Last year, I paid about five bucks in late fines. But using the library saved me about six grand. How do I know?
I tallied up the retail prices, as listed at Amazon, for all the 281 books I read last year: $6,044. Take away a small chunk for books I actually bought and the number hovers around $6,000. (I count even the books I didn’t really crack open; if I’d bought them and hadn’t cracked them open, I would still have paid.) That’s in U.S. dollars, but for simplicity let’s just imagine that our dollar and theirs are at par.
The dollar total doesn’t include dozens of magazines (some, like Eye, retail for about $34 a copy), dozens of DVDs, and a few compact discs. In fact, I barely every buy magazines anymore; it’s the end of a lifelong habit that I don’t particularly miss, since online sources and library borrowing fill in the gaps adequately.
There’s an effect of scale, too: TPL is so large and has such a wide collection that you are very likely to find the item you want.
Now, there are non-monetary costs involved, chiefly transportation (schlepping to and from library branches, sometimes with 15 pounds of books at a time) and waiting around for books I could otherwise own instantly. Some items are unfinished because I just can’t read them fast enough. Some are in poor shape. About 30 books a year I can’t get by any free method, including interlibrary loan. I don’t get to keep anything, though I can and do make copies and take pictures.
And I read many items because they were free at the library; I wouldn’t have bought all of them, or even most of them. So the cost saving is actually a cost comparison between free library books and buying those same books.
But no matter how you, or I, cut it, using the library is the steal of the century.
(How did I tally up the prices? One place I catalogue my books is in Delicious Library, a somewhat feature-poor but visually pleasing Macintosh application. You can export the details of your collection and, with difficulty, sort through the rubble to find and add up Amazon list prices.)