It was years ago when I wandered into my neighborhood library, the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, and stumbled upon a plethora of cookbooks on the shelves.
It was overwhelming at the time: How would I ever have time to discover something I want to pursue, let alone cook my way through the book?
Fast-forward a few years to the era of the coronavirus pandemic and suddenly, many more meals are being made at home. That’s the case for many who are fortunate enough to work from home and have at least a little bit of time to prepare something in the kitchen.
And if you’re one of those, it’s time to consider going through some of the 16,755 cookbooks in the Dallas Public Library system.
“When we look at the collection, like it’s so large and it goes back so far in time, we have a really good retrospective collection, we have some really neat older cookbooks as well; it seems like [cookbooks were] always a focus area,” says Mark Draz, library manager in business, science and technology on the fifth floor of the Central Library.
There are more in the e-books category, as well — nearly 9,000. Librarian Elizabeth Epps has the job of keeping tabs on new publications and ordering mainstream and more unique books for the collection. There are dozens of new cookbook titles to choose from every week, Draz says.
You can go through the library’s online catalog if you’re looking for something specific. Better yet, call your local branch and speak to a librarian. They are a resource you’ll fully appreciate after speaking with them.
“I would recommend that they call or email or us first,” Draz says. “We’re here. We’re not open to the public [to come in], but we are available, and we really like helping people, and we miss being open to the public and helping people. … There is a friendly person to help you find what you’re looking for.”
You can request a book by calling a library branch. They’ll take your library card number and the book info, you’ll get a text when it’s ready (this can take longer if your book is at a library other than the one you’re picking up from), then you’ll call the library to schedule a pick-up time. You call the library when you arrive, and you go home with your book.
Sure, it’s a lot of steps, but it’s contactless and a process we’ll gladly accept during the New Normal. As of Oct. 1, all library branches have curbside service available.
Cooking is the fourth most popular category for library books, after medicine, biography and psychology. The library system, across all audiences, genres, etc., has roughly 2 million physical books.
Once you get your hands on the book, you may find there is one thing different about this book on loan versus being added to your permanent collection. While the library will automatically renew your books, there is this time limit on this collection of recipes: This made me get a little more aggressive about cooking my way through a book, as opposed to assuming I’ll get to that tender beef and rice recipe someday.
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You can return your book by dropping it in the library’s normal drop-off containers. Another aspect that might possibly add to your delay in getting a book: Returned items rest at least four days before an employee picks them up — again, for safety.
Dallas Library has also been hosting virtual events — classes on fall vegetable gardening, how to prepare and cook fall vegetables, etc. The regular email newsletter is a good resource for keeping up on what’s going on.
And if you need a library card, you can get one at no cost.
If you have the time available to you, grab a book from the library and learn to cook something — it may be your first time cooking anything, or maybe you’ll dig deep into making your own beer. Your tax dollars are paying for the opportunity to have these resources with just a phone call, so you might as well dive in.