How Much Does a Free Library Book Cost?

Town_Library,_Peterborough,_NH“Time is money” is an old saying in English, meaning of course that your time is valuable. The time you spend doing one thing is time you are not spending doing something else, something that might give you more money or benefits.

Most of us don’t think about the time it takes us to travel to places as being part of the “price” or cost of using their products or services. For example, if you want to borrow (get something from another person to use temporarily) a book from a public library in the United States, you don’t need to actually give any money to the library. The book is “free.”

But is it really free?

In order to borrow a book (and I’m talking now about paper books, not an electronic ones), you have to get in your car, get on the bus, or walk in order to get to the library. The trip therefore costs you both time and, if you drive or take a bus, money. And since time is money, we can think of the effort of going to the library in all cases as a having a certain “price.”

So borrowing a “free” book from the library does in fact cost you something. Now, generally speaking, the more expensive something is, the less likely you are to buy it. As price increases, sales (things sold) decrease.

This means that if you live a very long distance from the library, you are less likely to pay that “price” to use it, and will therefore borrow fewer books.

Studies on public library use have found exactly that: the farther (greater distance) you lived from a public library, the less likely you are to borrow and read books from the library.

Communities that have more (and better) libraries do, in fact, read more, and children in those communities do better at reading in school! The reason is simple: when you lower (decrease) the price of something, more people will “buy” it. Living closer to a library decreases the cost of using it, and increases your likelihood (chance; possibility) of using it.

This relationship holds true (is true) for many different kinds of services. A recent article in Time reported on the average (typical) distance Americans live from certain kinds of people, businesses, and services. The article didn’t mention this relationship between access (the ability to get to or to use something) and the amount that people visit these places, but it is interesting to think about how the “price” of getting to these places influences how much they are used.

Here are some typical distances found in the article that are true for at least 50% of all Americans (distances are given sometimes in miles, sometimes in minutes needed to travel by car):

  • Mom – 30 miles. This is true for married Americans, and means that the average (married) American lives within 30 miles of his or her mother.
    >> I live 1,985 miles from my mother, since I’m in California and she’s in Minnesota.
  • Body of water – 60 minutes. This would include living near a lake or an ocean.
    >> I live eight minutes from a body of water (the Pacific Ocean).
  • Starbucks – 20 miles. This is true for 80% of Americans, but the distance is much closer for those living in big cities like Los Angeles.
    >> My nearest Starbucks is 1.1 miles from my house. There are more than 25 Starbucks within just five miles of where I live, and probably close to a hundred within 20 miles!
  • YMCA – 5 miles. The YMCA is a well-known, low-cost place with gyms and swimming pools.
    >> I live 2.6 miles from a YMCA.
  • McDonalds – 3 miles.
    >> I live 2.3 miles from a McDonald’s, very close to the national average. But I almost never eat there, so here even a low price doesn’t get me to buy!
  • Gun Dealer – 10 miles. A gun dealer is a person or store that sells guns for hunting or other uses. An amazing 98% of all Americans live within 10 miles of a place that sells guns.
    >> I don’t know how many miles I live from a gun dealer, and hope I never need to get a gun!

How far do you live from your Mom, a Starbucks, and a McDonalds?


Image credit: Town Library, Petersborough, New Hampshire, site of the first free public library in the United States, Wikipedia

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13 Responses to How Much Does a Free Library Book Cost?

  1. Marcos says:

    Hi everybody

    Interesting questions Dr. Jeff and sometimes I think about some of this questions, since a Big Mc. here is about U$$ 5,50 it is not a low price for a unhealthy food and with same price we can have a to go ( delivery ) with healthy food here.
    So different realities, country, culture …. but here we go
    I live in a kind of condo club of family house about 6.2 miles of downtown.
    My mom – 6.2 miles
    Boby of water – Atlantic Ocean, 3 hours by and We have a lake on here in my condo.
    Starbucks – 40 min
    YMCA – field to play sockers, to play tennis, gym, pools, etc. we have here on condo where I live.
    McDonald’s – 4 miles, but I almost never eat there too, may be once a year. I don’t like that kind of food.
    Gun Dealer – You can’t buy a gun here in my country or most of people have hard work to get licence to get one legally

    Nice day Jeff and everyone

  2. Dan says:

    Hello everyone

    Thank you Jeff, that was interesting.

