I am often struck that people who are well educated, involved in their communities and generally cool as heck that I know are totally clueless about the library. Libraries are like churches for some people -- you know they're good to have around and vital to the community, but they think there's nothing there for them. The idea of a library is comforting. But the reality is astonishing.
This couldn't be more shortsighted. Whenever I tell people that I'm in library school, they often respond with, "Oh! I love(d) taking my kids there for story time and for the kiddie programs! As if there weren't a million other things that libraries offer that can make your life 100 times more totally awesome than it already is. It's time for the Shannan Hicks Primer On Why You Should Go To The Library, Get A Card, and Start Living.
1. Okay, to be fair, libraries are awesome places for kids. When I put it together that I could go into a library and checkout as many books as my little hands could carry, I fell wholesale deep in love with the library. Great children's librarians gave me suggestions on what to read next, got to know my reading personality and always had a great new book waiting (in Library World, we call this Reader's Advisory). Libraries just smell like magic.
2. The second most obvious is that there are FREE BOOKS!!!!! My brother Michael often says that I have fulfilled Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point Theory because I have spent at least 10,000 hours reading. He's absolutely right. I read A LOT! However, people are surprised at how few books I actually own. I get 98% of my reading material from the library. If a book that I want is not on the shelf, I can easily put it on hold online or through my phone. Usually, it's not a very long wait. I can vouch for the fact that Shreve Memorial Library, East Baton Rouge Parish and Bossier Parish library systems have amazingly efficient hold systems. Since I don't work for Barnes & Noble or Amazon, I can tell you that I could never afford to buy all the books that I read. $28.95 for the new John Grisham? No thanks, I am a student...
Also, free music downloads (Freegal) are available at libraries. It's like having a never-ending iTunes card.
3. Interlibrary Loan System - Did you know that your local public library has relationships with other libraries throughout the nation. So if they don't have a book, they can get it from another library. That means that your free library card entitles you to get books from virtually any library in the country? What is that I hear? Realization? Yes, I thought so.
4. Overdrive. The sole reason I purchased a Nook is that at the time it was the only device that allowed downloads from this free amazing resource at the library. Overdrive basically adds an e-branch layer to the library. In the same way that you would download a book to your Nook, Kindle or iPad, you can do the same with Overdrive and the library. There are both downloadable books and mp3 audiobooks. You are crazy if you are paying for a subscription to Audible.
If you are a crazy book lady like me, you have several library cards from living in different places. You can use all of their Overdrive libraries, too.
5. Reference librarians are the mistresses/masters of the universe. These gods and goddesses can help you find the answer to any questions, whether it's help with a science project to accessing public programs to telling you how to fill your own tooth. Because of a reference librarian, I found two scholarships that got me through college. And this was before the Internet! Reference librarians totally rock.
6. The library has databases full of information that you would not believe. You can literally find something on any topic, and librarians are trained to know these databases and help you decode them. There are also LibGuides, written by librarians, which may be information of local interest, or just anything in which the librarian has an interest or expertise. And librarians have some cool interests. These are worth checking out.
7. Public resources. It has been stated that only 30% of people in my home state of Louisiana have consistent wireless access and computers at home. In our wired world, it can be easy to assume that everyone has an iMac perched in their home and a Kindle Fire in their bag, but an overwhelming amount of people do not. The library is usually the only place that they can go to use the computer. And not for just surfing the Net. Many government services are online only now, such as unemployment benefits. (The paradox is that if you don't have a job, you may very well not have a computer, but please don't get me started on that). Also, many employers only take online applications. Therefore, the library is an economic driver in communities. I have helped people apply for food stamps, jobs, unemployment, find out how to give to charity, and many other things that you simply would not believe.
Many libraries also offer checkout of laptops, test guides (ACT, LSAT, PRAXIS, etc.), iPads and e-readers.
Pretty surprising, huh?
8. Access wherever you are. Libraries often have very good and informative websites that you can access wherever you are. There are also apps available to help you keep track of what you have out and when it's due.
9. Libraries welcome everyone. Don't have a job and need a place to set up during the day to do a job search without feeling obligated to buy $5 coffee? Go to the library. Homeless and want to get out of the weather? Go to the library. Want to hide from everyone for a couple of hours and read in the quiet? You guessed it. Go to the library. Nobody judges you in the library. Well, most people don't.
10. And well, frankly, the library is a great place to take your kids. Why don't you take a kid to the library today, see if they don't fall in love a little too.
Please look at the links to really great libraries at the bottom of this blog. Dig around a little. I promise you'll find something that you didn't know and will improve your life.