Let me start off by saying I’m a substitute librarian assistant so I spend at least a few days each month on eight hour shifts of the library. I preface my blog with this to say, dude, I am in the know…and is there anything out there more frugal than using the free resources at the library? But do you know of all the resources available to you?

As libraries across the United States and specifically in my state, California, are facing yet more budget cuts, it’s time I think to remind us all of the value of the library. And while the book stacks are a nice visual reminder that, yes, you can check something out and read for free provided you reside in the county the library is in, there is more to the library than the stacks of free reading material in the stacks.

Let me start off by saying I’m a substitute librarian assistant so I spend at least a few days each month on eight hour shifts of the library. I preface my blog with this to say, dude, I am in the know…and is there anything out there more frugal than using the free resources at the library? But do you know of all the resources available to you?

As libraries across the United States and specifically in my state, California, are facing yet more budget cuts, it’s time I think to remind us all of the value of the library. And while the book stacks are a nice visual reminder that, yes, you can check something out and read for free provided you reside in the county the library is in, there is more to the library than the stacks of free reading material in the stacks.

The number one thing that keeps me busy these days as the library sub is checking out videos. Our library, like many, has a two tier video rental system. The county dvds are newer and free for two days and the ones donated to the library (which can help you have an eighties flashback weekend) are free for four days. This seems to be the number one reason why most people visit our library.

As April and tax time is approaching the second most used service is all the income tax forms and instruction booklets, and while we don’t give out tax advice, we do instruct people on where to go in town to talk to someone and give them an idea of which form is probably for them.

Next is the computers. Free wireless without having to purchase coffee to use it. Free computer access for those not bringing their own laptops. Free computer classes for those who don’t know how to use the computers effectively. Most of the librarians I know will help with some instruction regardless of whether or not you are in the computer classes.
I often wind up helping people navigate or learn how to use keywords.

Newspapers and magazines. Why bother with a subscription you don’t read all of anyway? The library has it. And has all those back issues that you accidentally recycled. Being a library employee has cut down on my subscriptions. I now only subscribe to small presses. I read the big guys like Time and Newsweek at the library (and they are available for check out).

Audiobooks and tapes. Probably the most expensive way to buy a book is an audio CD—good reason to check them out instead. Even in a small rural area you can have access to variety because smaller libraries and counties usually have a collective that they pull from. In Northern California, we are part of the “North State Collective” which means if I want to borrow some book on tape from neighboring Butte County, I can.

Speaking of CDs…libraries…the ultimate in legal music sharing. And you are just listening, right? Not copying…no, not you. Never.

Storytime. Where else can your toddlers and preschoolers have someone read to them other than you, do some sort of crafty thing with paste, buttons, and feathers AND get a sip of juice and cookies for free? Affluent neighborhood mommies pay big money for this sort of thing and your kid and get it all for free one day a week at the library. And though we don’t have a jungle gym in the kids section, we’ve got toys from every decade of the last fifty years for the pleasure of the kiddies to play with while they are here. And you don’t even have to buy a happy meal.

Some libraries I know show free movies. Ours is too small for it, but every once in awhile we have some. We also host poetry workshops that you’d pay $200 for elsewhere with the exact same instructors.

The biggest perk for me (other than working here so I’m on top of my due dates and fine potential) is the Friends of the Library booksales. Our town has about five different book clubs and we seem to get all of their books on a regular basis. If it’s on the best seller list, eventually—sometimes even within the same month, I can score a copy of the latest books that still look new for a quarter a piece. We have a free table of older donations and magazines too.

The community bulletin board. I know of everything that could possibly be going down in this town all because of the library community bulletin board. If it ain’t on the board, it’s not happening.

As a regular patron, if you don’t find the book you want that you just read a terrific review of, you can request it. Many counties use patron requests as a guide in their book buying.

So, what are you waiting for? Get your butt back to the library. Meet your neighbors. Find out what’s going on. Check out new things, old things, use the Internet. Use the library before the powers that be decide that it’s something they can cut out of our lives and our communities. It’s the ultimate in our frugal lifestyles…a good gathering place for the coming recession…

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Guest's picture

Our library options stink. We have a "city" library. It is just the HS library open to the public with some very limited offerings. The library system for the larger city next door isn't any better. It is highly censored and the only new material they buy are romance novels and PBS series a decade old.

It makes me really miss the real library system when we lived in a large city. They did have current and varied magazines, tons of newer non fiction and a decent DVD selection.

Maggie Wells's picture

Our library serves a community of less than 3,000 but we have a really active Friends of the Library group and some vocal community members that help fight for good stuff for our library.


Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

My pitfall is that I am not good about returning books. I don't necessarily mind paying the fee, since it helps the library, but my bad habit certainly defeats the purpose.

