Back Away from the Pricey Cookbook: 4 Reasons to Head to the Library Instead

A trip to the public library this weekend reaffirmed what we all know: libraries are awesome!

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But as a cooking resource, my bet is that libraries — which offer endless opportunities to expand your culinary education — are sadly underused. So today, I’m coming to you with four reasons why you should put off buying that glossy new cookbook and invest in a library card instead.   

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The most obvious reason why you should pick up a library card is the cost. An annual membership to the Edmonton Public Library sets you back a mere $12 and gives you access to an impressive range of cookbooks, including those glossy celebrity chef hardcovers that come in at upwards of $40 per book. Do the math and you’ve got yourself one shiny book or three years of access to an awesome library with change to spare. 

Now, sure, you don’t get to keep the books at the end of the day, but keep reading and you’ll see that that may not be such a bad thing after all!  

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The internet is a fantastic resource for food: online magazines, blogs and recipe-sharing sites offer opportunities for individuals to review, improve and update recipes pretty much as they’re posted. As a result of this interactive process, we cooks and eaters have an easy time of locating guaranteed-to-be-great recipes on the web.

To be worthy of investment, then, a cookbook – which is infinitely more difficult to update and improve once it’s out in print – should offer up something special. And while online reviews may guarantee that so-and-so’s latest installment of Eight New Ways to Eat Cheese is going to revolutionize your thinking, you may want to take pause before hitting the purchase button. Because, as this piece in the New York Times points out, online reviews may not be as honest as we think. 

Now, of course, you can flip through the book at the store, but a much better test is to have the book available to you come dinnertime. So test run a copy from the library. Only then will you really know whether you’re put off by the lack of photos, whether you’re not willing to put in the hours it takes to track down obscure ingredients and tools, or whether the recipes that taste so good at your favourite restaurant haven’t been scaled down quite right to create winning results at home.

Sure, you might have to wait a bit before you get your hands on the book you’ve been eyeing, but fortunately a few weeks’ delay isn’t a matter of life and death. In the long run, test running will ensure that your cookbook collection is stocked with well-loved resources rather than expensive duds. 

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Mainstream bookstores, no disrespect to them, offer a fairly limited selection of cookbooks. And while online stores and web resources may offer up a greater variety of options, you’ve got to have searching skills or luck on your side to come across the gems. At the library, on the other hand, all you need is a bit of patience and you’ll stumble across all sorts of interesting things: a beautifully photographed introduction to Japanese cuisine, an antique exploration of fine wine, a book that makes bread easy.   

Because the investment is low, you’re free to indulge your curiosities. And if you don’t get around to reading that 400-page tome about éclairs or can’t find the time to peruse through your borrowed book on Christmas feasts until January, well, no big deal!  

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A library card will, of course, give you access to more than just the cookbook section. Flip through a work of fiction or browse the travel section and you’ll be sure to stumble upon dinner inspiration in no time, at which point you can head back to the cookbook section to get yourself outfitted for a culinary adventure. Or, you know, you can simply borrow a book, no visions of food necessary. Either way, get thee to a library!

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