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75p or £24.95? Local Libraries – use them or loose them

The high costs of studying anything these days is well documented, and it is no secret that Photography has always been one of the most expensive disciplines to commit to. Not only are there the general costs of studying (travel, textbooks, flapjacks and cups of coffee) but the equipment requirements are ever expanding, and although many students work exclusively with digital processes nowadays, there are still related consumables which all add up.
As I have found, as one becomes more involved with photography, a certain habit (or do I mean fetish?) can develop for books on the subject, not to mention the host of monographs, catalogues and self-published books that are out there. This can get a little out of hand, to the point where certain bookshops adjoining certain major galleries and museums need to be avoided at all costs.
As tutors, we are constantly urging students to engage with photography beyond the module handbooks, and particularly to make the most of the rich seam of material on the history and theory of photography, which we (I’m sure I can speak for all tutors here) passionately believe can only serve to enrich and develop students’ own practice. With that said, we are conscious of the financial commitment students make to enrol on a module, and do not want the high costs associated with text books and other photobooks, to put you off engaging with them.
So, get yourself a library card: This should be as important to your learning toolkit as a fully functioning SLR. With the central- and local-governemnt coutbacks and implications this is having on services, it is even more important to sign-up and make the most of the services available to you, not to mention get the most for your monthly council tax bill.
I don’t exactly live in the middle of nowhere, but I do technically live in a rural area, and don’t have a fabulously well stocked library of art books right on my doorstep. However, my local authority belongs to a consortium of libraries across the West of England, which essentially allows me to get hold of any book in any one of those hundreds of local libraries, and have them delivered to a branch of my choice – and in my case, even to the mobile library that stops just a stones throw from my front door. All for the rather reasonable sum of 75 pence.
I thought I’d try this service out and document the process, to see whether it is really as easy as it soundss. I’ve always wanted to have a look at Stephen Shore’s The Nature of Photographs: A Primer. As a teacher of photography, I’m always keen to see how others communicate the fundamental aspects of the medium. I suppose I’d like to own a copy, but I’d really like to own a copy of every photobook ever published, so that doesn’t really say much. And at £24.95, I don’t really want to own it that much. So, it’s a relatively recent publication, and the second edition, published in 2007 by Phaidon, would obviously have been on a pretty large print run, and widely marketed and circulated: hardly a first edition of Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment. But not a bad starting point for this experiment.

So, after getting to Libraries West, via my council’s website and logging in, using my library card number, I go to “Title Search”

Then I put in the title I’m looking for:

I’m in luck, and they have a record of it, which I click on:

Before I reserve it, I just want to to check that it is definitely the right book, so I look at the description:

That’s what I’m after, so I click “Reserve now”:

Then it asks where I want to collect from, so I select the mobile library (because I’m lazy). And hey presto…

As I said, I didn’t try this out with a more obscure title, and I suppose that’s the next challeng. But if I’m after something they haven’t got in any of the collections, they will try and get it from another consortium:

About two weeks later I receive an e-mail notifying me that The Nature of Photographs will be waiting for collection on the mobile library’s next round, and sure enough…

I wasn’t disappointed.
Of course there are bound to be exceptions, and I appreciate some students will be hot on the keyboard complaining that there isn’t a library on Lundy Island, but for the overwhelming majority – please have a look and see what’s on offer: Make the most of them whilst we’ve got them.

Posted by author: Jesse
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19 thoughts on “75p or £24.95? Local Libraries – use them or loose them

  • Not only have I found most of the books on my recommended reading list for my printmaking course in my county’s library catalogue (online), putting in a request for each one only costs me 35p! On top of that, they have been several other, out-of-print, printmaking books which have been great finds. In some cases I’ve then gone on to actually buy a copy of a book, but it’s still been a great way to take time over deciding whether it would be worth it. And the library staff are a treat to deal with – so supportive and understanding of students’ needs.

  • Really glad you are making use of the services. Definitely agree – ‘try before you buy’ – is useful too.
    Sounds like I’m preaching to the converted!

  • Well done Jesse. We can’t have our books delivered by the mobile library in my neck of the North Wales mountains but with all the colleges and universities in Wales on our immediate list and then there is ILL everything is available. (Except the Cartier-Bresson!)

  • My son orders all my library books for me and as he is still in school he doesn’t have to pay the request fee. In addition my library will order ‘out of area’ books (called a Z search) and I have received books from all over the country. Also typing various different ideas/words into the search engine of the library website I am offered titles that are new to me and I don’t have to lay out any money to see if they are useful or not. This way I am exposed to a varitey of new ideas. The librarian is only too pleased that people are using the library and goes out of his way to find things that may be of interest to me. I don’t think I would be able to study without my local library.

