They’re some of my fondest memories — coming home from the public library with an armload of books. It was at the public library that I discovered A Wrinkle in Time, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Middle-Earth, Prydain and Narnia. After I grew up, though, I forgot the library (except as a place to camp out the week before exams).
Imagine my surprise, then, upon my gleeful return, when I found the public library much changed. So much had changed, in fact, that I felt like a deer caught crossing the Eisenhower Expressway at 7:10 a.m. But I settled into a comfortable relationship with our public library. I hope the tour of today’s library that follows helps make your visit a ramble down Memory Lane, not a reckless ride down Elm Street.
The library is about books, right? Of course it is. Even the name comes from the Latin (by way of Middle English) word for book. So we begin with books.
Most libraries have books on a broad range of subjects, from fiction to finance to feeding your goldfish. If you’re looking for a certain book, chances are, they own it. And while you may have to wait for it or put it on hold (see below), you probably asked God for more patience anyway.
Audiobooks, especially unabridged books, are notoriously expensive. Example: The hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will cost you $13.97 at Amazon.com, while the award-winning audio edition will run you $34.97 (for cassette; or get ‘em for under 10 and 30 bucks respectively at half.com). But the library offers hundreds of unabridged audiobooks for nothing. Nada. Which, Dear Reader, beats even half.com.
Incidentally, if you haven’t taken an audiobook on a trip, you don’t know what you’re missing, especially if it’s read well by someone like Jim Dale (who reads the Harry Potter books) or Frank Muller (who reads everybody from Stephen King to Jerry Jenkins).
I love movies. Love them. But have you seen the price of a movie ticket lately? And multiply that by two for date night. You might think you save by going to Videos R Us, but those prices keep climbing, too.
The library, on the other hand, is super-cheap, if not free. Our local public library checks out videos for free, and you can take home up to five. As if that weren’t enough, they’re accumulating quite a collection of DVDs, including classics you’ll be hard-pressed to find at the video chains, things like The Prisoner and those great BBC and PBS comedies and miniseries, not to mention the National Geographic “Beyond the Movie” for The Lord of the Rings.
Which reminds me (don’t ask): instructional videos. Thinking of becoming a US citizen, building a deck, learning to knit? The library probably has a video that can help.
Some libraries charge a fee for videos, I’ve heard. But it will seem like a gift after you’ve rented the same movie from Video Giant.
Don’t have a computer at home? Then where are you reading this? Never mind.
If you don’t have ready access to a computer, or you need your RELEVANT fix and your Internet connection leaves more than a little to be desired, visit your public library. More and more libraries are offering free or inexpensive access to the Internet and more. Thinking of writing a column for RELEVANT? The rent-a-typewriter rooms of yesteryear have been replaced by free access to word processing at the library. (I think it cost Ray Bradbury nine bucks and change to write The Fire Man, which became Fahrenheit 451).
Exhibits, Classes and Groups
Depending on your library, you might find exhibits of community history or local artists. You might also find classes on the very topics you need instruction in, from gardening to surfing the Web. And I dare not forget writing and reading groups.
More libraries than ever coordinate reading groups, which are just that: groups of people reading a book together and discussing it over coffee or tea. Some even offer (or host) writing groups where you can get honest murder — er, criticism — of your freshly birthed literary baby (not for the faint of heart).
The library’s offerings are only limited by the imagination of its patrons. So your library may offer different or more services. If you’re wondering, ask. And most libraries have a brochure of their services that they’d be happy to pass along.
Tips for Your Visit
Now, I’ve approached the public library from the perspective of a not-wealthy husband and father who still wants to be entertained now and then, and who isn’t content to join Ross and Rachel or Anne Robinson for a night in front of the tube. If you’re ready for cheap (often free) entertainment, try the library, and write these tips down, keeping them with you always.
[+] Ask, “What do I want?”
Browsing is a lot of fun for me, but when I’m on a mission, I tend to come away from the library with a cooler head. If you’re looking for a video, what genre would you like to see? Same for books. Since genre fiction (and nonfiction subjects) are in their own sections, knowing generally what you want really helps. On the other hand, if what you want is a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany, proceed directly to . . .
[+] The Card Catalog (It’s Your Friend)
Of course, it’s usually not cards anymore, but the principle is the same. Enter an author’s name, the title of a movie or a keyword, and a search engine will return whatever the library holds in answer to your query. Most search engines will even tell you when it’s due back, if the item you need is checked out. If what you want isn’t in, you need to . . .
[+]Learn Patience (The Art of the Hold)
We’re a right-here-right-now society, which is why some people pay more at stores rather than buy online and wait for shipment. Placing a hold on a library item ensures that you get it when it’s returned. In fact, you’ll often get a call to let you know your materials are available. If the library doesn’t own what you’re looking for, ask a librarian about Inter-Library Loan. And just in the interest of mental and emotional well-being, please . . .
[+]Don’t Overdo It
Leaving the library with 17 books, three audiobooks, and a full complement of videos under your wings may feel good at first, but when you return 16 books unread and one or two of the movies unwatched, the guilt can kill you. All the best intentions in the world can’t prevent real life from making your best-laid plans “aft-agley.” Think realistically; the library will still be standing when you return.
Hey, Saturday afternoons (or Friday nights) have been spent in worse ways than at the library. You may even discover a whole new world. (Oh no! I haven’t returned Aladdin!)
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