Libraries are wonderful institutions and the Reading Central Library has provided me with a lot of good books to read. Some cultural observers think that, in the Digital Age, printed books, like newspapers, will die off but I strongly disagree. Something about the tactile experience when reading seems so fundamentally human, I hope it is never replaced by "digital book readers", several of which have come to market and failed. However, I feel the same way about the print version of newspapers and they are clearly under seige these days.
I was amused when I went to the Reading Library to get a library card; as a recent arrival here and someone who lives in a serviced apartment, I had neither a bank statement nor a utility bill, the common proofs of residence, to present. However, on the strength of my passport, I was allowed a "Junior Membership". This did not, in fact, restrict me to the children’s books but simply limited my borrowing to 2 books at a time, plus 1 CD and 1 DVD (more on these last items in a minute).
The Reading Library has a rather unusual book shelving system. Many fiction books are shelved in "A-Z by author name" fashion. However, there are "specialty subject" shelves as well, such as "Action & Adventure", "Adult Crime Fiction", and "Historical". It gets a little confusing when you find, as I have, that books by the same author and of the same genre are sprinkled around in all these areas. Locating a specific book is sometimes a challenge!
However, there is a modern stand of PCs, with a good catalogue search, so that helps a lot.
I’ve found no big lag between here and the US in terms of when books are released. Some of my acquaintance assure me that books are published here before being released in the US but I see no proof of that either. In general, the books in the Reading Library are not in as good condition as those commonly found in the Fairfax County library system, for example, though they’re not abused or torn up. That may say something about circulation rates being higher here or the US penchant for replacing perfectly good stuff when it shows a little age.
As I said, you can also "borrow" DVDs and CDs, however you must pay a rental fee or 1-2 pounds to do so, ala Blockbuster. I found this revenue center a bit surprising in a public library but that’s today’s economic reality, I guess. The library also features good-sized sections of books in several foreign languages reflective of the local immigrant communities.
I give thanks for the library here; it was a great comfort to have books to read for entertainment when I arrived. In these often-mercenary times, the idea of a free, lending library is just fabulous.