from the collection of the Library of New South Wales
If you’re reading our blog you should think libraries are right next to parks in awesome things our government funds. Of course there’s education, fire departments, roads and other cool things I guess, but they’re nowhere near the top two. Maybe my bias has something to do with the fact that I’m a librarian and Robin works in a National Park, but I don’t think so.
This time of year I get really excited about being a librarian because it seems like all of the conferences converge on June. I work alone so when I have the chance to meet up with other librarians I get overwhelmed by how freaking awesome most of them are. It kills me to know that so many of our libraries are falling on tough times when they offer more than they ever have before. I think part of the problem is that while librarians know what libraries offer, studies have shown that most library patrons don’t even know that can check out ebooks. I’m here to help enlighten you a little before I head to Chicago for the biggest library extravaganza of them all – the American Library Association annual meeting.
Here are a few of the services that many libraries offer for free to their patrons. You’ll have to check your local library’s website (usually under databases, research or e-media) to see if these programs are available, but chances are you can join a nearby library that has most of them.
1. Ebooks: As I said, studies have shown that most patrons don’t know that libraries even offer ebooks. The service is pretty expensive, but worth it. I rarely go to a library in person anymore, but I use the library monthly to download ebooks onto my Kindle. Since not all publishers allow libraries to buy their ebooks and there are often long waits, it works best for books you don’t have to have right this minute. I don’t mind sitting on waiting lists for a few weeks since I usually have something else to read to interest me. There are audiobooks available too.
2. Language Learning: I love Mango languages for language learning. They have dozens of languages and lessons. I’ve tried Hawaiian, Arabic and Polish recently and while my mastery never exceeded the basic greetings, that’s my fault. Mango has an app for iPhones as well, which you don’t have to sign into after you first register. You can even learn how to speak pirate! Cuyahoga County Public library has a sign language learning database, but I haven’t had a chance to try it since I’m no longer a resident.
3. Free Music: Freegal allows users to download three songs a week for free. No strings attached. There isn’t a huge selection, but I got a Mumford and Sons album for free over a few weeks and if you’re into it you can download that annoying Daft Punk song that’s constantly on the radio. It’s mostly great for completing your collection of guilty pleasures that you don’t really want to spend the money on, but you do want to get legally.
4. Finding a New Book: So librarians are pretty good at helping you find your next favorite book, but you don’t always want to go up and ask at the reference desk. Luckily, you can use what they use. Novelist is a popular program that sorts books by genres, themes, author read-alikes and “best of” lists. Some libraries even have a separate Novelist database for K-8 which will find books using the Lexile Reading Level. I like using this to choose Christmas presents.
5. Skill Building: LearningExpress is the one I’m most familiar with, but there are many others. If you have a student with a standardized test coming up, want to take a practice citizenship test, or are working on improving your resume, this database has a wealth of resources to help you. There are ebooks, ecourses and etests to help you improve at different levels.
6. Home Repair: So you don’t know how to fix a leaky faucet. Neither do I. However, I can go to a local library and use the Home Improvement Resource Center to get step-by-step instructions that aren’t just from some guy on the internet. If you need help fixing a car, you can try the Auto Reference Center or Chilton. Both of these have diagrams of your vehicle plus information on what parts your car uses. These answered about 40% of our questions when I worked in the public library.
7. Consumer Reports: If you want to find reliable reviews of a big ticket (or small ticket) purchase, Consumer Reports is the way to go. If you want that information online, you’ll have to pay… Unless you have a library card. Most libraries have access to Consumer Reports in their general newspaper and magazine search. I use this resource all the time. I used it to research buying a new car, which I ended up holding off on, and to buy a hair dryer, which I purchased.
By now you may be saying “This is great! But I can get this on the internet, too.” Here’s the thing… You probably can find free music (illegally), language learning programs and repair guides. However, the resources from the library are vetted. Experts have edited them and keep them updated. This is good information that you don’t have to go through six pages of Google results to find. And none of this is available on the internet with that guarantee behind them. Libraries wouldn’t pay for databases if we could get this quality of resource for free.
Not all libraries will have all of these resources. The big ones usually do, but it depends on their funding and focus. I have five library cards – at least three of them I use on a monthly basis. A lot of libraries have interesting special collections, like Los Angeles Public Library’s menu and autograph collections. I would encourage you to join as many library systems you can in your area. Most of the time you only have to visit once in person to get your card, and sometimes not even that. I’m sure I’ll find some more interesting library resources this weekend and I can’t wait to share them with you.