Get a library card

In December and January, The Simple Dollar is posting a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.

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    Henry Winkler, best known as The Fonz in Happy Days, poses at a book signing in London with copies of his children's book 'Who Ordered This Baby? Definitely Not Me!' The Fonz made libraries cool in the 80's, when he discovered that he could get a 'lie-berry' card for free, and celebrated the fact on the air.
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Get a library card and pick out a few books.

A few months ago, I wrote a detailed ode to my local public library. Among the great things available there that I mentioned included books, internet access, events, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, and children’s resources.

A few weeks after that, though, I had a conversation with an employee of the Ames Public Library, asking for some estimates of how many people in the county actually have library cards. Ignoring collegiate students, she estimated that as few as 20% of the people in the county have a library card for this wonderful place.

That’s a shame. 80% of the people in the area are missing out on an incredible wealth of resources that are simply sitting there, waiting to be used for free.

If you’re in that 80% in your area, without a library card or a good grasp as to the abundance of things available at your local library, correct it. Get down to your local library, sign up for a library card, and see what the library has to offer.

What should I read? If you’re reading The Simple Dollar, you’re likely interested in improving your life, with finances being a part of that improvement. With that in mind, here are several books for you to check out and read during these winter months with that library card.

These books are all pretty widely available and should be found in most public libraries. If your library doesn’t have it, request it – most books can be obtained through interlibrary loan.

The Simple Dollar (my own book, discussing my experiences in rebuilding my own life)
Your Money or Your Life (the book that helped me to start turning my ship around)
The Total Money Makeover (the best debt management book I’ve ever read)
The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing (the best investing book I’ve ever read)
The Complete Tightwad Gazette (the best frugality book I’ve ever read)
Getting Things Done (the best time management book I’ve ever read)

While you’re there, browse some of the books related to topics that interest you. What I often suggest to people who are not avid readers is that they check out a page-turner – a plot-heavy novel that will interest them. If you don’t have any ideas, go up to one of the librarians and simply say, “I’m looking for a good page-turner that’s something like my favorite television shows” and name a few of them. They’ll point you to the right place.

Beyond that, explore what else your library has to offer. Most libraries have a large selection of audiobooks (my preferred choice for a long road trip – which reminds me that I should pick one up before our next road trip). Many have a big selection of DVDs, too. Some offer community events of all kinds, which you can find out about by checking their calendar.

(One frequent complaint that people offer about using the library is that in some areas, homeless people congregate there. If this is a situation in your area, don’t avoid it. Get involved. Request that the library board change their policy about loitering at the library. It should be a resource available to everyone and if the chairs are taken up by people, that’s blocking reasonable use of resources.)

To put it bluntly, the local public library is a giant pile of free entertainment and resources, just waiting for you to use it. Go give it a shot today.

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