You may not know this, but there are more library branches in the US than McDonalds. True fact. Wait! Before you sigh and move on to the next article, hear me out! I’m not going to tell you about books. Well, not much, anyway. It turns out, there’s far more to today’s libraries than books, and I’m pretty sure there are a bunch of Homies out there who could totally use some of their local library’s services, but have no idea what kind of riches they’re missing.
I’m an academic librarian, and I’d like to give you this little heads up on some examples of what you might find.
Computers and wifi
Kind of follows from the technology training, I guess. Unlike a coffee shop, the library won’t ask you to buy a latte every couple of hours, though.
Obviously, you’d expect to see books on various career-related skills, but it goes much further. Many libraries offer classes on finding a job, and some even have full-time staffed Job and Career Centers. Most (90% of) libraries offer online employment resources, in addition to books and programs.
All libraries have tax forms, or can point you in the right direction to print them up. But some offer a lot more help than that.
If your DIY spirit goes beyond crafting and into hacking, your local library may be able to help you. Example: Westport Public Library’s maker space
No, seriously, people get seeds for their gardens from their library.
Public meeting spaces
Most public libraries have rooms that community members can reserve, generally for no fee. There may be a requirement that the activity has some kind of cultural value, or is open to the public, or they may be totally free for all; it varies by library.
Ebooks and music
Free ones, which you can download to read on your own device (computer, iPad, Kindle, etc). Check and see if your library has something called “Overdrive,” “Freading,” or “OneClickDigital,” and don’t be afraid to ask your librarian, if you don’t see any of those listed.
Some libraries even subscribe to online services, so you can download MP3s from home. Look for “Overdrive” and “Freegal,” and if you don’t see either, ask your librarian.
Stuff for your kids
Offering everything from storytime for the little ones to teen zones and creative outlets for the less-little ones. Libraries are safe, welcoming spaces for young people. Many libraries offer free homework help, test prep (think SATs), and tutoring.
Any fact in the whole wide world
Librarians have a number of different jobs within the library, but one of the most common and best liked is “reference,” which just means “sitting at a desk answering the questions of anybody who asks.” Where else in the modern world can you go, ask any question, and expect to get an answer, quickly, for free? (One caveat: Librarians can’t give legal or health advice. But they can still look up laws and medical facts for you.) So make a librarian happy. Go ask him/her a question!
Your particular branch may have most of these services, or it may have none (besides reference; I’m pretty sure every library does that) but libraries tend to be very responsive to community requests. If there’s something on this list that you want, but your library doesn’t offer it, ask! There’s a good chance some energetic librarian really wants to offer cool new services, but needs a good excuse… like a patron request! There may or may not be funding or staff time available for it, because times are tough. But even if your local library can’t swing it (or can’t swing it right now), nobody will get upset with you for asking. And the librarian will know where else in your community you could go to get the same kind of service, if it exists.