Wednesday, August 31, 2005

[Essay] Bibliophile’s Haven

When I first became a bibliophile, one of the things I discovered was the myth called libraries. Parents, teachers, and the media seem to perpetuate this fallacy that libraries housed all these books. When I first entered our school library, I tried looking for the book I wanted to read. It was a futile attempt. Later on in life, I’d continue my desperate attempts at searching for books I didn’t find on the card catalog. When the Dewey Decimal System failed me, I tried looking for books manually, shelf by shelf, cranny by cranny. Common sense would dictate that if it wasn’t listed in the library’s archaic filing system, it’s not there. But the strangest thing is that sometimes, they do turn up, and in places you didn’t expect them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of libraries. In fact, second to bookstores, libraries are one of my fondest places to be in. And they are good sources of free, reference books, as well as the occasional fiction novel or two. But aside from that, the literature-loving, fiction-hungry part of me was starving. Sure, most of the canon books were there, provided that they weren’t on loan. But what about the rest? Where are my Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Nick Hornby, or Jasper Fforde? Whenever someone would recommend a book to read, our teachers and parents would say “visit the library”. But as anyone who’d actually visited the library would know, libraries don’t contain each and every book (and I can’t blame theme... to house every book published would probably take up as much space as a small country). Yet everyone else seems to think so!

Libraries are pretty much like personal collections. I don’t think any person has the exact same set of CDs, the exact same stack of books, or the exact same album of coins and stamps. The same goes for libraries. Each one is an individual, some having a larger collection than others, but their selections are definitely unique. Of course libraries have a certain preference: school libraries and public libraries, in my experience, are general and try to have books on various topics, be it fiction or non-fiction. Others, on the other hand, are more specific. I mean don’t expect finding J.R.R. Tolkien on the shelves of the National Library of the Philippines, but it is a great place for those doing research.

Personally, if I’m really looking for a particular book, especially one that’s been published recently, I go to one of two places. The first are bookstores. The big ones have a wide selection of books to choose from, while the smaller, independent ones focus more on certain selections. For example, if you’re looking for locally published books, La Solidaridad Bookstore has a good selection, especially if you’re looking for books that were published by Solidaridad publishing. The likes of Aeon Books and A Different Bookstore, on the other hand, have been known for their terrific selection of fiction and philosophy. Bookstores are like tools: know which is the best one to use for a particular situation.

The other isn’t a place so much as it is a community. What I’m talking about is the Internet. Online bookstores like, while not possessing each and every book published, does contain an extensive selection. Of course this can only be achieved because of virtual real estate: unlike retail stores which take up shelf space for their books, online bookstores can just store them in a warehouse or order them on demand. Today’s current technology also introduces the concept of ebooks, documents that are presented in digital format. Ebooks give out-of-print books or unpopular authors a chance to be seen because of its format (i.e. little storage costs, low overhead), and in most cases, easily affordable as well.

Of course bookstores, unlike libraries, do charge fees for the books. In that, libraries are no replacement, unless you happen to have a friend (or group of friends) who has an extensive collection. Still, you only get what you pay for, and for some people, investing money is well worth the time you would have lost scavenging through book bins and libraries.

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