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Books Worms – On a Budget

This morning, I am doing one of my favourite things: reading to the children at my daughter’s nursery. Reading is a large part of our family. I and each of my children are book worms with huge collections of books that are at times divested and then re-built. Actually, I have fewer books now than at any time in my recent life: only three small book shelves worth, about two hundred or so. But at the retail price of about five pounds for paperback and over twenty for hardback, being a book worm on a budget can be a challenged. My secret is that I have paid that full retail price for less than a handful of my books.

Today, I want to share with you some of my ideas for loving and adoring the written word…without breaking the bank. But let’s first look at how reading and books rate against some of our Frugal Fam core values:

Family first. Besides talking to and with your children, there is no single gift I think you can give them that is better than a love of reading. Studies have consistently shown that children, whose parents read to them at home and from an early age, perform better in school. But it is not just about reading to them, it is also about them seeing you read. My husband almost always reads the newspaper over his bowl of celery on the weekend. Our daughter at three now has to have her own ‘paper.’ We usually purchase one of the children’s magazines for her at the grocery story or newsstand. Of course, we can then re-use of magazines with various art projects.

Healthier. It may not seem obvious how reading would apply to health, but it is wonderful form of stress relief and lower stress can improve your health significantly. This may sound funny, but one of the biggest differences in my library now and the ones I have had in the past is the absence of a significant number of romance novels. When I was unhappy in previous relationships, I would escape into romance novels as a means of dealing with those stressful situations. Now that I am happily married, my reading habits have changed somewhat. Oh I still read, but it is not as much fiction and escape.

As for the core values of saving money and environmentally friendly, let’s examine each of those in terms of the specific ways I have found for being a book worm on a budget.

1) Your local library is of course the first thing that comes to mind. While most communities still offer free library cards to their residents and free loan of books, this one has always been frustrating for me. If I love a book, it is virtually impossible for me to give it back. Of course, it is a great chance to road test books if you will before purchasing. It may also be a great alternative for time and situation specific material such as pregnancy, holidays and health topics. Since we will likely not need to repeatedly refer to the material, checking it out from the library, reading and returning it is a great alternative. It is also a free family adventure for our children, especially if we coincide our visit with reading aloud times offered in most libraries. But in terms of our core values of saving money and environmentally friendly, the library is a great option, especially if you walk there and back.

2) The Internet is an excellent alternative to purchasing books. I have been able to find research on various topics as well as quality fiction posted on the ‘information super highway.’ Obviously this alternative ranks very high on both saving money and environmentally friendly, because it is FREE and paperless. Although of course running our computers does use up energy so this source is not completely free or green, but it is a viable option for most people.

3) Charity and resale shops have always been one of my favourite options for building a library. I could spend hours in those looking for books I might like. The wonderful thing about this option is that like the library options you can skim the book before purchase to make certain it is what you are looking for. While the books may not be free, this option does allow us to save money by purchasing the books we want at a fraction of the retail price. In terms of environmentally friendly, it ranks very high because it offers the option of re-homing/re-using and saving them from ending up in landfills. Other related alternatives to this one include yard/car boot sales, library clearances and nearly new sales run by community groups.

4) EBay and Amazon offer an excellent option if you are looking for a specific or hard-to-find book. A tad of warning in terms of saving money, be very careful to make certain that the shipping costs when added to the sales price does not actually exceed the full retail price. Examining the environmental impacts of this option, please also consider the cost of shipping on our planet, especially when making international purchases. Having said all that, I have used this alternative for most of my doula and childbirth education textbooks.

5) Freecycle and other swap services often list books and magazines. The disadvantage of this option is that usually you have little choice in terms of selection. The people, who advertise, usually prefer someone to take everything at once. So out of a large box or bag of books, you may only find a couple that you really want. Of course, you can always donate the rest to the charity shop and help other book worms stay within their budgets. Likewise, you can with limited success advertise for books you want. This is unlikely to be successful in terms of specific books, but if you just want pregnancy or birth books then you may have a great deal more success. This option, like the library, ranks high in both saving money and environmentally friendly since the books are FREE and you are re-using an existing resource, but unlike the library you get to keep them…forever.

6) E-books are an emerging option for being more environmentally friendly, but they do not necessarily save money as they may cost almost as much as full retail. Having said that, I am committed that when I reach the point of becoming published, this is the option I will prefer. My older daughter adores this option though, especially as it has allowed her to access her favourite romance author from the states.

7) Friends and family are an excellent option for those books that you simply must have new. By letting them know either specific books, authors you like, topics of interest or asking for gift cards, you can enjoy the pleasure of that new book smell and save money. Of course, this option is not very environmentally friendly because it uses up trees to produce the books. But if you reserve this option for those well-loved books, which you will keep and read over and over and over again or lend to others then it is not so bad.

Of course in addition to these ways to be a book worm on a budget, we also must learn to be stewards of our libraries. One of the things I learned long ago was how to repair most books using scotch tape and patience. We can also be certain to gift others with this pleasure. For instance, one of the hardest parts of moving to the UK for my oldest son was that he could not bring all his science fiction and fantasy books. Mind you ALL of his books was a six foot tall shelf with many of the books double stacked. But the eyes of the librarian at his old high school lit up when we arrived with boxes and boxes of some of the most popular titles in those genres. She was ecstatic that the small library, which always struggled to purchase more books, would virtually double its selection of sci-fi and fantasy through his generosity. Of course, in the two and a half years since he moved to the UK he has begun to re-build his library…using the same techniques I have shared with you and so have I.

