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Borrowing (vs Buying) Books

Reading is a fun way we explore a wide range of topics (especially with our little ones). Here are some reasons we borrow vs buy…

When to borrow vs buy books

1. Limited Space

Downsizing (in my opinion) is a brilliant idea when starting a family. Living in a smaller space made me super intentional about what I chose to bring into our home. There are additional benefits, such as spending less time cleaning and more time cuddling.

Since our space was limited, I felt more efficient with an ever changing book collection without needing to permanently store them. Borrowing instead of buying books means we could meet a revolving list of authors, illustrators, and their kid-inspiring ideas on a regular basis.

2. Support An Author (And Illustrator)

Buying a book is definitely an excellent way to support both the author and illustrator, but did you know libraries often order multiple copies of a book? The more in demand a book is, the more copies they purchase. Below are two examples showing books "on order" from the Boston Public Library. One has 2 books on order, versus the other that has 19.

How to know the Boston Public Library is ordering a book


I always found that discovering a library book we love, makes me a big fan (and promoter) of that author's or illustrator’s work. This directly (and indirectly) may benefit their writing/artistic careers. The purchasing power and distribution of libraries can also have compounding effects on a book's success.

3. Explore A Topic

When studying a topic, we love that we can read multiple books from different perspectives and writing styles. For example, one of my favorite ancestors is Harriet Tubman. When reading from different authors, they may focus on her time as a spy, her relationship with her mother, or her first escape with her brothers.

So if we want to binge on a subject (but not necessarily keep the materials), we found the library to be a pretty cool place to start. If you ever want to check out the books we’ve organized by topic, you can do so here.

4. For Fun

Cuddling up with a different (or same) story every night was a fun way we created lasting memories. Tapping into our local library’s book collections definitely gave us more options and made story time more memorable.

5. Be Eco-Friendly

According to Alexa Answers, 30 million trees are cut down per year to produce text books. Children’s books have way less pages and some books may be produced using recycled materials.

Nevertheless, for the amount of reading we were doing (up to 70+ books a month), it’s nice to know that we can save a tree (or the energy needed for the book-making process) by borrowing, returning, and sharing books through a public entity like the library.

6. Be Budget-Friendly

Thankfully, our tax dollars fund public institutions like the library, so we can enjoy an ever growing collection of books (for FREE).

Libraries are also filled with an amazing staff that organize books, check books in and out, update and maintain the library catalog, warmly welcome library visitors, recommend great reads, display great reads, lead story times, act as valuable literary resources, and so much more.

7. Holiday Reads

We typically only read holiday-themed books (like The Easter Bunny Is Coming To Boston or Let's Go Trick-or Treating) around those special days. This makes the library the perfect place for seasonal browsing (books we may not necessarily read year-round). However, two of our daughters loved Halloween — the dressing up and the kid-friendly spookiness. So they consumed Halloween content (like monster books) year-round.

8. Prevent Weeding

The more books are borrowed, the less likely they may be weeded from shelves. Weeding is when the libraries get rid of old books, worn books, and/or books no one is interested in. Despite Boston having 26 branches, their shelf space is not unlimited. So weeding is an important process to ensure our libraries have space for new materials.

When I first heard about library weeding, I was devastated. In 2020, the Roxbury library was being renovated, and I was told very important historical books were being discarded. Despite my frustration, I didn’t see the impact of the weeding until recently.

In 2018, we borrowed "Talk, Talk: An Ashanti Legend." This book was written by Deborah Chocolate and published in 1998, making it 20 years old when we read it.

Legends of the World: Talk, Talk an Ashanti Legend Book Cover

It was part of our African Folklore studies. I loved it because it explained an African philosophy I hadn’t seen in children’s literature. It revealed how everything is living — even the tiniest pebble. Which means we should be intentional about how we treat everything on this planet. It was an important reminder to me and a life lesson I’m proud to have shared with our girls.

The book had such a deep impact on me that I wanted to share it with our readers. I tried multiple times to find it and was confused as to why I couldn’t. I thought I either forgot the book’s name or was mistyping the title on the library website. I eventually scrolled through my borrowing history and discovered that the book was gone.

I totally understand that most things don’t last forever. But not seeing that book in the library catalog made me even more passionate about making sure families can easily discover unique finds -- especially ones that contain rare historical beliefs and cultural wisdom. Please know I'm not upset with the library, I'm simply sharing how families can help keep certain books on shelves.

