That Time I Invented the Kindle…and Why I Still Don’t Have One



Imagine a magical store where everything is free. Shelves upon shelves are stocked with valuable products, and you can pick whatever you like and take it home for free. Unlimited books, movies, magazines, and music are there for the taking. Travel to the kid’s department where there are free toys galore: train tables, blocks, puppets, a play kitchen, a doll house, mini-playground equipment, puzzles, Legos, and rows of computers loaded with educational programs. Pick up the programming schedule to choose from concerts, guest speakers, classes, and children’s festivals, parties, and crafts—all available at no cost.

Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not! This place is real. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet. This magical site of unfettered access to a wealth of resources is, of course, the local library.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the library is full of awesome free stuff. Yet for some reason most people shell out for Netflix or cable, a Chromecast, eReaders and ebooks, itunes downloads, paper books, audio books, movie rentals, magazines, or newspapers, often via monthly subscriptions that wipe money out of their accounts each month without them giving these purchases a second thought. So that’s why I’m bringing up the old “the library is free” card.

In fifth grade, when asked to conceptualize a new invention that we wished existed, I described “a tiny computer that has all the best books in the world on it.” (I’ve just searched my basement for the hard copy of this assignment, complete with a terrible drawing, but couldn’t find it.) So yeah, I basically invented the eReader at the tender age of ten. While I abandoned the idea after the concept phase, fast forward 20 years and I could own my elementary innovation for about $100. Yet I’ve staunchly refused to capitulate the cash. Here’s why the home of tomes is far superior to owning media:

1. You already paid for it. In all truth, there is no such thing as a free library book. You’re already paying for all these services via taxes, so why not take advantage of them, rather than essentially paying for the same thing twice? But you don’t get to decide whether to pay for the library, for the sake of simplicity let’s consider it all “free.”

2. No subscriptions or on-going cost. We hate the idea of mindlessly forking over cash for entertainment that we could find in free, legal ways through the library. We also avoid new purchases that involve an ongoing cost as part of our “Mindless Austerity” efforts to “Develop an Aversion to Spending.” For example, an eReader doesn’t make sense unless you buy eBooks regularly; I’ve noticed there aren’t enough digital library books to go around. There’s always a long wait for the e-library book compared to hard copies.

What about the authors’ income? 1.) The library pays for handsomely for new hardcover books, unlike me who buys used copies off, and 2.) Most of my favorite authors died of tuberculosis in the early 1800s. So they aren’t collecting royalties anymore.

3. I can’t break it. I know many people have replaced their original eReaders. Whether it gets broken, lost, or outdated, more technology means more money over the long run. I’ve never lost a library book, and the small amount I’ve paid in late fines is less than the price of one new book.

4. Less clutter. Frequenting the library allows us to own way less stuff. But first let me profess my deep love of books. I was an English teacher. I spent all of middle and high school with my nose in a novel (and, embarrassingly, often dressed like the main character). I used to buy books without thinking twice about it and blamed it on being a hopeless bibliophile.

I’ll always own books, but I’ve stopped collecting books because why should I have to buy, store, and organize lots of books when the library is so much better at it? We purchase far fewer books than ever before, and then only ones that we can’t get at the library—and only after exhausting all the regional libraries and inter-library loan systems. Same goes for most movies. If I don’t get through a book before the six week renewal limit, I just call, blame my kids for my slow progress, and get another two to six weeks on my loan.

Makeshift children's bookshelf.

Makeshift children’s bookshelf.

The library also means we can have a lot fewer toys. Though I feel like I’m swimming in plastic playthings, I’m a bit of a minimalist at heart. As a child I said that whenever I had kids of my own, I’d give them two possessions: a teddy bear and a library card. There are good, classic, educational toys that I’ve opted not to get my kids because we go to the library about once a week and they play with them there. Why should I purchase, clean up (or nag my kids to clean up), and house every type of block that exists? I don’t need to own a large plastic kitchen; the library has one. We don’t need more than a few puzzles and a modest collection of children’s books.

