Check out your local library: It's not just for books anymore

The public library is one of the best “free” resources in many communities, and a personal favorite of our personal finance expert. From yes, the books, to films to Internet portals and teen resources, libraries have something for everyone.

Gregory Bull/AP
Library Branch Manager Matt Beatty, center, helps a customer at a San Diego Public Library in this June 2012 file photo. Beatty has worked for the city as a librarian for more than 11 years. From books to films to community programs, public libraries offer a wealth of resources for the frugally minded.

The public library is my single favorite “free” resource in my community. In fact, I value it so much that I actually posted a visual tour of the local library I use the most on this site a few years ago.

(It’s worth noting that libraries aren’t truly free. While you don’t have to pay any money immediately to use the resources, libraries are usually funded by a mix of taxpayer dollars, grants, and donations. However, the value that most people get out of the library, if they choose to use it, far exceeds what goes into the library.)

A good library isn’t some unique resource that you’ll just find in certain towns. Most towns have a library, even small ones like the one depicted below.

What value can you get out of your local library? I’m going to reiterate some of the items mentioned in my “tour” post above, along with some other value that libraries contribute.

Books Yes, libraries are a warehouse of books that you can check out for free. You can also find magazines, newspapers, tax documents, and other such printed material at the library, too. Beyond that, most librarians are quite happy to share their expertise in helping you find the right book for your needs and interests.

Music Most libraries have a collection of CDs that you can check out for your own enjoyment. Larger libraries even have musical discovery programs to help introduce you to new kinds of music that you may never have known about before.

Films Many libraries have DVDs that you can check out. Some libraries carry this further and show films at the library. Larger libraries even have a small auditorium which goes a long way toward creating a theater-like experience for free.

Cultural events Libraries often host muscial groups, speakers, and presenters of all kinds for the public to enjoy. At my own library, I’ve heard authors speak and bands perform. I’ve seen jugglers juggle and movie directors present their work.

Audiobooks Going on a trip? Your library likely has a good collection of audiobooks to check out that will make your travel a lot more enjoyable.

Meeting places Many libraries have rooms that can be used for meetings of community groups. I’ve participated in gaming groups and book clubs at libraries, and I’ve seen everything from gardening clubs to jester training (yes, jester training) at libraries.

Children’s resources Libraries often have abundant children’s resources. For example, right now my children are involved in a robust reading program that rewards them for summer reading with new books and other items, plus there’s a weekly storytime and other activities at the library for them.

Internet access Almost every library today offers computer use with internet access for those who do not have access to the internet at home. Many libraries offer wi-fi access for people who bring in their laptops and other devices.

Teen resources Many larger libraries offer teen programs, including rooms where teens can hang out together in a safe yet private environment. They also offer book clubs targeting teenagers.

Additional community resources Some libraries offer additional services beyond these. For example, some local libraries offer battery recycling. One local library near us offers free paper recycling for people who don’t have home pick-up.

Your local library has a wealth of resources right there for you to take advantage of. All you have to do is walk in the door.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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