The Sunday Salon: My Library and the “Hawthorne Effect”

I’m feeling a bit guilty; I’m afraid I’ve neglected my local library.  I have a huge pile of books to read between now and the end of the year, and they’re all sitting on my shelves.  And that means less than 30% of my reads will be library loans this year, down from 40% in 2009.

There’s really only one explanation for this:  the Hawthorne effect. Last year I participated in the “Support your Local Library” reading challenge, which meant I paid more attention to finding books at my library, instead of bookshops and swaps.  This year’s library use is not much different from 2008.  This is mildly fascinating if you’re into statistics and the effect of measurement on behavior.

Hmmm … not that fascinating, is it?

Let’s move on.   As penance, I would like to sing the praises of the Chester County public library system.  Comprised of 18 branches, it serves one of Pennsylvania’s largest counties with a population of about half a million people.  In 2008, library patrons checked out more than three and a half million items*.  My local branch is a valuable community resource, with wi-fi and computer resources, bi-lingual services, a partnership with the local arts alliance, storytime for children, and bi-weekly visits from reading therapy dogs.  When I come across a new book I’d like to read, I always check my library first, and I’m rarely disappointed.  Not only do they have classics and bestsellers, but works I thought might be considered more obscure, like Irene Sabatini’s The Boy Next Door (read my review).  Even though my local branch is pretty small, they can draw on the vast resources of the entire system.  The local library director is passionate about his work, and it shows.  Over the six years I’ve lived in this community, he has steadily expanded the library’s services despite continued budget pressure.  I don’t want to get all political here, but I sincerely hope the library system continues to be strong, despite recent changes in political power at both the federal and state level.

So what are you reading this weekend? Having enjoyed At Mrs Lippincote’s early last week (here’s my review), I moved on to The Finkler Question, winner of the 2010 Booker Prize.  It wasn’t my cuppa, but now I can move on to Emma Donoghue’s Room, which I’ve been eager to read for some time.

Have a great week …

* Strategic Plan for the Chester County Library System, 2009-2013


Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

3 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: My Library and the “Hawthorne Effect”

  1. Under the Poppy

    I enjoyed your Hawthorne Effect bit! But I’m kind of a nerd that way. 😉 Have you read The Drunkard’s Walk or Chances Are… ? Both are really fun pop math books about stats and probability respectively. In case you need more nerdiness. lol

    I loooved my Colorado library; about the only thing I was sad about leaving in CO was the library system (the other being my best friend of course!). But so far my new one seems pretty good too: I’ve visited a couple branches, checked out a few books, and it seems solid. Although the kids’ sections aren’t as cool as in CO (I live with my 4-year-old niece). Anyway, I’m rambling, but I feel so grateful for US public libraries!

    I just finished up The Leavenworth Case, a late 19th century US mystery novel just re-printed by Penguin; it was awesome. Now I’m in the middle of Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh and Marcus Borg’s The God We Never Knew. Good weekend reading!

    • Ignore that Under the Poppy bit. I write my comments in a Notepad file, and I also use it to note down books that sound interesting while I’m blog-browsing! lol

    • Eva, funny you mention The Drunkard’s Walk. My daughter has that book (nerd begets nerd, I guess), and now I’m thinking I really should borrow it sometime!

      I’m glad your new library is proving to be a decent resource for you. One of the toughest parts about moving is finding the “replacements” for those things that were important in your previous town. Good luck!

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