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.