In these days of sequestration and diminishing public services, keep that library card at the ready: The public library remains one of the few places where you can actually get a return on your tax dollar.
With the increasing popularity of e-books for the Kindle, iPad and even your smartphone, you might wonder who needs a library. You do, because at your local public library, “You can download videos and audio books and e-books to any computer, smartphone or any mobile device and they’re available 24/7,” says Gerald Brooks, marketing director of the St. Louis Public Library.
Plus, if you haven’t heard — libraries aren’t just for books anymore. If you’re into music, the public library is the place for you. The St. Louis Public Library has “thousands of CDs from the Isley Brothers to the Jonas Brothers, from Wayne Newton to Lil’ Wayne, from Big Country to No Country for Old Men and from kung fu to Kung Fu Panda,” Brooks says. Each week, patrons can download three songs for free that they can keep and use on any device they own, he adds. Patrons can also borrow Wii and XBox 360 games at many libraries.
While some libraries are cutting hours, with so many books, recordings, DVDs, CDs and games available for download, you don’t even have to visit the bricks-and-mortar library. Most major cities’ libraries offer a vast catalog of titles for download.
One of the most valuable things libraries offer in tough economic times is free use of its computers, free Internet access and help in your job search. “We have people who used to have these services in their home but due to the economy, they no longer do so now they can come to the library and get it for free,” Brooks says.
Here’s a valuable tip if you’re looking for a job: Some libraries have job and career centers where patrons can get help with résumé preparation and job-related materials. In addition to free use of computers, many libraries let you print from their computers at no charge. For example, in St. Louis, library patrons can print up to 200 pages for free, allowing you to save your own printer ink and paper costs. In addition, many libraries offer a variety of other services and programs including:
- Classes on subjects ranging from crafts to specific computer programs
- Story hour for preschoolers
- Teen lounges where kids can chill and hang
- Homework help for kids in kindergarten through grade 12
- Summer reading programs for kids and adults
- Programs, discussions and speakers including featured authors
- Free continuing education classes, both online and onsite
- Computer classes for those who don’t know how to use them and classes on specific computer programs for advanced students. Always wanted to learn how to make and use a spreadsheet? Check out the classes on Excel at your local library and you might be able to pick up that new skill for free.
- Genealogical research tools. For example, the St. Louis Public Library has a genealogy library where you can research your family even if they never lived in St. Louis, and you can access the popular Ancestry website for free.
- Information on local legislation and ordinances.
Despite the popularity of e-books, people continue to visit the public library in person. In January 2013, one branch of the St. Louis Public Library saw more than 2,000 visitors on Sundays with other branches logging more than 1,000 visitors on Sundays that month. “And we’re only open for four hours on Sunday,” Brooks says.
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