Public libraries have always been a good deal, as most of their programs and resources are free and the rest are inexpensive. Nowadays, with the economy sputtering, library budgets are suffering along with everyone else’s. Even so, chances are they still offer an array of free and inexpensive services.
Oh, and if your community has a college or university, chances are the general public can use many of its services, too.
What’s the first association anyone makes with libraries? Books, of course. Libraries collect all kinds of books. Chances are anything you can find at a bookstore you can find in a library. You can also find older books that are no longer available for sale.
If your library does not own a title you want, it can get it for you from another library, a free service called inter-library loan. Not only that, but public libraries have traditional printed books, books on tape or CD, and even ebooks for your Kindle, Nook, or other reader. Like I said, all kinds of books.
Libraries also have plenty of music. Their holdings of printed music include scores way more expensive than most of us could ever afford to buy. They also have recorded music of all kinds. Probably all of them collect the current physical medium, CDs. At some libraries, you can borrow tracks for your computer or MP3 player. Many also have LPs, cassette tapes, maybe even 45s, 78s, 8-tracks, and the equipment to play them. There is plenty of wonderful music that would be very hard to find anywhere else but the library.
Look for videos at the library. It might not have as many copies of the latest movies or TV series as your local video store, so if that’s what you want to watch, you may have to get on a waiting list. The public library may well have films that the video store no longer carries, especially a wide variety of educational films. Some libraries may charge a fee.
Like households, libraries must get rid of older materials from time to time to make room for new purchases. Also, libraries often accept gifts of new or used printed or recorded materials. They can add many of these gifts to their collection, but not everything Check out their book sales for some real bargains. Some libraries hold an annual sale. Others have a special place set up where they sell cheap books etc. all year round.
Public libraries offer special programming for children. How many of us first experienced the library going to story time?It used to be a time when children would sit on the floor and listen to the librarian read a story. Nowadays, much more can happen. Story time might include singing, dancing, or craft time. Librarians show children how to use the Internet. From infants to school-age children, the library has services for everyone–sometimes even bilingual activities. Parents can get a wealth of ideas for things they can do at home.
Older children and grown-ups can also find an array of interesting classes and discussions at the public library. Authors may visit the library to discuss their latest books. Poets may come to read their works. But library classes and discussion groups are not limited to books and literature. The subject matter may be anything at all your community is interested in.
Libraries also offer meeting space for various groups. If you’re looking for any kind of support group (resume writing, parenting skills, etc.) or meetings devoted to some kind of common interest (chess, knitting, etc.), chances are one meets at the library. If you need a kind of group your community doesn’t offer yet, perhaps you can start one. A room at the public library won’t cost your group much. It might even be free. Many libraries have a auditorium, where you can go to concerts, plays, movies, or public meetings.
Not everyone owns a computer, and not all computer owners have good web access. So library services include public computers.They’re very popular, so you might find time limits and waiting lines. If you write something or work on a project using a library computer, you will need a flash drive or something to save it to.
Even if you have a great computer system at home, you may still need the services of the library for its databases. Not everything on the Internet is free on the web. The library pays thousands of dollars every year to subscribe to databases where, for example, you can find the full text of newspapers, magazines, and journals, from the earliest issues to the latest.
Don’t need the public library’s computers, but just need to get out of the house? Many libraries offer free WiFi. Just take your laptop and plug it in to one of their many outlets. It’s quieter than the average coffee house or fast food place, and you needn’t feel obligated to buy something. (Of course, more and more libraries are putting in food service areas, where you can get something to eat or drink if you want.)
What any one library has no other library has
Many libraries have special collections. At the very least, you can expect to find materials for studying local history or genealogy. One public library I used to use had a circulating collection of paintings and sculpture that I found very useful for a class I taught. Another kept a very large collection of phone books from all over the country. Libraries cooperate with each other to be sure that services and materials are available someplace that not enough people want to justify having every library offering.
The library has all kinds of materials for information and entertainment. It has all kinds of equipment. It is a place where you can find quiet and solitude or various social activities. Above all, it has librarians: people especially trained to help you find answers to your questions, show you how to use all of the various equipment and software the library has, and manage all of the activities. You’re paying for your local public library with tax dollars. In return, the library offers free or low-cost materials, services, and activities that you could never afford on your own.