    Far from my mother…. not enough. I do not want to get into that.

    Living 12 miles from the nearest city was one of the main reasons I bought a e-Reader five years ago, give or take.

    I do think about the cost and time for getting to point A to B. That’s why I carpool with a dude.
    Unfortunately nowadays people overuse their cars for unnecessary reasons. And that, as you guys always tell us is especially true in LA with the car culture you guys have over there.
    But that is the same right here. I guess is a global thing.

    I do not go out very often for buying or in order to get services. In recent years I have found myself more and more using and shopping online.

    For example, my English school is 6.000 miles from where I live. It’s in LA and I am in Italy.

    Thank you guys, I’ll see if I can think something more on the subject later this week.

  3. Betty says:

    Thank you Dear Jeff, this is such a funny article.

    When I read your question: “How far do you live from your Mom, a Starbucks, and a McDonalds?”, I thought your questions are too hard for me to answer.

    In Hong Kong where I live there is one McDonalds in the shopping mall almost downstairs. We have a Pacific Coffee in the shopping mall as well, but no Starbucks. The nearest Starbucks might be is about two miles away.

    My mother is living in my heart now because she had finished her duty as a human being and returned to nature about 15 years ago. So, no distance at all.

    BTW, Starbucks and Pacific coffee are very popular with young people in Hong Kong. They use them like their libraries which allow students to discuss their studies inside. Librarians in Hong Kong are very annoying. They come to you and ask you to stop talking if they have detected any noise from you.

    Thanks again Jeff, nice article.
    Betty 🙂

  4. Tania says:

    Our friendship to you,


  5. Tania says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AECIO from the green Brazil!
    Our friendship to you,


  6. Dan says:

    Thank you Tania.
    I have just completed my 44th revolution around our beautiful Sun.

  7. Parviz says:

    Hi every body,
    This interesting post from Dr. Jeff was a thought provoking one and came with a lot of consequences.

    My answer to all those questions would be NO. It costs me Zero, I since newer go, do or see any of these.

    I never go to the library. I never have gone in 20 years. The books are Old, the people are rude
    and it takes a lot of work to register.
    I have a small library of most interesting books which I have collected over the years, and two sets of computers, a professional and a usual-internet-going one.
    If aspire reading a book I simply reach over to the shelves.
    And to read news I just log in the Internet, with no effort.
    — I live almost 200 miles from the nearest sea, which I visit every 5 years.
    — The most thing that I really feel missing in my life is, yes, My Mom, who died many years ago, and left me with a lot of regret and pain.
    When she was around I used to take her for granted. I lived far from her for most of my life, visited her every 3 years.
    But when she died, I slowly began to realize, to my spare, that, I will never see her again.
    And It is not possible for me to fill the missing years, what so ever.
    It wasn’t my mother seeing that costs me a lot, It’s her absence that is breaking me down.
    There is not a day going by that I wouldn’t miss her.

  8. Parviz says:

    And it is not possible for me to make up the lost years, what so ever.
    And Dan,

    How does it feel to be old?

  9. Takayuki says:

    Except gun dealer(and YMCA, but I have a similar one), I have all of them within 10 minutes by my bicycle.
    I’m living a city which has some good reputation from Asian area about its accessibility with good living environment. Although I myself don’t have any knowledge about living in other place for comparison.

    By the way, I doubt your premise that we don’t take traveling costs into account.
    I detest a person like “The Grey Gentlemen” of Michael Ende. But unfortunately I am…

  10. emiliano says:

    Parviz, you have touched my heart deeply.

    Yes, I know what you are feeling and what you are talking about.

    I have my mon close to me for years and years after I was married. In fact she and my father came home frequently
    and we, Cuca, the girls, and me, went to be with her and him (my mom and father) nearly just every week as they
    have a house in the mountains close Madrid and the family were together every week end for years and years.

    After that happy time my mother was sick, her mind weaked, and finally she was in a carehose for old peaple.
    I coudln´t loof after her as my house was little and my three girls were living with us.

    It was really sad as I was very close to my dear mother.
    In fact always I have been close to her always as I was the younger man with two sisters.

    When she died, 2008 being 93 years old, she nearly had lost her mind, but I really love her and
    she loved me every day I went to see her. She always knew me as he son.

    Sincé then every day I remember my dear mom missing her very very much.
    Remembering her face, her touch, her kisses, her voice, and her eyes or proximity
    to me.