Guest's picture

Don't forget about Inter library loan! Often free, sometimes with a small fee, this how you can get just about any book, no matter obscure to read. I went through a period where I was doing some research and needed to use the ILL service quite a bit, I felt bad figuring that this was costing the library money (I didn't get any fees charged to me). However, the librarian said that the more the service got used the better for them because they were able to use the statitics for grants and the like and so it could actually help fund the library down the road -- needless to say I still use it!

Guest's picture

For a small town, Franklin PA sure has a wonderful library! All the things you mention except wireless. It was the perfect place to start when just joining our local community. Its such a central point in our lives I try and remember the $ they save me on book purchases, video rentals and internet connection and donate accordingly each year. And they make a mint off me at the book sales as I'll buy bags just to release for bookcrossing lol.

Guest's picture

One of the perks of joining the University of California's alumni program after graduation is that I can still use the university's library system. Though there may be some restrictions on certain materials available for inter-library loan and check-out.

Guest's picture

My local library is also rather dismal. It's really hard to find up-to-date resources; it seems like everything is about 20 years old.

Fortunately, I'm also a fan of Interlibrary Loan. The library staff has provided a huge amount of help in getting me the books that I need.

Thanks, Margaret, for the work you do with the library! I'm sure your local patrons are very happy to have your help!

Guest's picture

Many libraries have a lot to offer via their websites -- access to quality databases for research, downloadable books/audio/video. Some of these resources may be offered due to statewide initiatives. And my library sends me email "courtesy/reminder" notices several days before my materials are due which helps to avoid fines.

Yes, not all libraries have the same resources. I know this from working with libraries throughout my state, but libraries can be much more than a physical destination.

Lynn Truong's picture

I have a few county libraries in my area that is under the Los Angeles County network of libraries. If my local library doesn't have the book I'm looking for (which I can search for online), I can request it and I'll get a notification when it gets there (it also tells me which library does have it, so I can go there to pick it up right away). New books (and books Oprah recently recommended) take a little longer to arrive, but there's plenty of books to keep me busy while I wait for them. Account information (due dates, renewals) can be found online as well, and I can return books at any library that's part of the network, no matter where I checked them out. Super convenient, and FREE.

Guest's picture

If you often forget to return your books on time you might check out Library Elf (http://libraryelf.com, which, if you trust it enough to provide your library card (I do), will send you as many reminder emails as you ask it to. It doesn't work with every library catalog system, but they'll also help build a link to your catalog if they don't already have one...

Guest's picture

I live in a very small town, population 1,600. The public library is about five miles from my home. I don't have a car and public transportation is nonexistent, but I can use my library card to access various databases from my home computer...books, newspapers, reference material and genealogical records, such as actual images of federal census schedules.

If I lived within walking distance I would probably be at the library every day to take advantage of so many other things that they offer.

Guest's picture
Angela A.

Cheers to libraries! In addition to all of the above, don't forget that libraries provide you with a FREE and safe and pleasant space to get away from everything, to just read or relax. Also, some libraries offer homework help, and mine even has subscriptions to language learning programs like Rosetta Stone!

Guest's picture

As permananet residents of Florida my husband and I rely on the library for access to free books, tapes, movies, newspapers, magazines, etc.
When our county had money problems this library hours were cut, fines increased from $.10 to $.25, charge for internet use by non-library card holders increased from $1 per hour to $5 and the charge for non-resident library cards increased from $20 to $35. We were very sorry to see this happen but have been encouraged by the increased library use. After all, snowbirds are usually here 4-6 months of the year, financially for them it makes sense (internet use especially).

I use the on-line library service of WorldCat to find books our library system doesn't have and they will request them for me. Since these are non-fiction books, and frankly are rather specialized, I see no need for our library system to purchase them.

We are so well known at our local branch, the librarians will often tell us of new arrivals that 'fit' our interests.

It is important to support publically funded resources to keep them active - we tell all our snowbird neighbors of the joys of the library - you'd be surprised how many no so little about a wonderful place.

Guest's picture

At my library you can borrow fiction DVDs for a week, and non-fiction DVDs for 3 weeks. My library has TONS of exercise DVDs for all ages and abilities. When I made a resolution to lose weight these DVDs were great, because I wasn't buying a bunch of tapes only to hate the person in them, or find that the tapes were too difficult for my abilities, or discover that I just didn't like them. With the library's resources I was able to find the perfect series of tapes, I exchanged them when I got bored or the tapes became too easy for me, and I always had something "new" to use when I worked out.

I also borrow children's books on CD for long car trips, not to mention the camping and travel guides for the places that we are going.

