My local library is dying and, with it, my best source of free books. Thanks to the crummy economy, the library’s budget has been cut to almost nothing. They have no money for new acquisitions. Old books are being sold to raise money and not replaced with new titles. Shelves are emptying and though they keep rearranging the furniture to try to hide the damage, there’s no escaping the fact that a once thriving library is dying. And it’s not just my local branch. This is going on county wide, so it’s not like I can just go to a different branch or request books from other branches to get what I need.
It’s sad because I used to be able to count on my library to have almost anything I needed and in sufficient quantities that I’d have to wait at most a couple of weeks for my turn. I’d only have to buy the most obscure titles that I needed for my work and some titles by favorite authors that I collect. Now, I have to buy almost every title that I need for my work. I can still find some good fiction in the library, but new releases have waiting lists that are up to ten months long, simply because the library only has one or two copies of high-demand books.
Since my library is letting me down these days, I’ve had to get smarter about where I look for books. I’m sure some of you are having the same problem. In many articles I’ve recommended the library as the number one source if you want to read on the cheap. Now that may no longer be that case for many people. So, if you still want to read for cheap or free, what can you do? Here are some ideas.
Free books for eReaders: If you have an eReader, you can find quite a few free books for it. Amazon and Barnes and Noble both offer some free books and some writers and publishers offer books on their sites. Most of these free books are fiction by up and coming authors, but you can also find “name brand” authors giving away some older works to promote newer titles. If you like the classics, try Project Gutenberg.
Swaps: Book swaps are a great resource for free books. There are swapping sites on the Internet or you can start your own. I’m a member of two swaps. One was started by a book club to which I belong. This one is a great source for fiction. The other was started by a writer’s group. We swap books of professional interest amongst ourselves. This has really cut down on the number of titles I need to buy to stay current for my work. If you belong to any groups or clubs, see if they’d like to start a book swap.
Thrift stores: You can find a lot of fiction in thrift stores. Many people buy the new release titles, take them to the beach, and then donate them for the tax deduction. Kids books are plentiful here, too, as they get donated when the kids grow out of them.
Used book stores/used online: Much the same inventory as thrift stores, although you’re likely to find a bigger selection of non-fiction here. There are plenty of places online to obtain used books, as well. You can find everything from romance to textbooks online, as well as old favorites that might be out of print. Just make sure you aren’t paying new prices for a used book.
Interlibrary loan: Your local library might belong to an interlibrary loan program where they can get books not only from their own system, but from other library systems, as well. If your library system is dying, they may be able to get books from a more prosperous system. These requests usually take a while to come in, but if you’re not in a hurry they can extend your library’s reach.
Join a different library: If you live near another library system, you might look into becoming a member. You’ll probably have to pay a fee for a card if you’re not a resident of the area, but that will be small compared to the amount you’ll save on books. Look in the adjacent country or state and see if you can become a member of their library. Some libraries now offer access to their ebook catalog for out of state residents, so if you have an eReader this may be helpful. You may be able to join a library that’s ten states away.
Try university libraries: Many universities will issue library cards to the general public for a fee. Again, the fee will likely be small compared to the amount you will save. This is the best option if you need a lot of specialized non-fiction titles.
Book sales: My library hosts an annual book sale where they clear out old titles and sell off donations that they opted not to keep. The books are cheap and I feel good that the money is going to support the library. You can probably find book sales in your area, too.
Bargain sections at the bookstore: Most bookstores have bargain sections where you can find some recent fiction, basic reference materials, special “bargain editions” of books, and older materials that are marked for clearance. You can get some great deals in this section, just don’t get sucked in to the regular price section. Amazon will also offer books at bargain prices from time to time (for example, the hardcover may be marked way down when the paperback is issued).
Other places: Flea markets, yard sales, estate sales, book fairs, free book boxes in the library, free or “honor system” areas at the used bookstore, an interoffice library, or loans from friends, family or coworkers can all be places to find free or cheap books.
If you do end up buying full price books, you can get a little of your investment back by selling them. You can sell them on your own through sites like eBay or Craigslist or sell them to a used bookstore. You can also donate your old books and take the tax deduction. Donations to your library may be the most beneficial since they can either put them into circulation or sell them to raise money for newer acquisitions.
If any of your purchases qualify for a tax deduction, take it. If you buy something related to a business you run or to further your job-related education, you may be able to deduct the expense. It won’t be much, but it’s better than nothing.
A dying library doesn’t have to mean the end of cheap reading, but you do have to cast your net a little wider to find free or cheap books. If you’re a big reader like me, the savings will be well worth it. If I had to pay full price for every book I read, I’d be broke in no time.