Everyone seems to have a general idea that the library offers free stuff, and that the public library thus is supposed to be the great equalizer in society. But perhaps the library achieves its greatest importance to people in times of economic duress. As concerns about the economy grow, consider below some of the ways that people could benefit from its services.
Subscription services are often one of the first costs financial advice columns will suggest individuals drop if they wish to save money. As inflation in the U. S. continues and people struggle economically, it seems likely that more people will follow this advice. That does not mean you have to go without TV shows and movies, though! If you do not wish to travel to the library to pick up a DVD to watch, you can visit your library’s website to check out what streaming services they offer. Hoopla and Kanopy are the major names usually carried by U. S. libraries. Because they are pay-per-view (for the library, not the patron), libraries usually give each cardholder a limited number of credits to be used towards checkouts on these platforms each month. Kanopy is known for its selection of documentaries, indie films, and children’s shows, while Hoopla has an eclectic assortment of content (as well as e-books, audiobooks, music, and a large graphic novel collection).
Most U.S. libraries now allow cardholders to check out WiFi hotspots so they can access the internet at home. In the interest of full transparency, I will announce here that I do not pay for internet service; I access the internet at home through a library hotspot. While some of the older models used to drop service periodically (just as any internet service will), I have found the new models to be more reliable than the internet services that my friends pay for. These hotspots sometimes have different lending terms than books, but the general idea is the same. Your library card allows you to check one out for a set amount of time. You can return it on the due date and check out another one, or place yourself on a waitlist.
Just make sure you know if the model you are checking out has unlimited data–some libraries offer this and some cap the data. Also be aware that if you keep the hotspot past the due date, the library will disconnect the data entirely so you can no longer access the internet, and you may accrue late fines. In general, though, if you need internet and cannot afford it, it’s worth looking into a WiFi hotspot! Alternatively, you ask your local librarian for help finding any broadband assistance currently being offered in your community.
Has the economy convinced you that it is time to find a new job? The public library can help! Libraries typically offer online resources that will help you write and improve your resume and cover letter. They may also offer online resources (LearningExpress Library, Peterson’s Career and Test Prep, etc.) that will allow you to study for career tests and even take practice tests. If you need some help in person, you can ask to see if they offer one-on-one computer help or any job search programs. And, if you just want to build on your skills, check their digital resources page to look for databases such as LinkedIn Learning (Lynda) or Universal Courses (which also offers classes on hobbies such as calligraphy or soap making!).
Want to start a garden, but can’t afford it? Check to see if your local library carries a seed library! Seed libraries provide seeds from the community that you can grow at home. Seasoned gardeners are then asked to save some of their seeds and donate them back to the seed library. Programming or information may also be available if you are new to gardening and are looking for some tips.
Museum and Park Passes
Why not get your entertainment free, courtesy of your local library? Many public libraries now offer free passes for families to attend local museums or other sites of cultural interest. Check to see what yours offers–or maybe suggest that they start such a program.
Digital Library Cards
U.S. libraries were expanding access even before the pandemic by offering digital library cards that individuals could apply for at home. Typically these cards allow access to the library’s online resources for a limited amount of time. Patrons must go into the library to obtain a physical card and extend the card’s usage period. Digital cards have become even more common since 2020, though, so, if you cannot leave home or just want to save gas, check your library’s website for more information.
It is also worth noting that you may be eligible for a state library card, which can expand the digital resources you have access to–anything from e-books to databases for things like researching family history or preparing for standardized tests. The way this typically works is that every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough).
Free Stuff! (Craft Materials, Classes, Prizes, and More)
Yes, the public library offers books, movies, music, games, and more to be checked out free of cost. However, they offer so much more! Check to see if your library is offering take-and-make crafts and activities–these could be anything from simple paper crafts to help young children learn fine motor skills or more complex kits like terrariums for teens and adults. The idea is that you simply pick it up at the library and then make it at home when you have time. Or sign up for a program that takes place at the library. Craft programs will provide all the materials you need so you can be creative without spending a dime. Or maybe you can take a free fitness or dance class, attend a free concert, or win prizes at Bingo night. Visit your library’s website and check out their events calendar to see just what they offer. Then invite your significant other or a friend, so you can have a free date night or friends’ night out!
The public library offers much more than books these days, but not everyone is aware of just how much they have access to. Or, if they are vaguely aware of some services, they may not be entirely aware of how those services work or how could they benefit them. However, as people begin to worry about being able to afford the necessities of life, the public library may prove more of a lifeline than ever. Familiarize yourself with your library’s website and their offerings. You may just be surprised!