Friday, August 3, 2012

How to Find Gems in the Library: 8 Tips from a Novice Library Lover

Are you the sort of person who tries to use and appreciate the library, but you just can't seem to make it work for you? Do you keep taking home stacks of books and then returning them without finishing them or even cracking them open? Or do you just have trouble finding anything to like at the library unless you arrive with a specific recommendation?

I was once one of you. Now, however, I've learned to see the library as a magical place, and I always bring home books that end up being my favorites. Now, I wouldn't say that I'm a library expert by any means, but here are a few tips from a novice library lover that might help you find books in your library to love.

Tip #1: Find the genre(s) that appeals to you. 
Picture from the public domain
If you love YA fantasy, then wander around in the YA fantasy section. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I used to have lots of reasons to ignore my favorite genres. I thought I "should" be reading certain genres, or I knew lots of people who read sci-fi so I would go look for sci-fi.

My advice: if you want to explore a new genre, find a trusted friend who has read a lot in that genre and ask them for a specific recommendation. There are great books and horrible books in every genre, and you don't want your first venture into the world of sci-fi to be the worst sci-fi book ever written. When you're just wandering, stick to what you know you like.

Tip #2: Judge a book by its cover. 
Yeah, I know, you're not supposed to do that, but there's a reason the book publishers used that specific cover; they were trying to appeal to the kind of audience that would probably be interested in that kind of book. So look for covers you like. There are, of course, plenty of fantastic books with ugly covers, but it's not so easy to weed them out. Save your tolerance of ugly covers for recommendations; don't force yourself to choose an ugly cover when you're just browsing.

Tip #3: Look for modern books. 
Don't get me wrong, I love the classics. (I am an English major, after all.) And I'm not trying to discourage you from reading them. But there's a reason modern authors don't write in the same style as Tolstoy or Shakespeare; our society, our culture, and our language has changed, and as important as I believe it is to understand classic literature, it typically just isn't as entertaining for the modern reader. If you're browsing the library shelves, you're probably looking for a fun read, and classics usually aren't as fun as modern books.

If you want to read a classic, don't be afraid--but get a recommendation from a friend! There's a time and a place for forcing yourself to pull War and Peace off the shelf, and if you do it on a whim, you probably aren't going to actually read it.

Tip #4: Limit yourself. 
Now that you're finding books that look fantastic, you just can't seem to stop grabbing more...and more...and more! (If you're anything like me, that is.) But don't let yourself get overexcited. Don't take more books home than you can actually read. 

Now, I'm aware that this tip might not be the best for everyone. Maybe some people like to just have that leaning tower of library books in the corner of their living room and don't care whether they ever get around to cracking open 10 of them, or 5, or none. But for me, if I take a library book home, it calls to me. It begs me to read it. If I brought home a big stack, I just want to read every single one--but there isn't enough time! Rather than choosing one, loving it, and then returning the giant stack with the satisfaction that I did find one good book (like I probably should), I just end up not finishing a single one.

So do yourself a favor and don't take home every book that looks appealing. Be aware of how much time you're actually going to have to read--if you can only read one book, then do your level best to just pick one. Of course, you can indulge a little bit...but try not to get more than one or two books over your limit.

Tip #5: Spend a little time with the books before taking them home. 
This will help a lot with tip #4, if you're having a hard time limiting yourself. Take that big stack of books and find a comfortable chair. Go through them and spend a little quality time with each one. Read the summary on the back cover or inside flap, if you haven't already. Read the preface, introduction, or first chapter. Read the author autobiography. Get a feel for the kind of book it is. You might realize that even though you got a certain idea of the book from the cover, it's not what you thought it was, and may not be the book for you. You can narrow down your number pretty quickly this way.

Even if you already have a good number of books to take home, I still recommend doing this, because if you're already into the book a little bit, you're more likely to still be excited about it tomorrow, next week, or whenever you get a few minutes you could spend reading. It can be easy to forget about the library books when you have so many other things to do, so it's good to have it already in the back of your brain.

Tip #6: Choose shorter books. 
If you can read fast, or you love really long books, this may not be the tip for you, but I don't think most of us are in that category. Books in the 200-300 page range are probably going to be the best. You're a lot more likely to finish them. And since you got them on a whim and not off a recommendation, the motivation to finish them won't be quite as strong as it might have been if you had already heard a lot of great reviews of the book. Longer books do not equal better books.

Tip #7: Don't send yourself on a guilt trip. 
This can apply to any stage of the library process--while browsing, during quality time with the books, after you've taken them home, when you're returning them. Never feel like you're forcing yourself to do anything. Guilt trips might get you to finish boring books, but they won't help you to love the library. In fact, you might never want to go back to the library. Pretty counterproductive. So if you realize you just don't want to read a book, or it wasn't as exciting as you expected, or even that you just don't have enough time for leisurely reading, then return the books to the library and don't think twice about it. It's okay to not finish that boring book.

Tip #8: Don't give up! 
Learning to use the library to my advantage took a lot of practice, and I'm still learning a lot. You'll get better at finding good reads the more often you try. So just because your first library trip didn't work out so well and you ended up with 15 boring books you didn't finish, don't give up on the magic of the library! Figure out your own style of finding books, and if you realize that one (or even all) of these tips didn't work out for you, then ditch them and figure out the way that works for you.

Happy book hunting!

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