A semi-local library has a strange annual tradition. At the beginning of summer every year, this small library cleans out its shelves and puts books outside for any library patron (or even simple passerby) to take. These aren't a few weeds here and there that the library removes. Hundreds of books are placed outside and anyone walking by (this is within a larger building, not the street) can take however many he/she chooses. This collection of books is a strange one, with volumes ranging in languages and difficulty levels (classics alongside childrens' comic books), but it's very interesting. People come out of curiosity, convinced they'll find nothing and leave with an armful of books. The books are also different ages: some are fairly modern novels that didn't get a lot of attention from readers and others are ancient hardbacks with dust all along the spine and pages. The purpose of this spring cleaning is obvious. The library, which is small and doesn't have much room for expansion, needs to clear space for new books. Rather than throwing away these at-times falling apart books or selling them, the library chooses to hand them out for free.
There are many pros to checking books out of a library. The books are free, there's always bound to be a wide variety, etc. For some readers the library isn't enough. I, for instance, thoroughly enjoy rereading books. I like being able to pick a book up at any moment and know that I can set it aside whenever I like, without having to renew or return the book. There are many advantages to owning books and the two often come head-to-head. Many feel that purchasing books is wasteful; some think that checking books out from the library is too much effort. Used bookstores serve as an in-between. This case goes even further.
Nobody ever complains about book gifts. To receive a gift is a pleasure, not a frustration. Worries about space for the books become almost irrelevant when you don't pay for them. Even if you don't get around to reading them, the guilt sensation of not finishing a book before returning it to the library isn't there. For the library giving away books, this scenario works well too. They get rid of books and don't have live with the shame that they threw them out. Many libraries do similar things with book sales, but looking at some of these books (one of which literally has dust climbing out of the pages) makes me wonder if that's the right way for the libraries to make money. With the exception of one brand-new book (still in its wrapping), all these books are clearly used. Some to the point where any price would be too high, either because the book is falling apart or because my level of interest in the book is so low there's no chance I'd ever spend even a cent on it. However, when offered for free, I grabbed these books no questions asked. And, I suppose, even the most ardent of library supporters would not hesitate to do the same.
There is no particular lesson to be learned from this, just observations. I wonder if other libraries have similar "give away" policies and if, indeed, other readers find this form of book acquisition suitable. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the books I managed to grab and await next year's stacks of "unwanted" books, where I might once again find a few gems.