    So yes, Parviz, I know your feelings well and you have described them really well, they
    touch me till the point of writing herre once again.

    Thank you Parviz for your words.


  11. Parviz says:

    Hi Emiliano,

    Yes, we barely appreciate our parents. I used to blame here for every thing.
    And she loved me very much.
    She used to said to me crying “you deny that I love you very much. But my fear is when it comes for me to go, I die when we are far from each other. And I am staring at the door for you to show up. But you never come to see me for a goodbye”.
    And that was exactly what happened.
    I knew she was going to die.
    She was on the hospital bed, very weak. (as my brother said).
    Waiting to see me for the last time.
    But I didn’t show up for a goodbye, as I was foretold many years ago.
    Later, my brother said, she died in peace. And wishing good luck for Parviz.
    Now, 6 years after her voyage to heaven, I see her in my dreams know and them.
    I see her happy and always with a smile.
    Like and angel.
    She takes care of me.
    take care my friend
    I am glad you showed up.

  12. emiliano says:

    It is very sad Parviz, really very sad, but she is living as far as you remember her the way you do.

    Life and feelings are very difficult of understanding. and I could tell you an example of my words.

    Since a long time my dear wife Cuca is sick, Little by Little she is loosing her movements till the
    point she can´t do nearly nothing without help. Scarcely she could feed herself now or write
    something on the keyboard, not with a pen or even sign her own name on a paper, because
    her fingers don´t work propperly. She can´t hold the pen strongly to write and as the time
    is passing by her helth conditition is worst.
    You know we have three daughters, Cuca was the best mother a woman could be with her

    Now the girls are adult, one is in Demmark, Copenhaguen, scarcely she has time to phone
    her mother at least once by week, not, even one by month, not, she is very very busy to
    do such a thing. Always studing and working, no time for anything more.

    Other is in Madrid, living one hour or less by the tube from her house to mother´s home,
    it is the same, there is a long long time she didn´t come to see us. Next December could
    be four years withoul seeing her or having a call or a mial. Nothing.
    Last september was her birthday, I sent her a happybirthday mail and said her we want
    to see her, not a reply till the momento.

    What has happened?, I don´t really know.
    Sincerely, I DON´T KNOW., and I could tell you I have sent her mails, call phones and
    just now I am at the point of throwint the towel on the ring as I don´t know what to do.

    The last daughte who lives two thousand or more kilometers from here is coming next
    11 of november. She writes her mom every day since the year 2001 that she went
    to Canarias Island.
    Every year she comes to see us and her mother.
    My dear Cuca lives to read her mails, to see all the things she sent her mom by the web,
    files, links, and so on. Even Cuca writes every morning a long mail to our daughter.

    She is writing two or three hours some time, as it is very hard for her, but Cuca
    doesn´t care about her effort, she wants to write our daughte and this morning task
    of Reading Eva´s mail and replying her, mantains Cuca alive and it is the best
    moment of her full day.

    Yes, it is the first time I write all this here, life is so, and I am really very sorry for my
    two other daughters as once her mother, or her father, is gone there is nothing more
    to do, they have gone without their presence, without their loving sight, and suddenly
    the two girls can´t do NOTHING to have a good nice feeling inside their souls.

    It is very very sad, and very difficult for a father or mother of understanding.

    Why? or what for? I don´t really know.

    My best dear Parviz, you have done the miracle of getting out my feelings till the
    point of writing here in our Blog my sorrows.

    Don´t be sorry for us, be sorry for them, for the two girls who are adults already
    and have their heart nearly dry.


  13. Val says:

    Hi, everybody! As for me, I live with my mom, so it’s absolutely free for me to see her. Regarding other things mentioned in this article, we don’t have them in my city. For example, there are no Starbucks or McDonalds in my country. Of course, we have fast food restaurants or cafes that serve coffee, but they have other names. I live 50 meters from a pretty nice cafe. I had so many first dates there=) As for Gun Dealer, I don’t know, I suppose that we have some stores for outdoor people where you can buy guns for hunting. But it’s prohibited to have guns for other purposes in Kazakhstan. Body of water… there is the river in my city, I guess it’s about 3 km from where I live. I almost never be there, I would better live somewhere near the ocean. And… the nearest gym is 100 meters from my home. It’s quite expensive, though. I mean money here, not time.=)

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