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Part 1: Potatoes or Chips?

When my children were young and funds were scarce, we would go to the library every two weeks. We would walk out with nearly 150 items, divided between all our children’s library cards, piled into our double stroller, with babies, now extracted from the stroller, being held by older siblings. I remember people staring, but it worked for us. We checked out picture and chapter books, audio books for the car, and educational CDs for our computer. We drove about 45-minutes to get to the best library, thus expanding our selection. The sheer amount of books we brought home on those days was exceeded only by food grocery day. Costco and the library—our two favorite places.

As my children grew up, however, I found that choosing books became more difficult. I believe it was a combination of more “trendy” books making it into the library and aging up into more teen books. The day I flipped through my 9-year-old daughter’s book to find references to menopause and PMS was the day I determined to make a list of books that had been recommended by reliable sources: family, friends, anthologies, reliable book companies. This was all pre-internet (yes, I’m that old), so we couldn’t reserve books from home, however, when that service became available, that was the ticket! We had books coming from branches all over the county and all we had to do was pick them up. Bliss.

Going to the library without a plan is like going to the grocery store without a shopping list. There are several types of books; I had to learn how to choose books that reinforced courage, responsibility, and perseverance rather than books that offered prepackaged opinions on divorce, romance, and euthanasia. “Why”, my children would ask, “couldn’t they choose their own books?”. I finally found the perfect analogy: “I don’t let you choose the food at the grocery store. I choose the food that is healthiest for your body. Your mind is the most important part of your body. I am going to help you choose the books that going to feed your mind in the healthiest way.” And they accepted that, though not without occasional grumbling.

Ultimately, I ended up using spare money to build our own family library, little by little. It wasn’t really that much money. I even found that I could sometimes purchase used hard cover books for the same price as new paperback. And, year by year, we built our library into a formidable collection, which we now use in place of going to the library. No late fees, no lost books, and no more holding your breath as your teen tries out a new featured book.

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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