It’s almost always acceptable to ask to borrow a book, even from someone you don’t know well. Which is strange in a way, because we struggle to ask to borrow other things or ask for help. I’ve borrowed countless books from friends, neighbours, colleagues and even mere acquaintances, but I can’t imagine asking a work colleague to borrow an item of clothing or an acquaintance if they would help me paint the living room.
Books have always been used collaboratively. Public libraries enable many people to have access to a range of books they would never buy and only refer to occasionally, plus to borrow books for pleasure which will then be read by many others.
The old penny libraries mostly died out years ago, but charity shops now fulfil this function, for a small price, we can buy a book and then choose to keep it, if it’s one we loved or will use again or re-donate it for others to use.
Many of my books go on an informal journey, whether bought new, second hand or given to me, they get passed on either to the charity shop or to friends and family. Even the ones I love and keep can be borrowed as long as they come back. (The exception to the rule being Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, which never seems to come back – I just have to buy another copy when I want to read it again. Others seem to have had the same problem – does anyone know where all the copies of Weaveworld go?)
When I pass on a book, I have just one rule – please don’t let it linger unread pass it on to a friend or donate it to a charity shop so that more people can read it.
Whole concepts such as Book Crossing have been built on this premise. In the case of Book Crossing you allocate each book a number and people are encouraged to log in to tell people where the book has gone to next and give a review.
Or of course you can sell on your second hand books through a whole variety of routes.
While technology is enabling some forms of collaborative sharing, it has the potential to stop the sharing of books. While I understand there is a mechanism to lend a Kindle book, the fact that it’s not tangible and I can’t browse your bookshelves while we’re chatting in the same way seems to stifle that.
As a lover of “real books” I suspect I will end up with a Kindle or other book reader at some point, the ability to carry so many books is tempting, but I can’t see me moving to eBooks completely – love perusing bookshelves – mine, my friends, those of people I visit, and in shops – far too much. And in the case of reference books, especially cook books, nothing beats having 4 or 5 books spread out on a table looking for just the thing you want.
I might donate other unwanted things to charity or hoard them, but I don’t share them in the way I share books, which is one of the reasons why I’m getting involved in Collaborate Leeds.
P.S. I said the penny libraries died out many years ago, but there are still private libraries for both research and pleasure. Did you know there is a private library in Leeds Centre? I didn’t until I went to visit it on the heritage open days weekend last year. It’s a lovely old building with a collection ranging from the old and obscure to the modern and mainstream.
P.P.S. If anyone has lost two postcards and a bookmark in a book donated to the RSPCA, please let me know so I can get them back to you!