Back when I lived in a hippie commune with approximately nine humans and 37 dogs, I biked 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 roommate 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 is 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. Last year, 37 of the 53 books I read came from the library.
The average cost of an adult trade paperback is about $15. So I saved $550 in one year, just by visiting the library. That’s a lot of money! So even even if you’re a prodigious reader like me, you don’t have to spend 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.
Maybe practice a little restraint and avoid marking up your books? Keep a notebook or try Goodreads instead? And get thee to the goddamn library.
The library has so much more than books
Some people aren’t big readers. Fine! I acknowledge their existence even if I cannot understand them. But the library has so much more than just books.
Other kinds of media
It’s got multiple forms of media for education and entertainment. That includes…
- Audiobooks, which you can rent and stream on your phone
- Movies and TV shows
- Magazines and newspapers (inside the paywall, baby!)
- Comic books and graphic novels
- Sheet music
- Academic journals
- Technical manuals
- Members-only websites (like Consumer Reports)
- Textbooks (HUGE potential money savings for students)
There’s also lots of unique experiences. Local libraries host tons of live events, usually for free or a very low cost. Things like…
- Free or discounted admission to local museums, zoos, and aquariums
- Music concerts and recitals
- Live readings of poetry, plays, and new books
- Classes and lectures
- Fitness and yoga classes
- Facilitated play activities for families with children
- Clubs and study groups for teens and students
- Food trucks, especially in the summertime
- Community gardens
Have I mentioned their facilities? Many public libraries boast amazing on-location conveniences such as…
- Free internet and wifi
- Dirt-cheap use of printers, scanners, and faxes
- Free private rooms for meetings and rehearsals
- Lots of desks, tables, armchairs, and other workspaces
- Private study rooms
- Bathrooms and a warm place to hang out if that’s all you need for now
- Hoopla, Overdrive, and Libby for renting and streaming media
- RBdigital for digital editions of newspapers and magazines
- Kanopy for movies
- LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda) for free classes and tutorials
- Mango for learning a new language
- Headspace for guided meditations and sleep aids
All libraries rent actual, physical books. But lots of them rent other things too! Some of them are pretty straightforward, like pieces of expensive cutting-edge technology. (I mean, that is what books used to be.)
- Computers, tablets, and e-readers
- 3-D printers
- Digital and video cameras
- Green screens
- Computer software
- Video game consoles
But also, there’s way weirder things! Kitty’s small suburban library has a pretty astonishing collection of “things” for rent. It’s a pretty wild assortment of things like…
- Camping gear, like tents
- Outdoor gear, like fishing poles and snow shoes
- Crafting supplies, like sewing machines
- Bicycles, plus accessories like locks and pumps
- Seeds that you take in the spring and replenish in the fall
- Musical instruments
- Kitchen appliances
- Basic household tools
- Board games and lawn games
- THERAPY DOGS?!
Absolutely incredible. And it can all 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 thing 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. It’s a core part of their job. No matter how obscure or weird the topic, librarians will come through.
Need help writing 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! (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 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.”)
These are just some of the official research and advisory services the library might offer help with.
- Homework and research
- Resume writing and job hunting
- Free legal consultations for common legal problems
- Filing your taxes
- Credit repair services
- First-time home buying classes
- Standardized test prep sessions
- Citizenship classes
I’ve seen some librarians do some amazing shit. Help an unemployed man write his resume. Teach an elderly woman how to use her first Kindle. Meet a mother 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.
- No place to meet to discuss a group project? Reserve one in the library for a few hours.
- Need somewhere warm to pass a few hours? The library is a great safe place to pass some quiet time.
- Need help with almost literally anything? From sticking with NaNoWriMo to escaping domestic violence? C’mon, you’ve figured out the theme! Go. To. The. Library.
The stacks are filled with unicorns and talking puppies! Perfectly choreographed songbirds will accompany you (and your library finds) home! And you’ll swell with the sense of satisfaction that comes from saving your hard-earned dough for more important things! See a doctor about it.
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.