Free. Cheap. What’s not to love about library resources and services? You’re already paying for the library through your local taxes, student fees, etc. You can use most of what any library has to offer at no additional charge. If there is a cost involved for some of these services, it will probably be lower than what it would cost elsewhere. Here are a ten tips for how the library can save you money through its various services.
What do most people think of first when they think of a library? Books. Libraries have traditional printed books you ca
n read, of course. You can also borrow books read on your Kindle or Nook or whatever other gadget you may have. They might even offer books online through their web site. Prefer to listen to books? The library has MP3 audio books, books on CD, books on tape. Tape? isn’t that an obsolete technology? Maybe so, but if you want to listen to a book that was recorded on tape and hasn’t been reissued, you have no other choice. Aren’t you glad the library kept it for you? Don’t worry if you don’t have a tape deck to play it on. The library will lend you one of those, too.
The library also has periodicals: newspapers, magazines, and journals. Again, they’re available in print, but also in other media. Various microforms, for example. Many libraries have every issue ever published of at least a few titles. increasingly periodicals available in full text on line. You about have to go to the library to use them. They’re not free. Libraries have to pay thousands of dollars for each periodical database. But you can read them there for free.
2. Special resource centers
Not only do libraries have lots of books to borrow, they have lots of non-circulating books in their reference department, such as encyclopedias (many are very specialized), foreign language dictionaries, court cases and other legal materials, and all manner of statistics, yearbooks, etc. Reference collections are less important than they used to be, because so much of the material they house is also available online, but certainly not all of it is.
Many libraries also have gathered collections of materials for job hunting, applying to college, genealogy, or starting a small business, just to name a few. You’ll have no need to hunt for resources yourself if the library has already found them for you and put them in a special place.
3. Cheap used books to buy
A library buys new materials for its collection all the time. After a while, it has to take older items out of its collection to make room for the new stuff. Lots of people donate books, etc. that they no longer want to the library. Some of these items become part of the collection, but most of them are not useful for one reason or another. Most libraries enjoy the support of a “friends of the library” group that, among other things, solicits these donations.
So what does the library do with these tons of books that it can’t keep in its collection? It sells them to the public at the cheapest prices you’re likely to find anywhere. Some libraries have special sales at regular intervals. Others set aside space where a collection of materials is on sale at all times. Larger libraries even operate thrift stores.
People acquire music in two basic forms: written musical notation and recordings. The library has both. For printed music it has both circulating materials for performance and study and often some very expensive scholarly collections that you must use at the library.
Recorded music comes in even more different formats than recorded books. Almost every library collects the current standard physical format, compact discs. Many libraries still have large collections of LPs. Some still have 78 rpm collections and maybe even older formats. Besides discs, they might have cassette, reel-to-reel, or even 8-track tapes.They also have and maintain all of the necessary playback equipment, some of which circulates.
Besides physical media, many libraries offer music for download. There are legal restrictions on what the library can allow you to download and what you can do with it once you have it.
Again, the library is likely to have videos in every format ever made, from Beta Max to DVD and all the playback equipment you need. The collection includes popular television series and movies, as well as all manner of educational videos.
6. Computers and Internet connections
Librarians were at the forefront of developing computerized information systems. Almost all library catalogs are now online. Libraries can no longer operate without computers, but they don’t stop at installing computers for library services. You can use library computers for any reason you use one at home. That’s especially useful if you don’t have one at home. You can’t save your work on a library computer, however. You’ll need to have your own flash drive, writable CD-ROM, or other storage medium.
The library is a great place to use specialized software that may be too expensive for you to own your own copy. It’s also a great place to learn to use new software and decide what if anything you want to buy.
7. A free office
Lots of people own laptops or tablet computers now. You can take portable computers almost anywhere and find wireless Internet hot spots. The library, for instance. It’s quieter and less crowded than a coffee shop, and you don’t have to buy anything to get a password. Plus, you can get access to all those expensive databases the library subscribes to.
8. Meeting rooms
Many libraries have rooms for group use. Some people need to work together for a short time to finish a task. Some groups need a regular place to meet. Many of these rooms have equipment such as work stations, projectors, sound systems, etc. Others simply have tables and chairs. People who just need to carry on a conversation can use the plainer rooms. So can the chess club or any number of other organizations.
9. Classes, talks, cultural events
The library hosts many events open to the public: lectures, debates, discussions, concerts, movies. They can be single events or continuing classes offered, for example, in learning software or how to write a resume. The possibilities are endless.
There is no requirement that a library offer any single thing mentioned so far to be a library. It needs librarians. Reference librarians are on duty to answer your questions. Children’s librarians plan story times and other activities to support the schools. Other librarians acquire the materials, organize the collection, organize the various programs, and maintain the library’s web site–another great source of information.