Back when I lived in a hippie commune with approximately nine humans and 37 dogs, I would bike to the library on a regular basis to keep myself in reading material without spending all of my meager paycheck on books. As I was leaving one day, I asked one of my roommates if she wanted me to pick up anything at the library for her. Her response: “Is it free?”
Is it free? Is it free?
Let’s pretend for a minute that it’s not completely weird and unbelievable that an adult human being could grow up in the United States without ever having learned the first thing (literally, the very first thing) about the public library. Let’s also set aside the fact that this particular person was an English major. I’ll just state, definitively and for the record:
The library is fucking free, you fool. So why the hell wouldn’t you use it? Especially if you’re trying to save money or you’re already on a tight budget?
There are some exceptions, of course. But in general, public libraries in the United States are completely free. They’re just one of the many awesome social services you get for the cost of paying your taxes, much like the fire department and paved roads. Consider it a perk of membership in civilized society.
And you don’t even really have to pay taxes to participate in all the library has to offer. Children, the homeless, and temporary residents on work or student visas can all get library cards. Neat, right?
And yet there are people like my old roommate who live their lives completely oblivious to the magical properties of the public library. I am here to set those precious, oblivious little babes in the woods straight. Consider this a PSA on the magical money-saving properties of the American public library.
You can save so much money on books by using the library
I religiously update my Goodreads account so I know exactly how many books I read in a given year. In 2013 for example, I read 53 books, and 37 of those were from the library. The average cost of an adult trade paperback that year was $15.51. So I literally saved $573.87 by getting books from the library last year. That’s a month’s rent for some people. That’s two months worth of groceries. That’s six months of gas and car insurance payments! And even if you’re a prodigious reader, you don’t have to spend that money on books.
“Oh, but I like to write in the margins and underline stuff and dog-ear the pages and then hold onto books for years and years so I know that they’re really mine and no one else’s!” Ok, that’s cool. You do you. But that’s a luxury you have to pay for. And if you’re spending $500 on books every year just so you can have the privilege of trashing them, I’m not going to have a lot of sympathy for you the next time you complain about being broke.
So practice a little restraint and avoid marking up your books. Keep a notebook or try Goodreads instead. And get thee to the goddamn library.
You can get so much more than books at the library
It’s a wonder Blockbuster lasted as long as it did when it had to compete with the public library. And record labels don’t even seem to realize their biggest threat isn’t BitTorrent, but the public library. Because movies and music are all easily found for free at your local library branch.
“But sometimes the library just doesn’t have the media I want to consume when I want to consume it!” This is legit. Fortunately, the library has systems in place to help.
There’s inter-library loan, in which you can ask another library far, far away to lend a thing to your library branch so that your branch can then lend it to you. It takes a bit longer to get your free stuff this way, but it works and librarians are happy to make it happen for you. And beggars (for free shit anyway) can’t be choosers, amirite?
Or if it looks like there’s not a single library in a five-county radius that has the obscure printing of The Books of the Chilam Balam in the original K’iche’ Maya that you’re looking for, you can ask your library to order it. That’s right: you have power over which books are stocked at your local library. All you have to do is fill out a request and they’ll buy the book and lend it out to you as often as you like.
Want some audiobooks? Great! The public library offers them to you for free on a number of different platforms!
Books, music, movies, magazines, newspapers, comic books, sheet music, academic journals, technical manuals, free wifi, concerts, poetry readings, free classes—all of this can be yours if you just go to the damn library!
Librarians are paladins in the war between ignorance and enlightenment
My mother-in-law is a librarian. She went to librarian school for many, many years, and I’m pretty sure what they taught her there was everything.
Librarians are trained to help you find knowledge. They know how to do all the research on all the things, and it’s literally their job to assist you with this process. Want to learn everything there is to know about guinea pig husbandry? A librarian will spend five minutes pulling up 3,000 digitized articles in academic journals for you, and she’ll rank them in order of relevance. Desperate to find out how to build your very own space shuttle and start a private space exploration company to rival NASA? There’s a librarian who is just dying to send you home with a metric fuckton of multimedia resources.
Just need to write that goddamn essay on Wuthering Heights for your 8 a.m. Brit Lit class? A librarian will supply you with every scholarly deconstruction ever written on that shitty excuse for a classic, and they’ll probably come up with your thesis statement for you just for fun. It’ll be something like: “Heathcliff and Catherine fucking deserve each other because they’re both miserable goddamn monsters who destroy everything they touch and think their inability to set aside personal pride and apologize once in awhile is somehow more important than the genuine suffering of others.”
I’ve seen a librarian help an unemployed man write his resume. I’ve seen one show an elderly woman how to increase the text size on her Kindle so she wouldn’t have to use her reading glasses. I’ve seen a librarian meet a woman at the door with the stack of books she had on hold so she didn’t have to drag her five children inside to disrupt the peace of the other library dwellers. They’re good people. Make use of them.
Go to the fucking library
Can’t afford to pay your Internet bill this month? Go to the library, they have free wifi. Need to pay down debt instead of paying for Netflix? Go to the library, they have binge-worthy shows on DVD. Can’t afford to buy your college textbooks? Go to the library, it’s easier to study there anyway.
The stacks are filled with literal unicorns and talking puppies. Perfectly choreographed songbirds will accompany you and your selected library finds home. And all of this will happen while you swell with the sense of satisfaction that comes from saving your hard-earned dough for more important things later on. Go to the library so that you can pay off your student loans. Go to the library so you can save up a down payment on a house. Go to the library so you can afford a new pair of shoes and the heating bill this month.
Just go to the goddamn library, you fool.
Go the fuck to the library.