As I’ve said before many (many) times, the local public library is the single biggest entertainment value available to you. Unlimited books, DVDs, CDs, audio books, civic groups, films, presentations, live performances, and countless other opportunities are available at your public library, either in your own town or in the nearest significantly-sized town. The best part? It’s all free.
During my last visit to my library of choice, the Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa, I realized that for many people, the best way to make clear the abundance of value at public libraries is to simply show those values.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do today. Here are some of the multitude of wonderful free things that can be had at your friendly local public library.
Yes, books are the one big thing that libraries are known for. That doesn’t mean that there’s not an abundance of value there.
For starters, the library is far and away my top source for research materials and personal finance books to read and review for The Simple Dollar. I constantly trawl the personal finance section for books and occasionally request specific ones for reservation or through interlibrary loan, both of which I can do from home at my computer.
Not only that, I check out piles of fiction and non-fiction from the library for personal enjoyment. I’ve checked out approximately one and a half books a week this year solely for my own enrichment, ranging from classic literature like early John Updike novels and challenging material like a biography of Woodrow Wilson to pageturners like the Traveler trilogy by John Twelve Hawks. These resources are a constant source of entertainment, learning, and growth in my life.
Most libraries have publicly-available internet terminals that allow members to access the internet, visit websites, check their email, and research topics, free of charge.
Many libraries (all of the ones I regularly visit, anyway) also have wireless internet access, so if you have a laptop, you can simply sit down anywhere in the library and get online, again, free of charge.
If you’re around the Ames library often enough, you’ll eventually find me somewhere with my laptop open, jotting down notes or ideas for some project or another – or simply checking my email or approving comments.
Many libraries offer free live events to the public, from music concerts (like the one advertised above, for the Barn Owl Band) to film showings and public discussions.
When I lived closer to the library (and didn’t have children), I was a semi-regular attendee of the free films shown at the library. The films were usually thought-provoking, much more so than the slapstick comedy at the theatre, plus the cost was right.
Another great feature of most libraries is the presence of special interest groups. People often use the library as a venue for having meetings related to specific interests, like a historical romance reading club or an investment club. It’s quite enjoyable to meet with well-read like-minded people.
Many libraries have a wide assortment of DVDs that you can check out, just like a book. Feature films of all kinds, documentaries, foreign films, and countless other interesting things are available. The sheer number of films available here means that you’ll eventually be able to find something that matches your tastes – and it’s all without cost.
I often watch a lot of films during the winter months and the library’s selection of DVDs is one of my first stops in that journey. Almost always, I wind up finding something completely unexpected and surprisingly enjoyable on the racks.
(And, yes, that’s my son in the lower left corner. He’s eyeing the graphic novel selections, particularly a Spider-Man collection.)
Much like DVDs, most libraries have an extensive music collection that you can check out, just like books. I happen to quite like bluegrass music, so I took a picture of the bluegrass section of CDs on offer.
The library offers a great opportunity to get free exposure to all kinds of different music. If you’ve ever wanted to explore a musical genre without popping open your wallet and buying things without having any idea what you like or what’s good, the library is the perfect solution.
I’ve discovered countless artists thanks to the public library (my most recent discovery is Laura Nyro).
Whenever I go on a long road trip, I love to have an audiobook or two along for the ride. It’s a great way to absorb a story or a set of ideas while you’re whittling away the hours behind the wheel or on an airplane.
Unfortunately, audiobooks can be pretty expensive. Fortunately, the local library usually has a mountain of them for you to listen to (like the very nice Charlie Wilson’s War audiobook you can see above).
I usually snag three or four of these from the library before any long trip, just so I have some backups in case one of them has a poor reader. Why not? That’s what the library is there for – and it’s all free.
I thought I’d close by showing the part that my children love the most about the library – the children’s room.
Not only is it loaded with picture books of all kinds and shapes and sizes, there are also a lot of free-form learning toys available as well as puppets for impromptu puppet shows. On top of that, there are always reading programs going on, plus very regular story times in which someone reads a book to whichever children are present to listen.
My children actually get excited to go – and I’m certainly happy to encourage it!
In the end, a good library has a wealth of free resoures just waiting for you to use them – so why not use them? You can be entertained, learn something new, meet new people – and it doesn’t cost a dime.