Less books, less mess.

Less stuff, less mess.

If we had all the same awesome toys as the library, the kids wouldn’t play with them more than once a week. They’d dump the pieces, lose a few, and then move on. But every time we go to the library they are excited to play there. We live within a short drive of four nice libraries, so we can rotate our visits and return to a less-cluttered home.

5. Coffee shop substitute. I regularly teach Bible studies and need a place to prepare while Neil or a friend watches my kids. Coffee shops are popular work stations, and I like coffee shops, but you know what I don’t like? Paying $4 for coffee when I could make it for 4 cents at home. Our local library even serves free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate during weekdays. It’s (supposed to be) quiet, and I don’t have to pack up my rather ragged laptop since the place is full of computers. And their internet is faster than mine! It’s a great free alternative “third place.”

6. Gym membership substitute. Gym memberships are expensive, and running sucks. Amiright? I miss doing Zumba and other group fitness classes. Luckily the library has quite the selection of exercise videos, and I’m not talking about Jazzercise videos featuring Cindy Lauper songs, pastel unitards, and matching scrunchies. Sure, there are plenty of awkward 90s unitards to be seen in the exercise archives, but there are also more up-to-date choices similar to classes you’d pay big bucks for at a gym.

7. Free air conditioning in the summer! If you’re like us, you avoid turning on your a/c at all costs. This summer while sweating it out in an 84 degree house I told Neil our next post should be titled “Pretend to Not Be Sweating Your ***** Off All Summer.” The library is a welcome reprieve on especially hot days for cheap, sweaty people like us.

8. Children’s programming. As Arthur the Aardvark said, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!”All of the libraries in our area schedule amazing children’s programs that far surpass the traditional (but wonderful) story hours. One local librarian plays guitar and sings to the kids on a weekly basis. Many have LEGO clubs that provide children who are past the Lego-eating stage of development with a room full of free LEGOs to build. In case you’ve not been initiated into the Parents of LEGO club: these little pieces of plastic are pricey! And a real pain to step on and clean up.

We’ve also attended events like Life-Size Candyland, Touch-a-Truck, Noon Year’s Eve parties, and summer reading programs replete with free treats and prizes. Other activities include animal shows, dance troupes, the Bubble Lady, and craft times.

9. Meeting other parents. If you’re a new parent, have recently moved, or just want to talk to someone with a vocabulary more expansive than cracker and choo-choo, the library is a great place to meet other moms and dads. In my experience library parents are willing to talk; I’ve been invited to multiple playgroups just by acting friendly in the children’s room. And since the library parents are at the Magical Place of Free Stuff, they’ll inform you of other local free kids’ events if you get to chatting.

Bonus: While shooting the bookish-parent breeze you can silently chuckle at the library mom uniform: skinny jeans, jewel-tone cardigans, flats, and fashion scarves. It’s basically an unspoken dress code. Apparently nothing says “well-read mom” like a mustard-colored cardigan.

10. Vicarious pets. Do I want to keep a fish tank clean? No thanks. I can barely do the dishes, and can’t be trusted to keep anything other than children alive. Killing house plants is almost a hobby for me. My kids adore observing the library fish and turtle, which, by the way, is older than me! One librarian even lets them feed the fish. I’m not sure if this is actually healthy for the fish. Certainly there is a Library Science course covering fish care, right?

11. You get to feel cool. The library is the one public place where I’m not the dorkiest person present. And I secretly enjoy this novel experience.

12. Free textbooks. After my freshman year of college I stopped shelling out obscene sums for textbooks and wised up to the inter-library loan system. I was able to renew the books for the entire semester using the state-wide service linking all university and college libraries. This system is now available at public libraries in our state and Neil has borrowed all his grad school textbooks this way, saving hundreds of dollars in every course. Another system links many public libraries in our state. Check your local library’s web site or ask a librarian if your state has a similar inter-library loan program.

