Lynn Gardner: Thoughts About Where I Get Books & Why


11.21.2014

Thoughts About Where I Get Books & Why

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how much, if at all, customer reviews on sites like Amazon influence the purchase of books and what we're looking for when we read a customer review. And that conversation quickly got my mind wandering off on a tangent, thinking about something I'd never really considered -- that I don't browse online bookstores the way I do physical bookstores and, thanks to the Internet and libraries, I don't really browse bookstores either. I'm generally there to buy a specific object. Huh. Has The Internet (and libraries) "ruined" book shopping for me?

My library consortium is large -- more than thirty libraries currently belong -- with fairly generous lending practices. While some pesky libraries are rather stingy (shame on you for not being team players!) about lending their materials, by and large, I can get whatever I want through the consortium. And if I can't get material through the consortium, the state-wide inter-library loan system is available to me. I place a special request and within two weeks (more or less) the item is in my hands!

When I was growing up, my town library was (and still, I am told, is) quite small and underwhelming so my mother would take me to the library in a neighboring town. It was certainly bigger, but nothing like what is available to me now. I used to have to buy books at shops because there was no other way of getting what I wanted and, because there was no Internet or book journals to tell me about books I might like, I spent a lot of time at the library and bookstores browsing for what I might want to read next. And, of course, I was limited to what was available to me locally.

Now, of course, information about new or forthcoming (or simply old and fascinating books) is constantly flowing over and around me. I can't help but be influenced by it. And, yes, I have a slightly unfair professional advantage -- as a librarian who does a lot of collection development I have developed a good eye for spotting interesting stuff -- but quite a lot of the bookish information I receive still comes from my own personal interests. I don't need to pay attention to Amazon(etc) reviews because I already know all about the book and I'm only at Amazon(etc) because I can't get the book through my library consortium or inter-library loan system and STILL want to read it. Or it's one of the few authors I love so much I feel I must buy their works, regardless of how easy it would be to get them from the library.

(Anyway, regarding the Facebook conversation, we decided customer reviews don't really influence us at all and a longer customer review is even less likely to influence us than a shorter one ... because we don't go to Amazon(etc) for "proper long" reviews. We want ratings and succinct reviews of 100-150 words. But mostly we're there to buy a book we already know we want, customer reviews be damned).

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