Using the public library (mostly for digital books) and finding good titles to read

This is the second post in For the Love of Books blog series.

Given how much I love reading (as I mentioned in the first post in this series) it might surprise you to know that I buy very few books. This won't surprise you if you've been reading my blog for a long time. I've talked about my book buying habits and keeping a small homeschool library a few times on the blog.

I don't buy a lot of books or keep a big personal library, but that doesn't mean I don't read.

I'm always reading. These are the five ways I access books, in order from most to least common:

  1. I borrow digital books from the library and read them using the Overdrive app on my iPad. Overdrive linked to library accounts was the best thing to happen for readers like me. I adore Overdrive.
  2. I borrow hardcopy books from the library. Classic, old-fashioned library lending except that I don't do any perusing of physical shelves in a physical space, in part because my local library is mostly French titles, but also I don't have the time to actually visit the library, as an outing. I reserve all my titles using online search and reserve functions. Gone are the days of visiting the library every week when my kids were little.
  3. I buy digital books on sale from Amazon and download to the Kindle app on my iPad. I find these deals subscribing to the Modern Mrs. Darcy email notification list.
  4. I buy hardcopy books, maybe 3 per year.
  5. I listen to audio books with my family.

An aside about homeschooling and books

For this post and blog series, I'm not talking specifically about books/reading in the context of homeschooling. I'm talking about my own education and reading.

But it's worth mentioning (because homeschool details are interesting to other homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers) what our high school kids' (ages 15 & 17) reading routines look like.

The kids are in literature class at homeschool co-op. I purchase the paperbacks, four per year, for that class. Laurent (17) listens to audio books with our Audible membership. I occasionally buy hardcopy books for the kids, individual titles or book series they love, and they occasionally buy their own titles.

Very rarely do they use the library. Their schedule has become too busy for regular library visits and our local library is dominantly French titles, which don't interest my kids. When they do use the library they use the same strategy I do - online search and reserve.

Reading good books, including classics, is part of their high school program but reading a lot of books is not as integral to their studies like it was for their older sister. Or like it would be if we followed a reading-heavy curriculum like Sonlight, for example.

Similar to every other part of their high school education, our kids' curriculum is built around who they are (how they learn), what they are interested in, and what they want to pursue after high school. Although there is some cross-over in shared co-op classes, the methods, materials, and resources each of my students use are unique to them.

My high schoolers are mostly independent in their reading, writing and literature projects as they are with all other aspects of their studies.

Revisiting that list of five ways I access books, I'll explain each in more depth.

Digital and hardcopy library loans

I am a devoted public library user and advocate.

Our homeschool reading routine was dependent on the public library for many years. We read a lot of books together when the kids were younger and nearly all of them were from the library.

Even though reading is a big part of my life, I'm a minimalist when it comes to a home library. This is partly a space issue but it's also motivated by my overall frugal and best-use-of-resources ethic.

If books are free at the library I'd rather spend money on other things that aren't free - like skis and ski passes. Having said that, I adore going to friend's homes where books line the walls. I love looking through people's libraries!

Currently, I'm a member of multiple library systems including the City of Montreal (with a large interlibrary loan network), BAnQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec), the province of New Brunswick, and the Ignatian Spiritual Center.

The majority of books I borrow from the library are digital and I use the Overdrive app on my iPad to search, download, and read books. Almost all of these are stories, fiction (historical or contemporary, I'm not a big sci-fi reader) or non-fiction memoirs and biographies.

Overdrive app screenshot from The Break

I also use the library to borrow hardcopy fiction, memoir and biography, but I find the Overdrive app so handy and immediate that I access it more often than traditional hardcopy loans of these type of books.

I rely most heavily on hardcopy library loans for non-fiction "subject" books. Some example titles of current and recent books I've read this way: Hardwiring For Happiness, The Road to Character, and Rising Strong. It's a slow go for me to read these types of books, so I usually have access to as many as I can read through library loans without needing to purchase them.

