Living Large at the Library

by Rachel Singer Gordon

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Every Saturday, I come home from work with a free feature film on DVD, and my husband and I have our weekly date night in front of the TV after our son goes to bed. No, I don't work at Blockbuster, but at a suburban public library, so I know how to take advantage of its multiple free, time-saving, and money-saving resources.

Those who haven't visited their local library since that last-minute report was due in high school are missing out on amazing opportunities, all already paid for by their tax dollars. The resources available at public libraries benefit everyone from parents to small business owners. These include:

  • Videotapes and DVDs. The latest isn't always on the shelf, but as the parent of a toddler, I've missed more movies than I care to count and caught up with them later on the shelves. I've also picked up films for free that I neither would have paid for at Blockbuster or heard of when they were in the theatre, and been pleasantly surprised. For my son, I can check out that Baby Einstein or Elmo's World video to see how he likes it (or how soon he tires of it!) before investing $14.99 on a purchase. I haven't been to my local video store in years, and am pleased to have back the $4 per week that I used to spend on rentals.

  • Online article databases. Do you write? Do you have your own business? Doing research online often leads to dead ends when seeking archived articles; publications often want you to subscribe or to pay per article accessed. Your local library has full-text periodical databases available (see if you can access these from home with your library card!), allowing you to expand your research beyond the public Web and to avoid these fees. Trouble finding information on a subject? Call up or come in and ask for assistance from a trained reference librarian.

  • Parenting resources. When I have an issue with my son, I don't rush out and buy ten books on the subject. Instead, I check them out of the Parent/Teacher section at my library. I can check out back issues of parenting magazines rather than subscribing to them, and photocopy articles as needed. My library also stocks free local periodicals like Chicago Parent, as well as guides to local free and low-cost attractions.

  • Free children's programs. My local Gymboree charges $188 for a 12-week session. My local library charges nothing for a 10-week storytime session. Do the math! Most libraries go especially all-out in the summer when older kids are out of school. Enroll for free, check out and read books for free, go to free craft and other programs, and win free prizes. You'll find programs for toddlers to teens; a great alternative to paying for drop-in park district programs or for summer camp.

  • Books! Yes, your library still has them. If you're willing to wait a little longer, you can put yourself on the list to read that new John Grisham instead of plunking down for a hardcover that will languish on your shelf for years after you've read it. Walk out with a bag full of entertaining or educational materials. Check your library's web site; its catalog is most likely online, and many now let you request materials online and be called when they arrive at your local branch.

  • Computer access. Free high speed Internet? Microsoft Office software? Free classes on their use? All this and more at many local libraries. If you are tired of dialup, or just need to check your e-mail while out running errands, stop on by.

  • Educational programming. Evening programs at many libraries range from travelogues to crafts to lectures to video series to talks by local authors. Call up, check your library's newsletter, or look on their web site to see what might be offered. You will likely have your choice of at least one or two events a month. Think about what you could learn!

  • Job-hunting resources. Find local newspapers, employment guides, resume-writing resources, and more. Some libraries conduct job-hunting workshops, or maintain employment bulletin boards with postings from local businesses. See what yours has available.

Today's libraries function as true centers of the community, offering something for everyone. Why try to personally duplicate their resources? Instead, take advantage of the power of local community. These resources are already here and waiting for you, as are your local librarians!

Rachel Singer Gordon ( is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time mom.

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