When I left my public library this morning, I received the routine email verifying that I had borrowed a particular book and that it was due back in four weeks. The email also included a little fact that I hadn’t considered before…
You have saved $835.83 this year.
My little branch of the public library is just one of the 14 library locations serving my county, and they’re part of a larger library system. Four library systems converge in the Capital Region and there are 23 public library systems in New York State. We’re very lucky.
Libraries began as a place to keep records and store religious and philosophical documents. Books were expensive so they were maintained in private collections of the wealthy, or by universities and monasteries. It would be centuries before libraries would be used by the general public and it wasn’t until the 19thcentury that communities began allocating public funding to support libraries in an effort to promote literacy. Libraries eventually evolved into community centers, where anyone could access information and participate in free activities. The mission of the Saratoga Springs Public Library concisely summarizes the goals of many modern public libraries:
Saratoga Springs Public Library is a source for information, inspiration, and entertainment, which sustains and enhances the quality of life in our community by providing access to resources and experiences to help all of our residents satisfy their curiosity about the world and participate fully in civil society.
As a life-long lover of books, libraries have always been places of comfort and escape for me. As a child, I learned to flip through the stiff paper card catalogues, stored in rustic wood cabinets with that distinctive smell, while standing on a step stool. I’d fall into one of the bean bag chairs in the corner with a few books that looked interesting and the world around me would fall away. Libraries of my youth were quiet and clean and lined with well-organized shelves of books. In these pre-computer, pre-internet days, my favorite source of world knowledge were dusty encyclopedias and National Geographic magazines. There was so much to discover.
Later, I learned how to use the microfiche, the giant metal box of a machine that made me slightly nauseous as images and articles whizzed by. I also learned how to sift through academic journals to find relevant articles. My transition from high school to college coincided with our society’s larger transition to computers. I learned to use the rows of clunky Apple computers lining the computer lab and was given my first email address. Though technology was saving time at the library, I still enjoyed sitting among the stacks, browsing books about topics I never knew existed.
By the time I moved to the Capital Region of New York in 2002, libraries had changed. Card catalogues were digital and just about every library included computers that could be used for anyone with a library card. The main library offered a growing selection of movies on DVD that could be signed out for free. Over the next decade and a half, the library continued to evolve. Books and magazines became available electronically. More and more databases could be accessed from my home computer… and then my phone. In addition to book clubs and gardening workshops, libraries were now offering free classes related to using computers, searching the internet, and taking digital photos.
The opportunities at public libraries continue to expand. There are children’s programs which strive to instill a love of reading and learning in our youth. Story time with dogs or even pigs aren’t uncommon. Neither is art exploration, Lego night, adult coloring time, and yoga classes. One of our libraries even offers free guitar classes to teens.
Lesser-Known Library Services
Lawn Games: Having a barbeque or family reunion? Ask your local librarian if there are games that can be signed out. Libraries sometimes have Croquet sets, Cornhole, or Giant Jenga.
Sheet Music: Do you play an instrument? Whether you’re looking for sheet music for Mozart or the Beatles, check your local library because you might be able to find it for free.
Museum Passes: Sign out a pass to visit your local museums for free. If you live in New York City, this means that you can visit the Museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art for free. And it’s not just for museums in large metropolitan areas. The rules for the passes vary, but my local library let me sign out a pass for a popular museum in upstate New York. It could be used once for up to four people and had to be returned in one week. This saved me the cost of admission which would have totaled $48! Passes for some popular museums are consistently signed out, especially on weekends, but if you can be somewhat flexible about when you visit you can see many museums for free.
Movies at Home: You probably already know that many libraries have movies that you can borrow on DVD or Blu-ray. But did you know that you may also be able to stream movies at home for free with your library card? Libraries offer patrons access to streaming services such as Hoopla or Kanopy.
Language Learning Software: Are you working to learn a new language? Your library may have software that you can use for free. Libraries in my area have Mango.
The services that I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. Libraries are always expanding their services to meet the needs and interests of their communities. September is Library Card Sign-Up Month so visit your public library and discover all of the fun and useful resources available to you!