Books, Reading and Lending Libraries



Note to millennials: This is an example of a book from a lending library. These were generally small  businesses that rented books for pennies a day and specialized in current literature and somewhat racy material that wasn’t available at the public library. (Hence the line in “Chinatown”: Sir, this is not a lending library, it’s the Hall of Records.” )

This 1959 example, by Times book editor Robert Kirsch, rented for a nickel a day with a minimum of 15 cents, about $1.23 in 2014 dollars, and was apparently offered by the Guild Library on Hollywood Boulevard. Lending libraries were part of the literary landscape in America until the 1970s, but I don’t recall ever seeing one after that.

This copy of “In the Wrong Rain” (which is not much of a book) is listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $10.40.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1959, Books and Authors, Found on EBay, Libraries and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Books, Reading and Lending Libraries

  1. moviepas says:

    Sounds rather expensive to me in those days. In my country we had a lot of private shop libraries and we bought a Moms & Pops store that had been half a lending library from the early 1950s and the next owner scrapped them and opened it out selling toys and light meals as well. He needed to do that to be able to legally sell milk which was a licensed thing then but used books in the place prevented the issuance of a license. The founder was able to get was able to get a few publishers’ proof copies and some that were banned in Australia and these were under the counter for special customers. He was also a music teacher and known pianist/accordionist and I later worked for the same music publisher that he did, but later then he did. The next guy sold off the books but I got some of the publishers’ proof copies in 1964 given to me such as Nabokuv’s Lolita, the Eliot Ness autobiography with Oscar Fraley and the Lindberg kidnapping story minus the photo shots. By the very nature of people reading going to work in public transport, some sold books got posted back to the shop as the railway lost property read the rubber stamped name of the shop and address and sent them on!!!!

    We also had guys who went around in a truck with books for rent door to door and I knew two such men in my area quite well.

    These private libraries had the habit of cutting the dust jackets into three and gluing the paper onto the covers. Rubber stamps in the back cover denoted the reading habits of anonymous people,

    In this period municipal libraries came on stream and quickly enlarged into numerous branches in each district and became a specialist job for the staff with University degrees. Whilst state governments have funding to libraries that can be cut down from time to time, there have not been the closures and restricted services in recent times as I have read in USA, particularly in the Los Angeles area counties. The LA crisis saw the biggest & busiest libraries closed and the slow foot traffic ones left operating which seemed, to me, a funny situation. I have enjoyed going to library book clearances and enhanced my holdings in these sales and throwout prices. Talking books are a big thing and libraries do have a delivery service to nursing homes, the elderly at home and the infirm. A small charge is made for this service to the home.


  2. Gary Martin says:

    When I was home to see my mother two years ago in a small Kansas town there was a lending library just down the street. My mother also buys books for two dollars and sells them back at the same place for one dollar. And in NYC I have seen lending libraries as recently as …hmm…well, the 70’s I guess.


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