Are books green? Are they sustainable? In March, this year, the UK’s public libraries had a Green Libraries conference. “Libraries are by their very nature the great green business model”, the post-conference website declares. Arden’s digital collection is sustainable in more ways than one. It has got me thinking about my growing collection of books and how sustainable my practices may be. What do books mean to me and how can I change my practices to remain sustainable?
As a child, I once counted several hundred in my parents’ home, all belonging to me. I had amassed an insane number of books and inherited a few more. Nobody else had the time to read any longer. They’d all grown up and, apparently, out of them. My colleague has written about joining a library as a grown-up. I have had the convenient excuse of a young family to join the library. The trouble is, though, that I don’t think I’ve finished growing up and I’ve certainly no intention of growing out of stories. As an adult, albeit ungrown-up, I hesitate to count for fear the number would cause me to face my problem.
So I think I may have a problem with books. I like them. I like reading them. I like collecting them. I like... just... having them around me. And yet, my space is limited. When I married another book hoarder whose parents did not conveniently live just a hemisphere too far to transport the books, the problem compounded. And now, I have a problem with children’s books all over again for two other little reasons.
I think I may have bequeathed them the problem. Both those little reasons are now enthusiastic members of the local library since birth, a place I had forgotten for a decade or so prior. Yet forgiving of such traitorous neglect, the library stocks my favourite authors and generously listens to my requests for more (yes, they actually do). When I have found on social media that a specific series is just right for my children, they welcome requests for both purchases and inter-library loans. Yet my children also want to buy books for their birthdays, books for Christmas, books for summer and books for winter. In our home. Cosying up in our intimate spaces, becoming the floor, the toy storage, the lining of most walls.
But I think intimacy is what makes books so precious and sustainable. They have often been compared to old friends. Books are friends you don’t just espy at a distance on the High Street and awkwardly sequester yourself into the nearest shop, to avoid contact. Books are those friends you go to because they have wormed their way into whatever brain fog you currently have and become your little beacon for that moment. You can go back, find them and read them again. I love the feeling of beginning a well-loved book or author and feel the pieces of that world I once knew coalesce back into my consciousness. It is rather like reaching for the chocolate you know you like and less guilt-inducing. For me, books have an incredible ability to make me comfortable, allow me to let down my guard trusting that this old familiar space will take me to old familiar haunts. But building this comfort level is only part of their way with me. The best books also break the edges of my comfort a little before opening up old questions I thought I had answered, or whose echoes appear to sound differently in a new season. They may have different echoes for you and others who read them.
Good books become relevant to new contexts, times and people. They are sustainable because they are reusable but they are also sustainable as a shared practice of our humanness. I and a few others have felt our mortality and immortality in those pages. We have shared moments of hubris and of vindication and have been shaped by the same stories. I particularly love that, in a library, that magic happens within the same physical pages. When our books were physically stamped, I often wondered about who took the books home in those lines above me stamped with bi-weekly dates. I wonder too now if others are reading the pages I am, digital but shared.
This sharing of humanness is what convinces me that perhaps, maybe, occasionally even regularly I ought to give away a few of our books to the local library if they will have them. It will be a giving of a piece of oneself.Guest Posts