Guest's picture

I was just commenting on libraries on another blog. People are so quick to go on line get an answer. I remember the days of treking down to the library and researching for writing papers and finding information. I hope they do not close libraries I see them also becoming a place to access internet referance materials also.

Guest's picture

...was to utilize my local library more, and I am happy to report that I have! I love going in and browsing through magazines for free. No more expensive subscriptions for me. I am so fortunate that my local library has all the bells and whistles described in this post: inter-library loan, internet access, cool free events, and videos.

Yay libraries!

Guest's picture

The wonderful Library system in San Diego will email you reminders when your items are due. Just give them your email address! I was pleasantly surprised when I got my first reminder!

Perhaps other cities have a similar service, or would start one if patrons were interested.

Guest's picture

Libraries are also great for frugal "vagaond"-style travelers. The first day of your trip, you go to the library and copy maps, learn the bus and train system, read travel books, get pointers to "nature" stuff, and plan out your week.

Guest's picture

I've worked in libraries, myself, and if it weren't for them, I'd be broke from all the books I want to try. Here's a few things I've learned:

1. Sign up for email notices and check your account frequently online. That will really help to cut down on overdue fees and lost books.

2. If you don't like what the collection offers, libraries frequently ask patrons to suggest purchases. Librarians can't read everything that gets published, in every genre (though they'd like to try! lol) And don't feel embarrassed about the type of book you want to read, or whether or not it's "worthy." One of the primary missions of most public libraries is to offer the materials the public wants, not what the librarians FEEL they need to read.

3. Library sales are a great way to stock up your own shelves, and for a good cause. And "library booster clubs" often offer a discount to paying members!

4. The reason libraries have increased their dues is because of budget cuts/shifts in the local government. If you don't like the way the budget is spent, get politically active.

A. Contrary to what many people think, people who work in libraries often have to be paid a salary.

B. Donations alone could not stock a library. Materials cost money.

5. A great way to help the library save a FORTUNE in man-hours and materials: Be polite. DON'T put a book back on a shelf, because it will almost invariably be in the wrong place, and DON'T tell your kids to "put a book back where they found it." Leave it on a table, at a librarian's desk or where they leave space for discards. AND!! Be accountable. If you or your child damages something, don't make excuses for it, because they've heard 'em all. Pay for it.

Guest's picture

Don't forget libraries' "special collections". My small town library has a huge selection of various cake pans - yes, cake pans - you can check out. I've heard of libraries that have tools and all kinds of weird things you can check out and use.

The charters of most state colleges and universities mandate free access for citizens of their state. The University of Iowa library is a repository library for the Government Printing Office, so it has a copy of EVERY publication produced by the U.S. Government. It also has special collections of railroad photographs, the letters and papers of many famous Iowans, etc.

All in all, very interesting stuff.

Guest's picture

Seattle and King County Library Systems FTW! Both are top notch systems and though similar, work independently of each other. It used to be that you could basically work with them interchangeably but due to costs, now if you're a Seattle resident, you can't reserve titles at King County Libraries. But, with the Seattle library system, you can reserve as many titles as you want, they email you when the titles are available, and also when they are due. The DVD selection is massive, almost as good as netflix, and all DVDs are good for 2 weeks. CDs and books I believe, are good for 3. Also there are digital downloads, audio books and e-books that are usable for a certain amount of time before they expire. All books, CDs, DVDs, etc. have RFID tags in them so when you check out, you just scan your library card, put the books on a panel, and bam, you're checked out. I've kind of taken it for granted, but the Seattle/KCLS systems are the best I've ever seen.

Guest's picture

I am probably just rehashing the point of the original post and several of the comments, but I just have to say that libraries absolutely rock and that it is sad the way that they are generally thought as being redundant in the era of the Internet.

True, I don't visit the library very often now that I have a busy life and that I can look up a lot of reference type information online, but I look back at how much time I have spent in my local library as a kid (reading cartoons as well as fiction and non-fiction books), as well as the information I got out of the technical library at my university.

Libraries are a necessary part of a knowledge culture. Full stop.

Guest's picture

that's about it, really.

Guest's picture

Southern Maryland has some awesome libraries and activities. I've always had a good experience with our libraries since I was a kid going to storytime and the magic shows and stuff. Recently they started a series of gardening classes spanning several months last year and continue it this year. They teach about using native plants, etc. Wish I were at home now so I could take part in that stuff :) Our library actually subscribes to some kind of indie film thing so I can even see movies I've never heard of. Interlibrary loan is always great too! Actually I made myself go to the local library in my college town and it sucks compared to home :( If you'd like to see why I say my library is awesome go here: http://host.evanced.info/calvert/evanced/eventcalendar.asp

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