most of it.
I won’t keep the baby books that I read a million times. Or the pregnancy/ birth books. Space in my moves and in my home is worth more to me. I will keep a handful– just to have when I hopefully have grandkids. And, I’ve been moving more to digital books. Which is tricky. They’re so much easier to take on vacation! But, they’re harder to engage with imo. So for example, buying “Fast like a girl” is easier on kindle than having a hard copy that I’ll only read and reference for a while, not over years and years. But kids books are better tactile bc they engage with the story more.