9. Preview Books

Amazon has this cool feature called "look inside." It's a blue and orange icon that appears on the top right corner of books. Clicking it allows you to check out the first few pages of a book before you buy it — kind of like browsing a physical book store. If you want to see how it works, you can preview the book below here.

Amazon's Look Inside feature to preview books

While this innovative feature was considered revolutionary when Amazon released it in October of 2001, it still has its limitations due to Amazon's agreement with publishers and copyright holders. The online sample often excludes the author’s notes at the end of the book. These notes can give historical context, or deeper explanations of other ideas in the book that were glossed over. For example, at the end of Blue, we learned that there was a time when producing indigo (blue dye) was more profitable than rice (to the American economy), so understandably it was prioritized over food. While the author, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, did an amazing job revealing why blue is so much more than a color, she offers readers even more insight at the end.

YouTube is another great resource for previewing books. There's a full-range of read-aloud channels on the platform. Some are started by kids, teachers, books lovers, or other independent readers who are excited to share books they love. Others are by the actual authors, illustrators, bookstores and more promoting their own pieces of work. Below is an example on the Barnes and Noble channel showing Vanessa William's reading her book, Bubble Kisses.

I hope I've demonstrated that YouTube and Amazon are two irreplaceable resources when it comes to previewing stories. They're easily accessible and quickly reveal the plethora of titles available to everyday readers. But, borrowing the physical or digital copy for yourself gives you the opportunity to explore the entire book from cover to cover.

Now that you know why we borrow books, here are reasons we buy books...

1. Keepsakes

Books can go out of print or may be updated. Below is an example of a book cover that was recently updated.

Same book, different covers

The first one (on the right) was released in 2018, while the updated version (on the left) came out in 2021. In addition to the different covers, the two books also have different ISBN numbers. An ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is 13-digits long. It's usually near the barcode and is supposed to be unique to each book and edition. That way readers can easily find the exact version they want. But sometimes a publisher may decide to reuse an ISBN -- these are known as duplicate ISBNs. Below is an example of a duplicate ISBN -- two books with different covers but the same book number...

Two different covers for Best-Ever Big Brother; duplicate ISBN

I'm sure there are many reasons why covers are updated. Maybe one version doesn't sell as well, or maybe the decision-makers behind the book like one image more than another. In the end, when we really love a book and want to have it as a collectible, or family heirloom -- we buy it!!

2. As A Gift

This could be for a new mom, a new dad, or a child who loves a certain subject, and we know they will probably read this book over and over again.

Here is a list of the most wished for children's books on Amazon. The list is updated daily and has titles you probably recognize. If you're looking for a more unique list, we put together some adorable stories we think new families may love.

3. The Library Hasn’t Bought It

You can suggest that the library buy certain titles. This gives more families the opportunity to enjoy the books your family may cherish. But if weeks have gone by and they haven’t bought the book -- you totally can! The longest I’ve seen a library take to add a book is 3 years. For example, I noticed a book that was published in 2020, but didn’t get added to the library until 2023. I’ve also recommended a book that I personally bought — but the library never purchased it. If you're interested in suggesting some books for the library to buy, we keep a list that the library hasn't ordered yet.

That completes my borrow vs buy list!! Please know that even though our borrowing list is longer than our buying list, I do not value one over the other. Buying and borrowing are both super important to how we consume content. If you’re looking to borrow books, this post has our best tips for book borrowing. And if you’re looking to buy, I plan to share the best times to buy from Amazon soon.

But this post wouldn't be complete, if I didn't share a third option — book sharing!!

Thanks to the Little Free Libraries throughout the city, you can take a book or share a book whenever you want. Meaning, there are little wooden boxes filled with donated books that are open 24/7. You do not need a library card and there is no digital record of what you’ve taken. Little Free Library is a Minnesota-based non-profit that has systemized book sharing in a pretty impressive way and is on a mission to be the world’s largest book sharing movement.

Little Free Library book sharing box in West Roxbury, Boston, Massaschusetts

I personally have found books I’ve never would have looked up, but have definitely changed my life. The only drawback (which is also its super power) is that the books are unpredictable (or a pleasant surprise). Meaning, you never know what you are going to get. Because Boston is full of families, I’ve noticed children’s books are often part of the stash. But if you want to library hop, here is the map of all the Little Free Library locations. I hope this was helpful!

Until next time…

Love the Journey,

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