13. Thrifty throwback. Finding free diversion and soul respite in the library is old-fashioned and wholesome in the best of ways. It’s a great add-on to the Live Like Grandma Challenge, which helps put spending in a historical perspective while keeping finance fun. Plus I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the founder of the first American library is the guy on the $100 bill.

14. Did I mention everything is free?

Compared to cable, gym membership, a weekly coffeehouse drink, an eReader & a couple books a month, buying one toy per month, one children’s outing per month, and purchasing textbooks, the library easily saves us over $3000 per year. In a way, my library card is the most valuable piece of plastic in my purse.

Why do you love the library? How much do you think it saves you each year?

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48 Responses to “That Time I Invented the Kindle…and Why I Still Don’t Have One”

  1. Sarah Noelle says :

    This is great! The library is fantastic, for all the reasons you mention. 🙂 I totally stopped buying books as of the beginning of 2015, and I haven’t looked back. As you say, you’re not only saving money and accumulating less clutter in your house; there are also tons of other benefits.
    Oh, and I would also add to your list that there is great people-watching!

  2. Mrs SSC says :

    I do love the library – although I am the daughter of a librarian, so it may be in my blood. I have to say though – I love my kindle. I think I have only bought 2 books for it over the last 3 years, the rest I rent from the library. But, what I love about the kindle is it easily fits in my pocket and I can carry it around everywhere so I may read at will.

    • Kalie says :

      I can definitely see some mobility advantages for the Kindle, especially for frequent travelers. I am impressed you’ve found so many books through the library–that is great that you have the best of both worlds!

  3. Amy says :

    I don’t have a Kindle, either, but it has more to do with my resistance to spending more time staring at another screen! Plus, I just love reading true books and magazines. Anything I can read “offline”, I do.

    We have a fantastic library, too – although ours does not serve free beverages! We spend a huge amount of time there over the summer – participating in the summer reading program, taking out tons of books and movies, playing in the playroom, and participating in programming, like magic shows, reading to the therapy dog, and music concerts for kids. I feel so grateful to have such a wonderful resource!

  4. Mark says :

    Okay, I am repenting just a little bit for giving my wife a hard time for always going to the library and telling her they’ll soon all be obsolete. My kids do get a lot out of it, though we spend our fair share on library fines.

  5. Hannah says :

    I love that I only have to keep children’s books for two weeks if they come from the library. As much as I want to instill a love for reading in my son, I’m okay with the fact that the large number of machinery based books only come in fortnightly increments.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I get so sick of reading random facts about different vehicles after two weeks! I’ve definitely learned a lot of terms I never knew, though.

  6. Abigail says :

    Well, this is true for most people. Given the number of days neither feel up to leaving the house, though, the physical library isn’t great for us. First of all, we routinely forget to return books — and Tim takes out a bunch at a time. Like, 10 or more. So that’s $1 a day. (And yeah, I’ve tried to do the calendar thing, but I have to remember to actually put it on the calendar. Sigh.)

    And given how much time we’re home all day, plus the aforementioned energy problem, libraries don’t have enough of a DVD selection, and it’s outside the house. Which is why we keep Netflix.

    As for books, we stick to the online library. It automatically deletes if the due date hits, but it also reminds me that I can renew before that happens. And Tim got to listen to The Hunger Games trilogy from the online audiobook. (His ADD can make reading difficult.)

    The textbook thing is brilliant, by the way!

    As for exercise videos, if your TV is connected to the Internet some way (Chromecast, Roku, Smart TV, etc), check out YouTube videos. Or check them out on your phone, I guess. I prefer the full screen experience.

    Given my limitations, I love that the channel Xhit has videos between 8-12 minutes long. It allows me to work up over time to two of them at a time. Then I do cardio. I have a DVD a friend gifted me, but once I get used to that, I go watch a YouTube video by the same instructor.

