Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Green Travel Technique: The Lending Library

Until recently, I worked in an office with a team of 4 or 5 travelers; I'm still working with this group, but I'm now working remotely. Before I left, I was able to help establish a lending library for our department. Being that we all travel quite a bit, some travel distractions are required. For most of us, that includes books and magazines.

We had all been purchasing printed materials and maintaining individual libraries that would only be read once and then forget about. By pooling our resources, we accomplished several things.

1. Reduction of the costs of travel distractions.
2. Exposing coworkers to genres that they might not otherwise explore (such as books on writing and grammar).
3. Reduction of the environmental impact by circulating materials to others, and by buying used books.

In addition to these primary objectives, establishing a lending library gave me a good excuse to subscribe to Wired and Popular Mechanics.

What to Stock:
While the lending library wasn't originally my idea, I did my best to give it a good start. We figured that a stock of books and DVDs would be the most useful, so I scoured my DVD collection for some unloved DVDs. This is how I finally got rid of my twice-watched copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that I'd been carrying around with me for far too many years. The person that gave it to me was well intentioned, but I really couldn't get into it. I mean, you don't know that it's a science fiction movie until the last 10 minutes. I also unloaded a copy of Gladiator which I had never gotten around to unwrapping.

As for books, my personal library consists of mostly cookbooks, which hardly makes for interesting airplane reading for most people (I guess I'm in the minority here), so I decided to track down some books. Since there was no budget for this project, I started hitting the local thrift shops that specialized in used books. The books were cheap, in plentiful supply and the selection was decent. The only problem with this was that I was only buying books that I wanted to read. This consisted primarily of Science Fiction and James Bond novels.

My wife noticed this trend in the small stacks of books that I would bring home, and she offered to come along with me on my next outing to ensure that there was a little more balance in the initial selection of the lending library. She has read a lot more books than I have, most of these being decidedly not Science Fiction, so I accepted her offer.

Amongst the next group of books was a well-loved copy of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice which I still haven't read. There is a version titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I will read in the eventuality that a copy makes it my way. I can just imagine it now...

"Mr. Darcy has turned into a zombie! Quick, shoot him in the head with a Victorian era
elephant gun!"

Yeah, I'd read that. If I do get a copy, I'll give you one guess as to where it will wind up after I've finished it (some of my coworkers really love zombies).

It was about this time that Amazon was having one of their regular magazine sales, so I took a look. For about $45, I was able to buy two-year subscriptions to Popular Mechanics and Wired as well as a one-year subscription to Mac Life.

As soon as we had a fairly decent stock of books, DVDs and a place to keep everything, the announcement was made that the library was open. It runs on the following system:
You can take anything you want; just bring it back when you are done. Add something to the library as you wish.
How it's Going:
The lending library started off slowly, but as the magazines started coming in, it began to gain some momentum with new books showing up regularly. I started to move magazines over two months old to a common area, and then I'd recycle those after another two months.

Since the initial start of the lending library, we've expanded to include language handbooks and maps.

While it is true that electronic books, GPS devices and pocket translators are becoming cheaper and easier to use, they will always be limited to the batteries that you can carry. For now, I'll stick to printed material.

The Next Step:
Right now, the lending library is limited to one department, but I hope that this is eventually extended to all of the travelers within the company once a little more momentum is gained.

What I would really love to see would be for there to be similar, larger lending libraries that would be available to the public. Think of how great that would be. These libraries could be run by cheery, book-loving government employees. Nah, it would never work.

Your Turn:
What do you think of having a small lending library for just a handful of people? Have you started something similar at your workplace? How did it go? Please leave a comment below.

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1 comment:

  1. When I lived in the UK there was a lending library at Heathrow. They were starting a program that you could buy or rent a book and return it at your destination airport. I never tried it but I always thought it was a good idea.

    We've also got a lending library at my home office. Unfortunately it's only technical and business related materials.