  • Brilliant Jesse, you made the point beautifully at the end with the last picture, which made me smile.
    For anyone who is interested, libraries gratefully receive gifts of second hand books – in good condition obviously and titles that are currently in demand.

  • I get most of my books from our mobile library in the next street. Once a fortnight I race round there with my trolley-bag and collect the free spoils that I have pre-ordered via our local library site.
    I have never been so well read in my entire life! And as for the DVDs – well I do have to pay £1.50 for those, but I am studying writing, so can just about get away with justifying those too!
    It’s great for widening my reading, and it’s great for trying out course recommendations that I might want to buy.
    If they took this resource away, my life, and my studying, would suffer greatly.

  • Don’t tell everyone or you’ll know next time a book isn’t available that some other oca student in your area has it and the waiting list for it will have grown! Seriously though, libraries are great. I live in a city with really good libraries, including a large Fine Art Section in the main library and a dedicated art and architecture library as part of the University. I love to go there and browse, usually coming awy with something I wasn’t aware existed.

  • My library is fantastic too- they deliver to my local branch and if you check for a book online and it turns out to be reference only you can see which branch it is in and go and read it there! One of the best things I enjoy doing is entering a subject heading and seeing what the library comes up with, I have found some cracking books that way that i would never have found otherwise! Also I often see new books in the bookstore and 9 times out of ten they are available in the library. Sometimes after I had renewed my books a couple of times I let them go overdue a day or two just so I can give them some money 🙂

  • I’ve used the local library since I was 3 years old and became absorbed in books and stories. Oddly enough though it didn’t occur to me borrow any of the photography books until a few weeks ago – prompted by a blog post by a fellow student. In the past 3 weeks I’ve borrowed 3 and two more are reserved. The only pain is having to take them back as I do hate to let go of a useful book!
    If they have to get the books in from out of County there’s a £3 charge and you have to pay £1 for another week. Students can’t have extended loans I was told. Still it’s a wonderful service. A mobile library on my drive would be even better (a bit like Amazon but free) – especially with a librarian like the one you’re fortunate to have Jesse.
    I signed the petition about the retention of libraries. They offer so much to so many people and are a national treasure I think. I was interested in the mention of donating books which I used to do regularly in Surrey until I was told that they don’t accept them any more because it leads to complexities with internal systems. Definitely short-term thinking which doesn’t make economic sense.

  • I’ve used the Libaries West service for sometime, getting books from across the region. My prize one so far was ‘the thinking eye’ by Paul Klee. I looked on amazon and it would have cost hundreds to buy.
    On the suggestion of my tutor, just yesterday went to my local HE college to use their library as an outside reader. Fabulous collection of art books. I will definately be going back. They also have a huge range journals, including an extensive archive- thats going to be my next target.

  • I’ve found that the West Berkshire Library Service wil trawl the entire library system of the South of England, but if they can’t find a book they’ll offer to get it from the British Library (provided they have a copy) at a cost of £35.00 per book. Luckily the cost of reserving books is only £2.00 and you can keep them for up to three months. I’ve only found one book they couldn’t source inter-library but I didn’t use the British Library for it as the book was still in print at about £15.00.

  • I use the library a lot. My local one is small, but I can access anything in the county (Cambridgeshire) online and get it sent to my one free of charge (amazing in this day and age). Like Tanya, I sometimes just put in random words in the search to see what comes up – then check out the book on the Amazon website, as often you can look inside the books there, just to make sure it is something I would be interested in. Trouble is I sometimes get carried away and end up with rather a lot – then have to renew them a few times to get to read them all!

  • Jess I TOTALLY AGREE with you i’m lucky to be able to assess mobile and proper based library.
    you can read/reserrch a whole lot for a few pence just by being organised and patient.
    the online service is great in hampshire where im at.

  • I’m glad so many students are finding local library services helpful.My experience has been less successful. On several occasions when I have tried to borrow books recommended for Textiles I they have taken at least 3-6 months to arrive, by which time I have been well into the next assignment. It would be a great help if we could use the SCONUL scheme which enables students at most colleges and universities, including distance learning students, to have at least some access to other higher education libraries. As I understand it we are not eligible to use this as OCA doesn’t have its own library. Am I right about this, and if so is there anything OCA can do to help? Local libraries are great, but their services vary, and they are not always enough.

    • I’ve talked with my nearest university library, and checked up on the SCONUL website and we can’t use it. However, as a SCONUL user, they pointed out I’d not be getting borrowing rights. They suggested instead that I pay £35 (a year) and join as an external member of the library, because that would get me long-term borrowing for 5 items at a time. Given the price of art books, and the fact it’s a university with an art department, I’m planning to go along for a good browse, and I’ll probably then pay up. I suspect the fee might well pay for itself over the course of a year. And it also means I get access to their art journals.

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