Chances are, you know where your local library is.
Often found in a historic building in the centre of town, maybe with a great café onsite. There are more than 300 public libraries in Aotearoa, the majority being operated by local government, with an estimated 40 million books and digital items borrowed from their shelves each year.
Receiving a junior borrower card is a rite of passage for many young Kiwis, and one that can be a catalyst for a lifelong love of reading. Regardless of age, the act of singling out a spine amongst hundreds of others - perhaps for the interesting font or hues, or the familiarity of a title that’s been at the top of the bestseller list - never gets old. Feeling the well-thumbed pages, the weight of a heavy hardback or the wavy edges that never recovered from the previous borrower’s bath-time reading, all add to the experience of borrowing a library book and immersing yourself in its story.
In fact, hiring a book that you’re excited to read can be akin to the feeling of purchasing a new item of clothing/homeware/skincare/make-up/whatever-floats-your-boat. You know, even if you’re not often inclined to a spot of retail therapy, it’s hard not to be somewhat excited by buying things, when most of us have grown up in a society that teaches us to always be wanting more.
As we grow older, and have more money to spend, the simple thrills of childhood, such as getting lost in a book, are all too often swapped for a different thrill – the purchase of something new.
Open Instagram and you suddenly realise there’s so much stuff you never knew you needed, and you need it now! (Preferably with free shipping and a 10 percent discount code).
It’s something we’ve all experienced, whether it’s spying the perfect winter coat in a shop window or saving up for months for our first ‘proper’ handbag, there’s a euphoric high in knowing we’ve just nailed a purchase.
However, the downside of this high? Like most others, it’s temporary. Once a purchase no longer feels new, no longer catches your eye, we’re right back where we started. And the shopping cycle starts all over again.
Psychologists call this the ‘hedonic treadmill’, which put simply, says that materialism and a constant need to ‘Keep up with the Joneses’ ultimately undermines our well-being and makes us less happy.
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and author of several books on the subject says that in always wanting the new ‘it’ bag, the car with all the mod-cons or the latest iPhone, we’re trying to imitate the consumer behaviour of those with more disposable income than us.
“We continuously raise the bar for what we want or feel we need in order to be happy – and the hedonic treadmill spins faster with ambition,” he writes.
It’s exhausting, quite frankly, not to mention conflicting, when we think about our outrageous consumerism in the face of the climate crisis. We’re made to constantly be wanting new things and better versions of the things we already have, as well as feeling guilty for how our shopping habits are contributing to environmental destruction.
But what if we fed this hunger for ‘newness’ with novels, magazines, even encyclopaedias from our local library? The beautiful thing about library books is that we read them, love them (or not), discuss them with our friends and whānau, leave the big ones on our coffee tables as stylish pieces of décor, and then return them and start all over again.
Reading helps us to stay at the centre of the cultural zeitgeist, or lose ourselves in the history of hundreds of years ago. With books available on literally everything, there’s bound to be something to suit even those who claim they’re “not much of a reader”.
Wiking even suggests in his book, The Little Book of Lykke – The Danish search for the world’s happiest people, that a visit to your local library is an activity that will save money, as well as increase happiness. He says in ancient Egypt and Greece, libraries had signs above the door telling visitors they were entering a place of healing for the soul. With the construction of community-centric, architecturally significant libraries in some of Aotearoa’s main centres, such as Tūranga in Christchurch's Cathedral Square, it’s clear that this ethos still rings true.
An afternoon trip to the library can often be the solution to the conundrum of “I want to do something, but don’t want to spend money”, or during the depths of a New Zealand winter when the rain is coming down in sheets, but you haven’t left the house all day. Wandering the hushed floors and selecting a few reads can be an enjoyable pause from the rush of urban life in itself, as well as then leaving with a bag full of books to while away the afternoon. It’s like going shopping without having to spend a penny, and the reward can go a lot further.
With international travel likely off the cards for a while yet, the pages of books set in far flung places can provide us with the next best thing. Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party perfectly depicts the brutal, yet beautiful, Scottish Highlands; Andre Agassi’s Open engulfs the reader in the intense humidity of Florida, and whilst reading Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants, you can almost hear the gentle lap of waves on Hawaiian shores.
Aotearoa is lucky to have a quality and extensive library catalogue, with a public library in the vicinity of many of our 5 million people. Most books are free to borrow, with the exception of new releases - usually in the price range of an oat milk flat white - and unless someone else also wants to read it, can be renewed several times.
Although with borrowing library books, we're not teaching ourselves to steer away from the cycle of consumerism, after all, constantly hiring something new is a reward cycle within itself, using the library is one way to satiate our yearning for newness, but in a far more wallet and earth-friendly way.
As the days grow colder, and your Instagram feed is positively screaming at you to buy something new on the daily, perhaps the answer doesn’t lie at Sylvia Park, but somewhere a little closer to home.
If borrowing, rather than buying, a book doesn’t quite satisfy that longing for a new purchase, consider heading into your local independent bookstore. They’re often like a mini library themselves, with helpful ‘librarians’ on hand to recommend a good read.