The exception to this is spiritual and Christian titles. These are harder to source through my library system, especially more obscure titles. Thankfully (praise be to God, literally) I recently joined the Ignatian Spirituality Centre library, tucked into a little room in their house in NDG. An old-school library system, one could say antiquated, where everything is recorded on paper and there aren't late fees, one could say grace.

couple titles I've borrowed from the ISC library

Through this library I'm able to source the theology and spiritual titles I'm interested in. Another borrowing source for these type of books - non-fiction "subject" books - is family and friends.

Buying hardcopy books

Occasionally I buy non-fiction books I can't source through the various library systems I belong to (or borrow from family or friends). Sometimes I just really want to own a book or have access to it before it arrives at the library. Truly, this is very occasional. One to three titles a year.

These are reference materials (books on herbs, health, homeschooling, etc.), or books I deem as heavy hitters or "must-reads" in terms of speaking to a subject I care deeply about; ideas I want to savor, underline, and take my time with.

Last year I bought What is the Bible (an easy read) and Becoming Wise (a slow read). I bought both hot-off-the-press, as hardcover books. Still haven't finished Becoming Wise because of how slowly I read these things.

I won't buy full price, hardcopy fiction, memoir or biography. However, If I come across a used booksale, or other book deals, the kind where books are .50 to $1.00, I will snatch up fiction titles like nobody's business. I stocked my summer 2017 reading this way, finding a fabulous sale in the Berkeley Public Library. When I'm done with these books I pass them along.

Buying digital books

For buying digital books I subscribe to the E-Book Deals email list at Modern Mrs. Darcy. This alerts me to when "the books I tend to like" are on sale at Amazon. My Kindle app is connected to the US Amazon store, can't speak to the Canadian Kindle buying experience.

If I can find the book at my library I won't buy it but I've been alerted to great memoirs and other books that are not available at my library and when this happens I snatch them up. I buy approximately one digital book per month, spending roughly $2.00/book.

Audible membership

We buy audio books with our Audible membership. The primary users of this account are Laurent, and shared family listening. I love free, and almost all my other reading is free or nearly free, but in this case, easy and accessible is something I'm willing to pay for. There are enough obstacles in our way to family listening, primarily choosing titles we all might like, that I don't want to complicate it any further with limited load periods or availability at the library.

We listen to audio books together in the car and most of our family listening is fiction sci-fi, as that's the least common denominator amongst the five of us (Brienne tolerates it, sometimes). Currently, Damien and the kids are listening to Harry Potter (which Brienne appreciates much more than some other books we've listened to together) on their co-op commute, as Laurent and Brienne haven't read those books yet.

I pretty sure all the sci-fi books on my Read shelf at Goodreads are audio books, listened to with my family. Neal Stephenson is my favorite author in this genre.

Finding book titles and keeping a to-read list

Whether it's library loans or the finding a rare used book sale, I have an eye for the authors, titles, and books genres I like and keep a very long to-read list at Goodreads.

I am very rarely without a book because I have such a long list of books to read, of all kinds, and something from my list is always available for digital download from the library. The challenge for me is interjecting those "subject-orientated" books into my steady diet of novels, biography, and memoir.

I started using Goodreads in 2008, mostly as a place to catalog the books we read in homeschool, either individually or together. At the end of the year I could print a list of the books and include it with our portfolio. And I also had a place to send people to for book recommendations. For example, A Spring Reading List.

Over the years my Goodreads account has morphed into a personal account. I don't use it any longer to keep track of what my kids read, though many elementary aged and young adult books are still in my shelves. (The kids use old fashioned pen and paper notebooks to keep track of what they've read and listened to, and I include that list in their high school portfolio.)

Whenever I see a title I want to read I add it to my to-read shelf on Goodreads. Goodreads is one of the apps I keep on my phone and it's an easy website to use on my computer. I don't overthink this part. I just dump titles in there. I don't cull at this stage.

How do I discover titles to add to this list? Modern Mrs. Darcy is a great source for the story books I enjoy reading - novels, biography, memoirs etc. I read her blog reviews and get inspiration from her E-Book Deals list.

