Honestly, it bugs me that I have to say this. In my mind “I need a book” immediately elicits the response, “I should go to the library!” Yet, I run into bookish sorts all the time that massively under-utilize their local library. And if book nerds aren’t using it, more casual readers aren’t using it. This may be the single fact that pushes me over the edge into true insanity. Why do I care so much? Let me paint a picture:
By living in a county or city, you are entitled to a library card because of your taxes. You arrive at a building, show them your ID, and they hand you a little laminated piece of plastic with some numbers on it. With that piece of plastic, you can now walk around the building and pick up any book, movie, or DVD you want. You can do this until you literally can’t carry anymore. Then you get to take them home for free. And there is a whole staff there that wants you to take these items, and will help you do it. What is this madness?!
Yet, I hear excuses all the time for why people don’t have a library card. Let’s talk about some of those.
But My Library Doesn’t Have the Books I Want!
Look, I’ve been there. I grew up in a small town of 5,000 people, so I guess I should be grateful we had a library at all. If you wanted a specific book, odds were that the library would not have it. It was, after all, just a single room attached to the side of the police station.
But things have changed in the digital age, friends! Most libraries now also offer access to larger networks of e-resources that you don’t even have to physically go to the library to get. Minimally, there is usually a statewide sharing system. (I know this is true for both Kentucky and Indiana.) You simply download the items on the same device that you’re using to read this and enjoy.
Let’s say you have a special niche of books you like. For instance, Mr. Steward and I are really into comics. As a kid, there was no way that you could find comics in the library. Now, our local library has several rows dedicated to comics, graphic novels, and manga. Libraries are really branching out in terms of what they are willing to carry. If there is demand for it, there is a willingness to get it.
Most libraries are also participants in bigger library networks, so they can request resources for you via interlibrary loan. Even if they don’t have the book, they might be able to get it for you from another library in the system. If that fails, they have budgets to buy new books. If the library doesn’t have something you want, ask about it. In my experience, they keep a list of books that patrons want, and buy them in short order.
If your problem is, instead, that other people have the books you want checked out, keep reading. You need to learn about holds, my friend.
But I Don’t Have Time to Go to the Library!
So don’t–do it all online instead. I’ve already mentioned that most libraries offer entire catalogs of e-books that you can check out from any mobile device. I checked out an e-book from my local library in Berlin once! Most now allow you to renew your books online. Our library now auto-renews any books that are not in demand up to three times, so you don’t even have to remember to renew them!
Libraries also offer a holds system. Think of holds like an Amazon shopping cart. You can log into the library’s catalog and slap a hold (usually just by clicking a button) on any items you want. If the item is available, someone else will go get it off the shelf for you and keep it for you with your name attached. If someone else has it checked out, they put you in line to get it. When the item is returned and your name is up, they keep it for you and send you an alert.
At that point, you can pick up your holds a few ways. At some libraries, you might still have to go in and grab your holds off a designated shelf or get them from a librarian. (What a burden, I know.) Many libraries also offer alternative pickup options. My library has a drive-thru window for holds. I’ve seen another library system that has several pick-up boxes around the city that can be opened with one’s library card. Libraries want you to use them, so they are constantly working to make it as easy as possible.
But I Don’t Like to Read!
Get out. Just kidding, please don’t go! Libraries offer way more than just books. I’ve already mentioned that they also offer wide selections of other visual media (CDs, DVDs, streaming). Fun fact: libraries are also one of the key providers of wi-fi access to communities. That means under-served communities that can’t afford it (huzzah!). It also means folks who just want a quiet place to take their laptop and work.
Libraries also offer tons of programming. I’ve seen our library offer classes on a wide range of subjects, from tax preparation to gardening. There are also free movie showings and story hours for kids. Libraries are a great place to find free entertainment, with the bonus that there is usually an educational benefit to the event. And, as if the programming weren’t enough, they also offer useful services. Our library has a service that helps Spanish-speakers navigate the community, a room dedicated to helping job seekers find work, and free legal help on certain days of the week.
So Visit Your Library!
There’s no reason not to, and I can’t think of a better frugal resource.
Are there other reasons why you do not go to your library? Does your local library do anything cool or unique that I haven’t mentioned above?