It is time for me to rush off to read to my daughter and her twenty young friends…about growing.

Moving Your Library? Library Software Can Help

Looking at your library right now, you might begin to see that you have more books than you know what to do with. And while they all seemed like a good idea when you bought them, when you have to move, that’s when things get tricky. It’s one thing if you’re moving your personal books, but when you’re moving books in a library, you need to keep track of what gets packed away so that everything makes it to where it needs to go. With library software, you will be certain you know where each and every book is at any point of the moving process.

Getting Ready to Move

Ideally, you want to begin moving before you begin moving. Let’s explain. In a perfect world, you will want to have your library books all catalogued before you ever begin to purchase the moving boxes. This way, you will not have to organize your books or catalog them when you’re trying to think about how to move the collection in the first place. With library software, you can start now. Book by book, start cataloguing what you have into the system and then begin to see what you might not want to bring with you and what you need to organize in a specific way. This process will take a short time when you have just a few books to move and it will certainly take longer the more books you have. However, it’s best to do this sort of work before the moving van arrives.

During the Moving Process

What’s interesting about moving is not the actual process of moving, but what happens in the in between period. Since the books aren’t in the library and they’re not in their new home, it becomes all the more complicated to track your collection. With library software, you will be able to track your books from their old home to their new home – and everywhere in between. This is especially important when books are still out on loan. In making a note of where each book is as you reach certain stages of the moving process, you will begin to understand just where everything is and where it will be when the process is over. This sounds like common sense, but in the chaos of moving, the more organized you are, the better.

Unpacking the Boxes and Setting Up

Of course, if you haven’t had the time to catalog your book collection ahead of time, you need to get started now. As you unpack, you can make notes as to which books you have and then you can also check to make sure any books that got damaged along the way get replaced. By typing in the book name, author, and other pertinent information, you can set up a new library system that is far more organized for this new stage in your library’s life.

Whether you are moving your library or someone else’s, library software is a great investment. Not only can you ease your mind as you move, but you can also begin to establish a system that allows you to track all of the books at any time, no matter how often you decide to relocate.

The Multicultural Library

As the United States has become increasingly diverse, more and more librarians are responding to the needs of their ethnic patrons.

According to 2005 Census data, over 12% of the US population is now foreign born and about 1 in 5 residents age 5 and older speak a language other than English at home. These figures are expected to increase, and are considerably higher in many areas of the country. Many new immigrants are struggling to learn English while maintaining their connection with their heritage language and country.

As the United States has become increasingly diverse, more and more librarians are implementing creative strategies to attract and meet the needs of their ethnic patrons. Many libraries have transformed themselves into centers of information and learning for the diverse community. Following is a list of innovative ways librarians are welcoming and attracting their ethnic populations:

1. Presenting story times in various languages.

2. Offering newspapers in multiple languages.

3. Developing a collection of bilingual children’s books for language learners and families trying to teach a heritage language to their children. Patron feedback has been especially positive when librarians set aside a “bilingual book display area” instead of simply including the books in their stacks.

4. Sponsoring/hosting English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or creating “literacy centers” to help adults learn English.

5. Offering special programs, such as citizenship classes or cultural programs that highlight important ethnic holidays (e.g., Chinese New Year, El Día de los Niños).

6. Displaying colorful multilingual posters, and putting up signs in multiple languages.

7. Carrying books that promote an acceptance of diversity, have multicultural themes and include illustrations of ethnically diverse characters.

8. Accepting alternative forms of identification (such as a Matricula Consular from Mexico) and address verifications (such as utility bills and rent receipts) in order to increase access to the library. REFORMA, a national network of library organizations dedicated to promoting library services to the Spanish-speaking communities, suggests that this will help ensure that libraries serve the community regardless of a patron’s legal status.

9. Hiring staff that speaks the language(s) of the immigrant communities (another recommendation by REFORMA).

For librarians just beginning to develop their programs and collections for ethnic patrons and language learners, here are a few recommendations to get started:

o Look up census data to determine which languages your library should support. The Modern Language Association offers a Language Map where users can find the number of speakers of each foreign language by zip code, city, county or state (http://www.mla.org/map_main). The information also is available directly from http://www.census.gov.

o Conduct an informal (or formal) survey of patrons to find out which newspapers they would read and which language books are most in demand.

o Start with a small collection of children’s books and display them in a bilingual or foreign language book area. This will stimulate interest, and drive more patrons to share their own needs. It also will provide an opportunity to assess which books are checked out most.

o Post multilingual posters and/or signs to welcome all patrons.

o Ask around to see if there is a volunteer parent, board member or teacher who would be willing to conduct a bilingual or non-English story time.

Ethnic patrons truly appreciate when libraries increase their language holdings and offer services and programs to meet the needs of non-native-English speakers. Small, gradual steps to move forward in this area meet with great response, and establish libraries as true centers of learning for the entire community.