Trying to buy nothing new for a year is definitely challenging me to think outside the box when it comes to my consumption habits. In other ways, however, Subverting Overconsumption is requiring me to play some things old skool. It turns out that sometimes the solution I’m looking for has always been there, just waiting for me to notice it.

Take the public library for example. This past Saturday I visited the central branch of the Regina Public Library (RPL) to get myself a library card, something I haven’t had since I was about ten years old. While I was there I visited the art gallery that’s housed on the library’s premises, and checked out the schedule for the RPL theatre, Regina’s only repertory cinema. I received a brief introduction to the library’s services from a RPL staff-person, got my card, and before leaving spent a bit of time browsing the stacks and the online catalogue.

One visit was all it took to fall in love with my public library! I feel particularly lucky to have moved to a city where the library seems so especially excellent, and where the central branch is only a few blocks from my house. It’s possible that all city libraries are as cool as the RPL, but to be honest, I’ve had my head up my ass too long to know one way or another. For the past 20 years I’ve been completely oblivious to this most excellent of public spaces/services.

I’m not sure why the public library disappeared from my radar for so long. Living the majority of my adult life in a city where my first language wasn’t the official one probably had something to do with it. Plus I think I just got caught up in the romance of owning books. There’s just something undeniably sexy about having one’s own library. When I visit someone’s home for the first time I invariably check them out via their books, and I assume nothing less of my houseguests. There’s cultural capital in having interesting books on one’s shelf. (It doesn’t matter that I often buy fabulous sounding books only to have them sit on the bookshelf for months or years before I get around to reading them.)

When I decided to try to buy nothing new for a year I was scared that not having access to new books would make me out of touch and ill-informed. So thank heavens for the RPL. As I begin to update my ideas about what a public library has to offer I realize that things have likely changed a little in the 20 years since I had my last library card. For example, the Internet and digital media happened. On my way into the library on Saturday I passed a youngish guy with an armload of DVDs, and before that moment it had honestly never occurred to me that it was possible to borrow DVDs (for free!) from the public library. It turns out the RPL has 11,000 DVDs to choose from, a collection I can browse online from the privacy of my own home. I may never have to set foot in a Blockbuster again!

I know how all this must sound to you open-minded and intelligent public-service utilizing citizens out there. It’s like I just woke up from a 20-year coma and am stunned by how far the world has come while I was asleep. The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes it’s the simplest things that this project is getting me to notice, just by forcing me to take a little extra time to think about the ways I consume. Things like the public library that have always been there, right under my nose and free, seem incredibly exciting and innovative. In the case of the library, the very thing that makes it so special – its accessibility – might be the same thing that makes it so easy to take it for granted. As one of our last truly public spaces, my fear is that dimwits like me will keep sleeping through the wonders of the library until it does finally disappear into the oblivion

Some facts that make me love the RPL even more (courtesy of the RLP website):

  • “The RPL Film Theatre began as a community film society in the mid-1960s. We are the only cinema in the city to consistently present and support critically acclaimed Canadian, foreign and independent films.” (Adult admission is $6 or $9 for a double feature.)
  • “The Dunlop Art Gallery is dedicated to engaging, researching and presenting a diverse range of visual artwork…We are fortunate to be located within the Regina Public Library. A place people go looking for answers. At the gallery we pose questions.”
  • “Library Art Rentals: There are currently over 200 works of historic and contemporary paintings and graphic art by Canadian artists. This collection circulates through loans to individual patrons and organizations with a Regina Public Library borrower’s card for a modest fee. Works are not available for sale.”
  • “Homebound Service: Available for Regina residents of all ages who, for reasons of ill health, disability or age are unable to visit the Library; are unable to leave their homes for a period of three months or longer.”
  • Internet, free of charge.