Somewhere in between discovering electricity and inventing bifocals, Benjamin Franklin blessed the world another ingenious creations: the public library. Since then, libraries have served as both community centers for hundreds of millions of people around the world and inspiration for one of the catchiest Arthur songs of all time. If you haven’t been into a public library, you may think that they’re just places to get books – but in reality, they’re so much more.
Not just books
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: libraries are home to tons and tons of wonderful books. In addition to your standard fiction and nonfiction, you will likely be able to find graphic novels, textbooks, and even standardized test prep books. If you can imagine it, chances are your library has it.
Free books are enough to get me in the door of any establishment, but most libraries have plenty of resources for the non-reading crowd as well. If you’re more into music, movies, and television, libraries typically offer a wide selection of CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, Blu-ray discs – and even sometimes video games. There’s more media packed into those library shelves than you’ll ever have time to consume during your lifetime.
Best yet, you don’t have to find these titles yourself – many libraries have websites that allow you to place requests from the comfort of your own home. In many cases, you’ll even be able to place holds on items from nearby libraries and pick your holds up at the library that’s most convenient for you. It’s just like ordering take-out, except without the nerve-wracking phone call. And with mind-expanding books instead of waist-expanding grease.
Improve your homework
When I was in high school, my first stop when I was assigned a new project was the library. Sure, the internet holds a wealth of information, but some of the most helpful sources I’ve found have been library books. Look up your topic in the Dewey Decimal System, hit up the stacks, and check out the indexes of the books there to see what’s relevant.
Libraries also hold archives of old documents and provide access to online databases you can’t find through Google. And with printers, scanners, and copy machines, you have plenty of ways to accumulate and sort the information you need.
Better than a coffee shop
Most libraries also offer the single most important modern amenity: WiFi. With plenty of couches, tables, and outlets, libraries are excellent places to settle in and get some work done. If you don’t already work at the library, maybe it’s time to start: anecdotal evidence suggests working in different places can help increase your concentration and productivity. And unlike at a coffee shop, you won’t be tempted to buy $5 sugar milk, or have to worry about dirty stares if you linger too long.
Mix and mingle
Borrowing and working, however, tend to be fairly solitary experiences. If you’re looking for a more social encounter, libraries can provide that as well. Book clubs are fairly common, as are movie screenings, if you want to meet other people who enjoy the same books and movies as you do. Perhaps less exciting, some libraries also host lessons and workshops, which can cover anything from software to tax forms. If your library is bigger and better-funded, you may even get the chance to attend a public discussion or catch a live concert.
And that’s just the beginning of why libraries are awesome – they’re also bastions of opportunity for disadvantaged and minority groups, providing valuable information as well as access to computers and the Internet. English language learners, immigrants, people with disabilities, and even LGBTQIA youth – libraries across the nations support them all. Libraries truly provide for everyone in their communities.
Benjamin Franklin would be proud to see what his humble invention has become. So if you haven’t done so already, check out your local library – and perhaps a book or two while you’re at it.