    • Kalie says :

      I know my grandmother also regrets that she doesn’t have the health & energy to make it to the library regularly anymore. It sounds like you’ve found lots of inexpensive or free substitutes to work around your very real limitations.

  7. Josh says :

    I highly recommend the library & we went there lots growing up for “free” entertainment, our current local one isn’t the best so we usually buy used from or Amazon. I haven’t gotten an e-reader, I like the feel of real paper plus I just don’t like staring at a screen for one more thing.

    • Kalie says :

      I have tried to read eBooks on my computer but really don’t like it. Maybe it’s better on the eReader but I also love old-fashioned paper books.

  8. Luke Fitzgerald says :

    Ahh – the library. A place that became near and dear to my heart this year (or a place I cursed when they didn’t have the books I wanted). Thats a good question. I havent put a price tag on it! I’m sure it’s up there. I go just about every week to drop something off and pick something up.

    Something I have been doing is buying books AFTER I have read them for free. For a while I was doing the opposite and have wasted quite a bit of money. I read The Monk Who Sold His Ferarri at the library, and then a month later got my own copy for my birthday. That’s my system from now on!

    I never knew a post about the library could be so entertaining and informative! Way to go! Ha – at your comment about your fav authors!

  9. Our Next Life says :

    The “home of tomes” — love it. I’m a huge fan of the library, too. Here’s my case for the Kindle, though. We live about seven miles from the library, and in our small town, it’s open only during work hours. So any trip to the library uses more than half a gallon of gas and takes away from work time, which has real costs. The Kindle, which I got on sale for $49, gives me access to unlimited library e-books, which have really gotten a lot better in the least couple years. You still have to wait for some, but can get tons of them instantly. I always have more on the Kindle than I ever have time to read. I would never push someone to spend money on the Kindle if they weren’t inclined to, but I’m positive that it has paid off in our case — not to mention all the free Kindle books that Amazon is always offering.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s great to hear about frugal people using the Kindle frugally. What with being surrounded by great libraries, I can’t really justify one, but it makes sense for other people’s situations.

  10. Michael at NTPNW says :

    I love my kindle- easy to carry around and great to have when waiting to be seen by the Doc. I have tried the library in the past and found it to be overwhelming for me- an issue i’m not about to explain. With the amount of online free books available and other stuff I never find myself low on material -just not enough of time to read it all.

    • Kalie says :

      That has always been my problem with books–too many books, too little time. Glad you find good uses and free books for your Kindle!

  11. Eliza says :

    Apart from it being free (although not technically as you point out) my favourite part is the clutter free aspect. I’ve found that there are so many interesting books out there that I want to read, I never make the time to re-read anything in my collection so why store it when you can borrow it…usually!

  12. DC YAM says :

    You know what, you just might have inspired me to go to the library to work on things tomorrow instead of the coffee shop. We’ll see, though 😉

  13. Anne says :

    No ereader here either. I love to hold a book and I ADORE our library. I also love that if they don’t have a book and I buy a copy… they will store it for me and help me share it with the whole community. And I can still go back and read it any time I like!

  14. Scott says :

    I love my library and my Kindle. We borrow almost all of our books on the Kindle through the library. I have the network turned off so there’s no hassle of having to return them.We also get free magazines on the iPad from the library so we cancelled all of our subscriptions.

  15. Kurt says :

    I love libraries, though I find them a bit overwhelming–sooo many books I want to read! My wife always has at our home a stack of books and movies from our neighborhood library branch. I get the occasional book–do most of my reading online these days it seems. But the feeling one gets just hanging out at the library for half a day, starting with reading those paper newspapers on big wooden sticks, is special!

  16. Heather says :

    I love the library and mostly agree with this list, but you know most libraries let you check books out on your Kindle right? And having one Kindle around is a lot less clutter than library books. Even if you don’t own them, they still take up space in your home. You don’t have to pay for subscriptions and services with a Kindle. They make one that you can just download books via wifi (at the library even!) instead of paying monthly for 3G. Other than downloading books, you don’t need Wifi to use it, thus no subscription necessary. There are also TONS of free books for ereaders. You risk late fines with library books as well. I LOVE the library, don’t get me wrong…but some of these points can be looked at a little differently.

