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. It was an easy way 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 on a tight budget and trying to save money?
Are libraries actually free?
Libraries are a godsend to poor and frugal people everywhere. They offer a truly staggering number of amazingly useful services. So I guess we forgive anyone who thinks they must cost money. Capitalism has trained thee well!
There are some rare exceptions, like private or school libraries that might require memberships. 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—like fire departments, municipal animal shelters, and calendars of sexy firefighters holding adoptable animals. Wow, who knew membership in civilized society came with such amazing perks?!
And you don’t even really have to pay taxes to participate in all the library has to offer! Children, homeless people, 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.
Libraries are so free that many of them are eliminating fines altogether to make sure money isn’t never a barrier for anyone.
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. Depending on where you live, that could be a month’s rent or several weeks of groceries! 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.
And the library has so much more than books
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 your local library branch almost certainly offers movies and music.
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!
Whatever the library doesn’t have, it can get
“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. They’ll buy the book and lend it out to you as often as you like.
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 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 some librarians do some amazing shit. Help an unemployed man write his resume. Show an elderly woman how to increase the text size on her Kindle so she wouldn’t have to use her reading glasses. Meet a woman at her car door with the stack of books she had on hold so she didn’t have to drag her five children inside.
Go to the fucking library
- Can’t afford to pay your Internet bill this month? The library has free wifi.
- Hit your limit on shared Netflix devices? The library has many binge-worthy shows.
- Need to save on entertainment so you can focus on paying off debt? Libraries have have pretty much everything, including new releases and bestsellers.
- Can’t afford to buy your college textbooks? The library probably has copies.
- Annoying roommate disrupting your studies? The library makes a great workspace, it’s easier to focus there anyway.
- No place to meet to discuss a group project? The library probably has meeting spaces you can reserve for a few hours.
- Need somewhere warm to pass a few hours? The library is a great safe place to pass some time quietly.
- Need help with almost literally anything? From researching and writing to escaping domestic violence and getting legal help? C’mon, you’ve figured out the theme! Go. To. The. Library.
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. Friends, go to the library so that you can pay off your student loans. Romans, go to the library so you can save up a down payment on a house. Countrymen, go to the library so you can afford a new pair of shoes and the heating bill this month.
Seriously, just go to the goddamn library, you fools!
Readers, tell us about your local library! What’s your favorite thing about it? How have your librarians helped you in the past? If it wasn’t clear, we’re leaning pro-library and stanning all library-related comments.