The other day on Twitter a guy asked, “Does anybody still have a library card?” Not sure whether the question was plaintive or condescending, but the reaction was both swift and vociferous. The general consensus was, “Of course I do, and I don’t know why someone wouldn’t.”
One person actually said “I feel sorry for (that guy).”
Again, not sure where he weighed in on the topic. Maybe he’s one of those people who thinks he doesn’t need a library card because he has the Internet. But to paraphrase a meme I saw earlier today, “Saying you don’t need a library card because you have the Internet is like saying you don’t need a math teacher because you have a calculator.”
Maybe he was hoping to find his people online, because he’s one of those who got his library card as soon as he could sign his name. One of those who signed up for a new card every time he changed cities. One of those who, even though he reads e-books, swoons when he walks into a physical library and runs his fingers along the spines of the tomes in the “New Reads” section.
That would be me as well. Our libraries are finally open, and today I went back for the first time in probably a year and a half. The building itself is diminished: certain areas are closed off, and the traffic is noticeably lower than usual for a Saturday afternoon. But it was open. And I was finally back among my friends.
By “friends,” I of course mean “books.” I had to stop myself after choosing six. That took some doing, because I happen to know the limit is 50 items. But as much as I wanted to keep browsing, I didn’t want to carry 50 books. Besides, I figured I should save some of the new books for everyone else.
The library is one of my favorite places, and if you consider yourself frugal it should be among your top spots as well. Here’s why.
1. Free books
Some libraries have taken to printing “You saved X dollars today” on the check-out receipts. As in, if you’d have spent a bundle if you’d had to pay for these books. Reading books from the library isn’t a complete affront to authors, though, because once you find a writer you like you might very well:
- Buy your own copies
- Give them as gifts
- Suggest the author’s work to others, who might buy/give them
Many libraries, of course, offer e-books as well as physical ones. If you’re still wary about COVID or have some other reason not to want to be there in person, you can borrow online.
(Pro tip: If you want a book and it’s not in your library, request an inter-library loan.
2. Free programs/courses
Book readings. Author events. Lectures. Concerts. Art exhibits. Plays. Online classes for practical or technical skills. Your mileage may vary, depending on where you live. I bet some of you have a lot more options than we do.
3. Free stuff
Well, the loan of stuff for free, anyway. Books (including e-books and audiobooks), CDs and DVDs are what’s expected. But certain libraries around the country also offer things like toys, musical instruments, passes to cultural centers, sewing machines, cooking appliances, skates, gardening tools, board games and even fishing tackle.
4. Free wi-fi
Quite a few of the folks who frequent the Anchorage Library are using the Internet via phone, tablet or (more rarely) laptop. That’s okay. More books for me.
5. Free computers
Not everyone has a laptop, tablet or smartphone. The free computers at the library I use are always in demand.
6. Free information
How to file your taxes. How to look for a job. How to apply for benefits. How to sign up to vote. How to get into college. How to take a driver’s test. How to trace your family tree. And so on and so on.
7. Free activities
Storytime for parents and kids, outdoor concerts in the summer, a young readers book club, a “Teen Underground” where youths can socialize, do homework and play games. And that’s just here – no doubt other libraries have more.
8. Free magazines and newspapers
Yep, people still read these. Or at least they do up here.
9. Free peace and quiet
If you live in a crowded household, or work at a noisy place, the library can be an absolute haven. Ours has a little café in the lobby and some nice places to sit outdoors if you’re brown-bagging it from a nearby job, or stopping off while doing errands. I may or may not eaten McDonald’s fries near the Carl Nesjar ice fountain while feeling slightly menaced by greedy, fast-approaching Canada geese.
The old stereotype of the shushing librarian has pretty much gone by the wayside, but the Anchorage library does expect you to keep it down. The website specifies that you should not speak loudly or use phones in “a disruptive manner.” The rules also nix things like strong odors, wet or soiled clothing, “visible infestation” of lice or other pests, and open wounds, sores, bleeding or violent illness. I will keep that in mind.
Readers: Do you have a library card? And do you use it physically or virtually?