The American system of public libraries is astounding. As an institution, libraries have served as a bedrock of our society since 1731, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia. Today, public libraries are more than just book lenders; they facilitate community programming, social opportunities and access to valuable resources. They offer the same services to everyone regardless of status or wealth, and they do it all for free.

Libraries are also some of the first institutions to lose funding when budgets get tight. According to the American Library Association, at least 19 states have cut funding to community libraries in the past year. More than half reported reductions greater than 10%, and in many places, state-level cuts are compounded by similar cuts at the local level.

One way we can help support these critical institutions is to frequent them. If you haven’t been to your local library recently, you’re probably missing out on fantastic programs and opportunities. So here are 5 reasons you should make it a goal to support your local library.

Free Books

Okay, we know we started this article by arguing that libraries are more than just book lenders, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As treasure troves of countless books, libraries are magical places for bibliophiles. Whether you prefer the sensory pleasures of a physical book or the convenience of a digital version, libraries make it possible to enjoy all kinds of entertainment without having to pay a dime. 

If you love to read, you know how expensive the habit can get. Most paperbacks these days are around $10 a pop, which adds up quickly if you go through them like I do. (Let’s not even get into the cost of a new-release hardcover!) Libraries provide these same books without your having to take out a second mortgage to afford it.

If physically going to the library isn’t your cup of tea, there’s an app for that. You can “check out” digital media — including books, magazines, audiobooks, music and movies — from your library just by entering your library card number. There are a bunch of different apps out there for libraries to use, like Libby by Overdrive and Hoopla, so you just need to find out which one your library utilizes.

Access to Technology

Your local library offers free Wi-Fi and computers for patron use. Many also have iPads and laptops for use on-site or at home with your library card. If you’re experiencing technical difficulties at home, your library can come to the rescue!

Perhaps even more pertinent to the older crowd, many libraries have digital literacy labs that provide training and credentialing for various programs. Digital literacy is the broad term used to describe the ability to use technology safely, effectively and responsibly. So, if you find yourself scratching your head about appropriate social media usage, or how to navigate popular sites like Reddit without exposing too much personal data, you can turn to your local library for help. Online programs like Northstar Digital Literacy are usually available for public use, along with one-on-one support from library staff. You can go in and ask specific questions, or attend informational sessions to get more familiar with the latest digital tools.

Makerspaces

One of my favorite things to do is visit my local library’s makerspace. If you haven’t been to one, it’s an area that provides crafting tools, technology and supplies that the average person might not have access to. For example, a makerspace might have computers, 3D printers, audio and video capture and editing tools, as well as some traditional arts and crafts supplies. 

Why is this important? Well, if you’re craft- or DIY-inclined, you know that sometimes projects require a one-time-use tool that’s too costly to justify its purchase. But if you’ve ever wanted to try a Cricut (retail value around $300) to see if it’s worth the hype, your library might be able to make that happen. Adobe Photoshop — the popular photo-editing program — can cost you anywhere from $25-60 a month for a subscription, but your library might provide it for free. You get the picture.

Events

A library’s calendar of events is usually chock-full of opportunities for all ages. The preschool crowd often makes its presence known in the morning, but there’s more than just story time on the docket. Typical events might include informational presentations on topics like finances, entrepreneurship and health. Libraries might host book signings by local authors and sponsor book clubs, writing groups or trivia nights. My local library has semiannual puzzle swaps, where you can exchange your used puzzles for ones that are new to you. Some libraries host seed swaps and gardening lectures. The options are literally endless.

At the time of writing this article, scheduled events at the Albany Public Library include a visit from an on-site community nurse to perform blood pressure screenings, answer medication questions and address other health concerns. The library is offering tax assistance from NYS Tax Department employees. It’s also playing host to a knitting group, coffee-and-a-movie events, live music and so, so much more … and that’s just looking at one week out of the month.

Business Guidance

If you’re looking for a new job or considering a second career, you should start at the library. Reference librarians can offer support for performing an effective job search online. They may be able to offer assistance personally or via workshops on résumé writing, mock interviews and networking skills.

Public libraries also help to level the playing field for small-business owners and entrepreneurs by providing costly resources that typically only large corporations readily have access to. For example, they might have state-funded electronic resources that allow small-business owners to access detailed information about consumers, industries and other market research. You could also use library resources to find sample business plans, tax deduction and legal information for employers, or even support for obtaining patents and trademarks. The specific resources will vary based on where you live, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t take the opportunity to see what your library can offer.

Top image by SDI Productions from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com


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