All those books that are part of my self-directed Masters - philosophy, psychology, science, education, parenting, marriage, spirituality, theology, etc - I tend to learn about from podcasts I listen to, are referenced in other works of a similar genre, mentioned in articles I read, etc. And some of these books like Man's Search for Meaning (above image) I read in my undergraduate degree and I'm re-reading and re-discovering them at an older stage of life.

Occasionally I'll peruse through a bookstore, usually because I'm waiting for kids at some activity, and I'll take note of the "recommended reads" and add those to my to-read also.

Lastly, I take notice of the updates in my Goodreads and will sometimes add these titles to my to-read shelf. Goodreads is a booksharing social media platform. You can follow and friend other readers and these people's reading histories, including any reviews they write (if they make them public), will show up in your feed. I very rarely pay attention to this part of the Goodreads.

My to-read shelf is packed (more than 400 titles) and I will never get even close to reading all these books. And many of them I don't even want to read anymore, I just haven't gotten around to removing them. But the point is, there are a lot there to choose from, so I never without inspiration when I have to find my next book.

Up next in this book series: when I read and keeping track of what I read.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Renee

    Renee on Feb. 21, 2018, 5:38 p.m.

    Chessa, a blog reader sent this comment to me via email. I got her permission to re-post it here.

    I also love digital library books and it sounds like you haven’t tried Libby, Overdrive’s new app? It pulls from the same catalogs the Overdrive app does (it’s actually created by Overdrive, not a competitor) and the app is lovely to use and I think much more user-friendly than Overdrive. It has some cool features like estimating how much time you have left in a book based on your reading speed - kinda neat!

    The other service you might want to check out is Scribd. They have gone back and forth in how their service works (unlimited books/audiobooks for a monthly fee to a credit system) but they have just recently (like last week) gone back to an unlimited system. It’s $8.99/month ($US) for a really very extensive catalog of both ebooks and audiobooks. They have a 30 day free trial, which I’m doing now and I defiantly plan to continue. There are no waits/holds for “checkouts”, and there are no due dates - you just have access to things for as long as you need. (They do have a caveat that if you are listening to/reading some inordinate amount of materials that they can throttle what is available to you - but I think this is for folks reading hundreds of books a month, so it’s unlikely to affect most).

    Also, does your library system subscribe to Hoopla? Ours does, and it’s fantastic. Instant downloads, no waiting. We get six checkouts per month per library card. They have lots of ebooks, audio, and digital comics.

    (thanks Chessa)


  • Francie

    Francie on March 1, 2018, 5:42 p.m.

    Overdrive has completely transformed my reading life. I have always read widely and deeply and passionately, but in the past few years (i.e. since my 3-year-old and 6-year-old were born, and especially since returning to work) various circumstances have conspired against my being able to invest more than a few minutes each day in hardcopy books. I still read them, but I can only manage about one per month now.

    But with one audiobook and one ebook on the go at all times in my Overdrive app, I read more than I ever did even when I had scads of free time. We're talking 10 books a month, both fiction and non-fiction, that I am fully drinking in!

    One benefit I have found to reading this way is that because I finish books faster (using all that interstitial time you talk about), each book selected has a lower opportunity cost, since I know it won't be long before I can choose the next book. I am more likely to allow myself to indulge in choices that fall outside of my usual interests. I have fallen down so many wonderful rabbit holes that way, and I feel I have exponentially more windows on the world. Self-directed master's degree indeed.

    That said, as much as I ADORE that moment of being able to choose the next book, it can be tough to avoid paralysis when faced with 200 or so available books in my Wish List. But now that I get to do it two or three times a week, I'm getting good at choosing fast and not second-guessing my choice. A fun challenge.

    Didn't mean to write that much. All that to say "Hi there!", and "Aren't we lucky to have this?" :)


    • Renee

      Renee on March 6, 2018, 12:09 a.m.


      What a delight to hear from you! Thank you for your long comment! I hope you are well. Do you know if we can access Hoopla through the Montreal system? It doesn't look like we can. Another reader recommended that to me.

      Would love to get together again sometime for lunch :)


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