What do your gym membership and local library have in common?
You’re paying for it… whether you choose to take advantage of the benefits or not.
Take a moment to imagine your public library.
You find yourself lost in a maze of endless aisles of books where you wander in circles trying to break that cryptic code known as the Dewey Decimal system. The scene is accompanied by that distinct, musty smell of old paper and an encompassing silence just waiting to be broken by a stifled sneeze.
Depending on your own interests and personality, the prior paragraph either sounds like the beginning of a horror movie or the start of a perfect Saturday (it’s one of my favorite places to go when I’m bored on the weekend).
No matter what your current impression of libraries might be, it’s time to reimagine them beyond books see them for their true potential as…
A money saving machine!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to cancel your home internet service (although you can get cheap or free internet if you’re resourceful) and camp out in front of the library computers to save money by visiting your local library.
Here are five simple ways you can start saving money by enjoying your local library – followed by a quick guide on how to get started!
Take books for a test drive
“Guess what, I have flaws. What are they? Oh, I don’t know. I sing in the shower. Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering. Occasionally I’ll hit somebody with my car. So sue me… No, don’t sue me. That is the opposite of the point that I’m trying to make.” – Michael Scott, The Office
I need to confess my one of most expensive flaws. Admitting I have a problem will be the first step in making peace with my financial past:
Over the past few years, I’ve purchased far more books than I’ve ever read.
Is this true for you, too?
If you have piles of books you’ve purchased with the promise of reading them someday soon, perhaps this is the easiest place to start on your “saving money at the library” journey.
This isn’t to suggest that buying your own books is a waste of money. There’s something to be said about owning your own personal copy that you can mark up, keep for as long as you’d like, or accidentally drop on your plate or in the bathtub without any fear of repercussions.
However, if you find yourself buying more books than you seriously have time to read, consider giving your next book a “test drive” first by checking it out from the local library.
If you finish the rented copy and consider it something you’ll want to read again or refer back to (or if you just want to support the author), you can go online to buy a new or used copy.
Listen to audiobooks for free
Audiobooks: the early ancestors of the modern-day podcast?
Ever since I started waking up earlier and riding public transit to work, I’ve tried to find ways to make sure this newly-rediscovered “me time” has value.
If you also have a long commute, you may want to use this free time to learn something new – or at least escape into your favorite or fictional worlds.
One under-utilized benefit that many public libraries offer is free access to a large collection of audiobooks.
Most libraries offer this content through a service called Overdrive. The site claims a catalog of over 2 million eBooks, audiobooks, and videos. The available content includes:
- New York Times Best-sellers
- Classic works of fiction
- Popular business and self-help books
- Curated collections by topics or style
- And more – go take a look, we’ll wait
You can access these items from your phone, tablet, or computer – all it takes is a library card!
Given the size of their collection, it’s worth checking out if you love audiobooks but aren’t sure you want to shell out $14.95 a month for Audible.
(And even if you do have an Audible account, you may want to see if you can rent an audiobook for free from Overdrive before spending an Audible credit.)
Use the library as a free workplace
If you’re a student, remote worker (full-time or freelancing on Upwork), or an entrepreneur, you may already understand just how difficult it can be to work productively from home.
This is one of the major reasons why there’s been an emergence of “coworking” spaces over the past few years.
What is a coworking space, you ask?
It’s a semi-private building where individuals or small teams can pay membership dues to gain access to office space.
(You can read more how this is just the beginning of one coworking company’s master plans.)
Coworking spaces offer their members a variety of benefits:
- Daytime or 24/7 access to the building
- Access to the internet, printers, and supplies
- Networking events with other members
- Discounted pricing to ticketed community events
- Free coffee and snacks
If you’re looking for a place to get your work done outside of your home or office, this setup sounds pretty appealing. Unfortunately, the coworking memberships I’ve seen run anywhere from $80 to $350 a month.
At that rate, it might still be cheaper to just drop into Starbucks and work without the hassle of a membership agreement.
If only there was a place where you could take advantage of these same benefits at a free or steeply discounted cost…
I’m no etymologist, but I’d just like to point out the word “library” is awfully close to the Greek word “liber,” meaning free.
Attend classes and events
City and university libraries are considered to be central gathering places within the community. As such, they often host events – lectures, classes, and activities – that fall across a wide spectrum.
Listening to a controversial author share the highlights from their recent book on politics, religion, or philosophy? Check.
Looking for a family-friendly place for your children to create crafts inspired by their favorite fictional characters? Check.
Impressing your significant other with a fun, cheap date by admiring a photography exhibit or watching a series of short films produced by local students? Check.
You can attend many of these local events for free, although some activities might charge small fees to help cover the costs of supplies or bringing in special guests. Even if you do have to pay for a ticket, you’ll find that you’re saving a lot of money compared to many other entertainment options downtown!
Enjoy “hidden” perks
Hopefully, you’ve already started to see how the benefits of the library extend far beyond access to a great wealth of books.
While the most popular features of libraries – books, computers, and events – are widely promoted, they often offer a variety of “hidden” perks that you’re probably not aware of:
- Schedule time with a librarian to help with your research
- Access digital and print archives of local historical records
- Sit down with a genealogist to research your family history
- Rent a conference room for your next company or organization meeting
- Utilize library printers and scanners
Your local library may offer unique or less-common perks, such as video game rentals or books-by-mail, that could also help you save money. To fully enjoy all of the perks your library has available, scour through the website or sign up for their email newsletter.
How to save money by visiting your local library
Are you ready to add the library to your list of personal finance resources?
Here are five steps that will help you turn the page (insert facepalm emoji here) on your favorite new place.
- Register for a library card. If you don’t already have a library card, the application process is fairly simple. Just visit your library’s website or stop by the library with a photo ID and proof of address. You’ll have your library card or account set up in just a few minutes!
- Place a book on hold. While libraries typically have an abundance of the classics, you may have to reserve a copy of the newer or most popular books. After you have a library account, you can reserve a book online, over the phone, or in person. Claim your turn to check out your favorite book!
- Request an interlibrary loan. This is one of the most underused resources when it comes to books and the library. If your local library doesn’t have a copy of the book you’re looking for, you can typically request that the library borrow the book from another library in the area (it will take a couple days to get to your location).
- Explore the event calendar. You can find the schedule of upcoming events on your library’s website. No matter your interests, you’re likely to find some type of lecture, class, or activity that appeals to you. Find an event that stands out, and make it part of your next date or family night!
- Schedule a library day. My favorite way to enjoy the public library? Just show up and explore. You can schedule a morning or afternoon to peruse the aisles of books, drop in on an event, or sit down at an open table to get some work done.
Have you been successfully been convinced that your local library is a personal finance lover’s dream?
Even if you don’t consider yourself a voracious reader, the library is an excellent place to get work done, participate in community events, and save some money in the process.
Next time you have a chance, stop by your library and see what they have to offer. You might just be pleasantly surprised! Our closing thoughts come from the children’s TV show Arthur:
Having fun isn’t hard,
When you’ve got a library card.
Having fun isn’t hard,
When you’ve got a library card.
Come on inside,
We’ve got everything you need.
There’s plenty to do,
Or you can just sit and read.
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