For the Love of Books
Balancing our Love of Books with Sustainability
Books and I go way back. When I was little, my older sister would roll her eyes at the number of books on my Christmas list. And at the end of every school year, my parents would buy us something for a job well done; my choice usually involved a trip to Crown Books or B. Dalton.
My affinity for books hasn't changed. Once a reader, always a reader, I suppose. Which is hardly a vice, right? But, as a family, we also are environmentally aware and strive to make choices that respect our planet. So, how do I reconcile reading so many books while also striving for sustainability? Well, I have a few solutions that allow me to keep reading!
First let me say, I have ruled out ebook readers. My tech savvy husband has tried to convince me that the was the solution I was looking for, but after giving them a shot, I am positive ebooks are just not for me. I truly appreciate the paper reduction factor and the convenience of having all my current books downloaded onto a single device, but in my attempts, I have missed holding a book. I missed turning the pages, writing in the margins, and using my beloved kid-made bookmarks. I missed feeling cozy with a book in-hand. Plus, my efforts have always be directed toward reducing our time spent on electronics; utilizing ebooks would be counter-productive. There is also the environmental factor of manufacturing the ebook reader to take into consideration. But not to worry, I think there are better options...
1. The Library.
So what's my first solution? Using our library! I can talk for days about all the great things libraries have to offer; but I'll save it for another blog post. But with regard to books, the library is our greatest resource.
The shelf pictured above is in our family room and is dedicated to library books. At any given time, we have between 25-35 books checked out. Library books are a great way for us to have a load of topical books on hand without having to buy them all. I usually like to have a stack of books relevant to holidays or special events. While we often have a few relevant materials, the library allows me to expand my home library temporarily.
Additionally, using the library is a great way to take a chance on new books or unfamiliar book authors. No risk, all reward! In fact, I also use the library to reduce my risk when I plan to buy a book. There have been enough times where I have bought a book that didn't quite measure up, that I now try to utilize the library to preview books before buying them to add to our home library. This has saved me more than a few times form buying a book we didn't love.
So why buy books at all, you ask? Well, there are some books that we reference so often that it is great to have them on hand. Also little kids use redundancy as a way to learn. Since they love and benefit from reading their favorite books over and over and over again, it's great to have them consistently available.
There are also those books that moved us so deeply that they now occupy a place in our souls. As a family, we feel, these books NEED to be on our shelves. My 13-year-old recently read The Outsiders and loved her library find so much that she wanted to get a copy for her bedroom bookshelf. I think it's important to have a reminder of what moves and connects us; favorites that we can revisit and dwell in.
And lastly, I am a consumer of books. I don't usually just read my books; I highlight, underline, and write in the margins. I learned to read books this way from my English professor, what seems like eons ago. He would scoff at people who kept books in perfect condition. He argued that fully consuming and integrating the author's words was supposed to be messy. So, for me, there are times I have felt stifled trying to "consume" my library book. Hence the need to own some books, rather than rent.
So how do I buy books and keep my environmental moral code in tact?
2.Thrift Stores and Local Used Book Stores.
I scavenge for them! The books pictured above were found at a used bookstore. Locally, I look for garage sales, used book stores, and thrift stores. Some used book stores even have a clearance section in the back. The trick with hunting for books it to know what books you are looking to find. I keep lists on GoodReads and Amazon. When I keep to my list, it prevents me from over buying and potentially wasting money and shelf space.
While, the scavenger method can be quite "hit or miss," I believe it's well worth the effort of hunting. But, for those who don't like to hunt or do not have access to used book stores locally, there is always online.
3. Online Used Bookstores.
When I can't seem to locate the used book I am looking for locally, I look to online used bookstores. It's much easier locating a used book through an online search versus hunting in a store. There are many online stores to chose from, but my favorite is ThriftBooks. While, environmentally, I have to contend with the fact that there is a negative environmental cost in shipping the books, I know I am still investing in used rather than new books. And shipping from a used bookstore warehouse still has less of a carbon footprint than buying a new book at brick and mortar bookstore. Plus, you can group shipping if you are buying more than one book, thus decreasing the carbon foot print of each book.
Another benefit is that you can choose the quality of book you are looking to buy. Most online places also offer new books as well, but I only order from the "Like New", "Very Good", or "Good" categories. Personally, the "Acceptable" category, I did not find to be all that acceptable.
Thiftbooks also has great customer service. I ordered a book in "Very Good" condition and it arrived in what I would categorize as "Acceptable" condition. When I called customer service, I was prepared to send pictures of the book I had received, but they immediately sent out a replacement book meeting my condition requirement with expedited shipping and told me I could keep the other book (which I ended up donating). This was the only issue I have ever had and it was handled easily and expeditiously.
4. Facebook and Craigslist.
In addition to ordering online, there are many online Facebook groups you may be able to join that sell used books for a nominal fee plus media mail shipping. You will most likely need a PayPal account to complete the transaction. I belong to a few specifically for homeschoolers, which is great to find specific curriculum and educational material. These groups are also a great place to go when I want to sell books we no longer need/want.
Additionally, I have had some sporadic luck searching on Facebook Market Place and Craigslist. Garage or Yard sales will advertise this way. Once, a Montessori school had posted that they were giving hundreds of books away to anyone willing to pick them up. I drove out to the school and picked up nearly 30 books! Still, there are just some books that we love that I cannot find used.
5. Buy New.
Alas, sometimes I end up buying new. Environmentally, when considering going to a local store versus ordering online, you need to consider a few factors. Studies have shown, on a whole, ordering online actually streamlines the route to your door thus, reducing the books carbon footprint when compared to buying from a brick and motor store, essentially because a book from a bookstore has had to make several trips to get to your home. Efficiency is a factor with retail stores. This is especially true when the nearest bookstore is a good distance away. However, the fact that I can walk to my local bookstore rather than drive, may make my choice more of an environmental wash, and buying local has the added bonus of supporting local business.
Another factor to consider is if you are getting more than one item. If you have other items you are ordering online and can add the book, you are better off doing that. Same goes if you are already going to a specific store and they happen to have the book you want (i.e. going to Costco for groceries and also finding the book you were looking for.) When buying new, planning and grouping makes a difference.
6.Usborne Group Orders.
Lastly, we love Usborne books and utilize them often as homeschoolers. Since these books are not available through Amazon and hard to find in good used condition (especially the books with flaps), I have become an Usborne Consultant. Group orders, through parties or fundraisers, can be delivered in one shipment and then dispersed, which cuts down the environmental impact of each book. Being a consultant is also a great way to get discounted books and make some extra money to spend. To investigate selling Usborne books or to simply buy some of these great educational tools, check out my Usborne Books page.
If you utilize these strategies, you can have your books and help save your planet too!
Additional links for further reference:
E-Readers vs. Print-Books
What's more efficient, shopping online or in stores?