    • Kalie says :

      As I mentioned, the ebooks I want never seem to be available promptly, but I agree that the ebooks are a great service and way to save.

  17. Justin at RootofGood says :

    I tend to agree and love how the library is free. Though I’ve recently discovered the joy of an e-reader. I actually use my phone and find it pretty handy. We also get library e-books for free and we can read them on any of our kindle devices or android devices with kindle app installed.

    My intro to e-readers came by necessity. We set off on a 2 month trip through Mexico. Traveling very light, we didn’t want to take any books with us. So I got the kids a kindle FIRE tablet and I brought my 3 year old smartphone. Plenty of free books between Amazon’s offerings and the public library (that I could access 3000 miles away from home!).

    The e-reader habit stuck for me. Now it’s too easy to whip out the phone and read for a few minutes if I’m stuck at a traffic light, waiting for my order to get done, or sitting in a waiting room for an appointment. I’m reading a real actual (e)book instead of wasting time surfing the net aimlessly. 🙂

    I still don’t own a kindle for myself though. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      That’s so nice that you can use a device you already own–your phone. I could see that being super convenient, especially for travel.

  18. weenie says :

    My kindle was a gift from my sister, it’s 5 years old, looks a bit battered and clunky compared to the new, sleeker and slimmer ereaders now available but it still works.

    When I first got it, I admit that I did spend more money on books but also found that there was a lot of free content you can download. However, the ease of buying/downloading books has meant that I have a lot of unread books on the kindle. I think I will try to not buy ANY kindle books next year.

    That said, I still like the ‘feel’ of reading a physical book so tend to alternate between kindle and books. You make some great points about using the library – I make good use of my local library, it’s the best (and cheapest) way to get to read newly published books.

    I have no idea how much it saves me but if it stops me from spending money, then it’s a good thing!

    • Kalie says :

      There’s definitely a thrifty way to do e-readers. That’s great you’ve been able to hang onto yours, and make use of the library!

  19. Amy L says :

    Yes, there’s lots of free content on the Kindle. I’ve downloaded a lot of classics for free. And some new stuff, too, but that’s not always the greatest quality. lol

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sure there is lots of good free Kindle content; I just know I’d be tempted to buy books, too, since that’s a weakness for me!

  20. Lauren says :

    I do love the library, so much. Not only do we get books from there, we also download audio books for free! And it’s such a great resource for our kids (yes, even the free air conditioning!). And I’ve actually started making money at my library, because they occasionally pay me to do community education talks about social media. 🙂

    But I also started buying books again recently, and this is why: My kids are getting older. I started thinking about how many things I read because I was bored, and they were on the bookshelf. I never would have bought them myself when I was a teen, or even bothered going to the library, but a book on the shelf? Easy cure for boredom. We already have a ton of books, but if I think something is really good, I may buy a copy. I also pick up cheap paper backs ($1 or less) for vacations.

    I loved this post — libraries are great!

    • Kalie says :

      As my kids get older I will definitely be willing to purchase more books (secondhand when possible). I read so much as a kid and I want them to have books at their fingertips like I did.

  21. Allison says :

    Oh, how I wish this was all true in our neck of the woods! I couldn’t agree more about how wonderful a library can be, and when I visit the USA, mostly even better. However, here in North London, the government is cutting and closing right and left, further alienating the less well-off and frugal folks (not to mention librarians losing their jobs!). So libraries have shorter opening hours, fewer new books, fewer events, fewer staff. So if anyone does have a library near you, please, get a card, get cards for your kids, and don’t let this valuable resource dwindle away in your neighborhood!

    • Kalie says :

      I’m so sorry to hear that about the libraries where you live. I am a huge British literature fan and it doesn’t seem right for London of all places to be cutting back in this area.

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