Booksfree.com is an online lending library. It works something like Netflix. I just may join it. The only drawback is my seriously bad habit of returning books — or rather, not returning them. For some reason ever since I started to drive, at the age of nineteen, I became really lousy at returning books. In fact, for a while there I had the collection department of the Miami-Dade Public Library on my ass. The strange thing is, before I started driving, I used to take the bus to the main library downtown at least once a week, or else I’d go with my dad to the library whenever he would go, which was more than once a week. (I got my avid reading habits from both parents.) But when I started driving, something seemed to happen in my brain. You’d think having a convenient book conveyance (the car) would improve my borrowing habits — no more lugging five or more hardbacks all over Miami, I could just drive up to the drop-off bin and pitch them out the window of the car. But instead they started to disappear under the debris in the back seat, or even under the seats. Or they’d stay in my bedroom forever, until I no longer even saw the seriously overdue tomes — they had become part of the background, like the paint on the wall.
Anyway, this sounds like a pretty good deal — for one thing, it’s not free, so I’d be limited as to what I can do (I need limits, believe me), and for another thing, it has the Netflixish “keep titles as long as you want” going for it. That sounds like giving me too much leeway, but actually I’ve been pretty good at popping the dvds I get from Netflix back in the mailbox.
And thinking further about the library follies of my youth… I wonder if what actually got me down about libraries and damaged my good borrowing record wasn’t anything to do with the car, but instead had to do with the gradual transformation (at least, as noticed by me) of libraries from musty, mysterious, hallowed and dignified halls of rank after rank of bound knowledge into dreary “community centers” full of noisy schoolkids, clattering machines, glaring overhead lights, notice boards full of announcements about meetings and trash recycling schedules, and the same lurid bestsellers you can see in airports and supermarket stands prominently displayed (but that serious, scholarly work you are looking for has to be ordered in from the university library, and the older classic is out of print). I am just old enough to remember the supposedly stultifying and elitist old-style library, where librarians were stern, spinterish women in hornrimmed glasses, and everything was meant to point to an antique time quite different from whatever crass and ordinary modern environment in which the library happened to exist. (For example: Miami’s old main library was in the middle of a park on Biscayne Bay, and was in the shape of a Greek temple. It was torn down and replaced with a building at the back of the city’s cramped fist of a downtown, right near a tangle of highway overpasses that cut off the light. Appropriately the new library was built in “Spanish” style, complete with a dungeon-like street-level story below the main entrance on the second floor (which entrance you reach by a long, dark ramp lined with drunken hobos). It was a hideous place and I eventually quit going there. Orlando’s main downtown branch isn’t much better, though at least it isn’t built to look like the castillo of a particularly sadistic conquistador.)
Anyway, those stern, spinsterish women, and those long, high shelves of musty books half in shadow, gave birth to my childhood ambition to be a librarian. And the postmodern NuLibrary with its multimedia presentations and socially responsible “Fill In the Ethnic Blank History Month” displays that meant there was no room for actual books to be displayed (you had to get permission to go into the “stacks” for those) are what killed it.
(Link to Booksfree.com via an ad on Collected Miscellany.)
Update: I forgot — these are the libraries I wanted to inhabit. (Not just work in. Live in. Put a cot for me in a corner and I’ll be fine.)