Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.
The only entrance requirement is interest. — Lady Bird Johnson
When was the last time you went to the public library? Maybe it has been a while. Maybe you haven’t been since before you heard your last commencement address. If that is the case, it is time to rethink the library.
Burton Barr Central Library
Source: Phoenix Public Library, Photo Credit: Bill Timmerman
A couple months back I shared a post on Sustainable Home Economics and one of our lovely readers, Laura M, commented with a tip about baking her own fresh bread daily. She recommended a book with her recipe and I was immediately intrigued so I popped on over to phoenixpubliclibrary.org where I learned that an available copy was on the shelf at a branch near my office. I picked it up over my lunch hour — easy as pie.
Why the library?
Why didn’t I just buy it from amazon.com or download an electronic version to one of my many devices? I have a couple reasons. First, baking my own fresh bread sounded like a pretty cool idea but I wasn’t ready to make a commitment. I’m a busy Mama and while I like baking I’m not sure it could happen on a daily basis in my home. Second, I’m about making sustainable choices and saving money wherever I can. This means borrowing beats buying in almost every matchup. Finally, I believe in the power and importance of the public library and using their services shows my support.
You will find so much more than just books at your library; CDs DVDs, books on tape, toys and more are available at every branch. There are art exhibits and opportunities to learn about local art and history. The library supports the community by offering computers with internet service for those who don’t have access to these tools at home. Library patrons can even take free computer classes so they are better able to use the technology.
Is it convenient?
Some will argue that the library isn’t as convenient as buying/downloading your own copy. I’d say sometimes that is true, but not most of the time. Let’s look back to the bread book example I gave a moment ago. What if there hadn’t been a copy available at a branch near my office? No problem! If the library branch you use does not have the material you need you can join a waiting list or have the book transferred from another library. Intra-library transfer is an awesome and underutilized service. The library will move a book from a faraway branch to the one in your ‘hood with other transfers. You remember those 4R’s of Sustainability we talk about – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink. This is Reduce at its finest. Instead of fifteen people criss-crossing the city on fifteen trips to get the books and materials they want, the library consolidates shipments through their inventory management systems and patrons stop by their nearby branch to collect their items. Another advantage to using holds/transfers is that the book is waiting for you on the hold shelf, arranged alphabetically with your name on it. I’m all for the Dewy Decimal System but finding your name alphabetically on a shelf is easier any day.
I’ve found two inconveniences to using the library. First, the hours aren’t the same every day due to funding cuts and budget constraints. Second, you have to remember to take their stuff back to them on time or you will incur fines. Granted it’s only $0.20/item/day ($0.10/item/day for Children’s materials), it’s better not to be in hock with the library. Fortunately, a smartphone can solve both of these little inconveniences. The library’s mobile website gives each local branch’s hours so you will never arrive to locked doors. In addition, you will receive email reminders when your materials are coming due. You can even renew online if a trip to the library doesn’t fit your schedule that day. If you happen to drive by during closed hours you can slip those literary treasures in the book return where they’ll be safe and sound until the librarians pick them up in the morning.
What other services do they offer?
The library is truly a community institution offering a wide variety of services. There are sixteen branches in Phoenix and each one offers a place for neighbors to gather, kids to learn, students to research and families to explore culture and the arts. The library branches are full of free public art exhibits. Some are permanent pieces and others travel between branches or are featured for a short time.
Classes and programs at the library are a huge advantage to the community. They offer everything from infants story and play time to homework help for grade school age kids, to teen poetry slams and basic computer skills classes for all ages. Library programs help adults build resumes and advance job searches. They have community programs, special bilingual family story time to help break down language barriers and even English as a Second Language classes free for anyone who has the interest.
One of my favorite library features is the Culture Pass. Each library has a set of cards that can be checked out in exchange for free admission for up to 2 people at a local museum, zoo, park or art exhibit. There is no cost and there is no catch. The only thing you have to do is go to the library and choose from the available options OR decide where you want to explore for free and go to the branch that has an available Culture Pass. Culture passes are one of the few items that can’t be reserved or transferred to a local branch but most often the special trip is worthwhile when you don’t have to pay at the museum’s admission desk.
What about e-books and digital materials?
As if books, movies, meeting places, homework help, Culture Passes and story hours aren’t enough, the good folks at the library know how much we love our digital devices. That’s why there is a whole section of their website devoted to digital services. A little exploration here will lead you to e-books, audio books, apps and more that you can download for a pre-set borrowing period. You never have to leave the house and late returns are a thing of the past because the transaction is 100% digital. We live in the future and the future is pretty stinkin’ cool.
I’ve given a lot of love to the Phoenix Public Library here but the same story is true everywhere. No matter where you live or how small your town is, chances are you have a quality library that offers many of these valuable gifts. The bottom line: Go to the library. Take your kids. Take your friends. Take your time. Discover all of the treasures within and share them with the ones you love. There are bountiful resources out there so make sure to enjoy them. When you do, please be sure to share your favorite finds and the ways you love your local library.