N.B. The post title refers to non-fiction research-type or reference books. Always buy or rent your fiction books. Really, I mean it. (Not that I’m biased or anything, pinkie swear 😉 )
So I’m in the throes, or throws, depending on the day, of writing the third WWI-Interwar novel (tentative title is “Against a Rising Tide.”) Which means research again, in a period I really don’t enjoy reading about. Europe between 1918 and 1938 generated a great deal of depressing history in my opinion, and it is one of those periods I’d rather skip over. There are too many very-human follies and woes on display for me to enjoy reading about the politics and economics of the time. But I need it for background, and to make the alternate history aspect work, so on I slog. The regional libraries do not have much about this period unless you are interested in a few biographies, NSDAP-related stuff, some Weimar culture, or aviation. So how do I get material that is not on the Internet?
I have three options. I can purchase the books I need. Or I can get them via Interlibrary Loan (since the Harrington Library Consortium members don’t have them and neither does the closest academic library). Or I can now rent them, electronically or in print, via Amazon. Which option do I choose? It depends on the price, the topic, and the size of the book.
There are a few general references that I have ended up buying outright. Sometimes they were actually cheaper that way even after adding in shipping. A few I could not find via ILL. And they are all volumes that I can use as material for other projects or teaching, so the cost amortizes pretty well. Many are not available new, either, so I’m not depriving a fellow author of income.
For academic monographs and esoteric works that have specialty topics, or lots and lots of pictures and diagrams, I’ll ILL or rent in hard-copy if possible. As much as I’d like to encourage the academic writers, $350 for an economic history, or $140 used for a political history work (edited essays) is too much for my blood. Although I still have yet to find a history book that tops the $600 water-law book. The librarians passed it around to pet, because it was the most expensive single volume that had come through Rural County Library. All I pay is a couple of dollars shipping, although sometimes I’ll add a donation to the Friends’ Fund if it is a massive tome. And while some of the books are available to rent electronically, I’ve found that graphics do not always work on my e-reader. And other times there are major formatting problems with the images that make them useless. Twice I ran across e-books where the tables and illustrations had been removed and I had to read the book while sitting by my computer, going back and forth to the book’s web-site to find the images. Nope. Not again.
Which brings me to rental. I have rented academic books three times, and I like the process as a compromise. It costs more than ILL, but far less than the book, even used. And these were pretty narrow-focus monographs that I certainly didn’t want to buy and keep on my shelves. Yes, I had to read them within a month unless I wanted to pay for longer. I never did. And the downloads went smoothly, I had no trouble with accessing them, and had I taken notes on my e-reader, those would have been available after the rental expired. The author gets some income, I get the information without having another tome to lug around, and everyone comes out ahead.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of Interlibrary Loan. It supports my local library, it is very inexpensive, and as long as I am not on a tight deadline, I prefer it if I am not going to buy the book outright. Not everyone has access to the service, and some books are not allowed to circulate. I notice Texas Tech, for example, has added a warning label to their ILL wrapper that the fines for lost/damaged ILL books start at $125 and go up. Apparently they got burned and had to tighten their policies.
I’m glad ILL and book rentals are now available. I’ve gotten spoiled by how much research I can do at home. The only real downside is that since I’m at home, when I finish a hard day’s digging and note taking, my own cooking awaits me. And the cat’s performance is lousy when it comes to acting as maid service and tidying my room while I’m in the office.