Libraries are awesome. I know that if you follow the money, everybody ends up paying for them somehow, but to me, they’re like magic. For absolutely no money at all, they give you access to thousands of books on every subject imaginable. Your kid wants to know everything there is to know about Komodo dragons? No problem. You’ve developed a sudden interest in palm reading? They’ve got that covered. You’d like to read a NY Times best seller? They’ve got all of them. Since like forever.
There is practically no subject left unexplored by your helpful neighborhood library. If, for some reason, they don’t have what you’re looking for at your specific branch, but another library in the system does, they’ll bring it to you for little or no cost. When my eldest child turned two, I decided I needed to make sure he had access to all the best children’s books the world had to offer. First, I researched what others recommended (see Best Books for Kids). Then I cross-referenced that list with the library catalog to see which ones I could get through my library system. While my small town local library didn’t have most of them, branches throughout my county did. One by one, the books I requested traveled up to 70 miles to arrive within minutes from my house. What did I pay for this service? Absolutely nothing.
It’s not only books that they will bring you either. My local library has a fairly small selection of audiobooks, but I’ve had literally any and every audiobook I’ve been mildly interested in delivered to my library. My husband listens to them during his long commute to work and I listen to them whenever I can sneak in a few minutes. Audiobooks are not cheap, but through the public library system I’ve listened to many of the books I’m interested in without paying a dime. Since I convert them to mp3 to play them on my ipod, I even have copies after I return the discs to the library in case I want to listen to them again. Although I still prefer to sit down and read, there is definite appeal in the convenience and multi-tasking opportunity provided by audiobooks.
Nowadays, most libraries also have a selection of DVDs available for borrowing. Blockbusters sometimes cost a nominal fee, like a dollar or two, to rent. However, many of the educational ones are free. When my son was a toddler, he loved Baby Signing Time. Now that he’s a preschooler, he’s presently into The Magic School Bus television series (also free).
Libraries typically also offer many free services, like classes, presentations, and programs for kids. Before we had children, my husband and I took a multi-week class on signing at our library. Since having kids, we’ve participated in storytime, craft days, book sales, and the summer reading program which provides small prizes to kids for reading or having books read to them.
Lastly, I doubt all libraries offer this service, but all three counties I’ve lived in over the past few years offer access to a “digital library” where I can check out books to read on my e-reader. The reason I bought a Nook instead of a Kindle a couple years ago was specifically for this feature. However, nowadays Kindle versions of these borrowable e-books exist as well. Additionally, the digital library includes several audiobooks. The lending period for these e-books and audio files is finite, after which time the files expire and no longer work on your device. However, some of the audiobooks can be burned to cd and these versions last forever. Since libraries aren’t open 24-7, it’s great not having to wait until Monday morning to check out something new to read.
To me, the public library system is a miraculous gift that I can’t believe I don’t have to pay someone a premium membership fee to belong to. It’s like the US postal service charging 45 cents to carry a piece of paper three thousand miles or more (across an ocean, if necessary) and deliver it to the doorstep of the person you specify. It’s inconceivable when you think about it that these types of services even exist. Since I’m not sure we can count on them existing indefinitely, we might as well take advantage of them while we can.