I am ashamed to say that, up until last year, I had never been inside of a library. For most of my childhood, this was because my family didn’t seem to trust libraries for whatever reason, choosing to take me to the obviously much more expensive Borders for brand-new books. Into adulthood, I grew more comfortable going to other used-goods locations such as thrift stores, but just couldn’t quite jump the hurdle into just going to the damn library.
It didn’t help that they were frequently depicted as negative and hostile spaces in the TV I grew up watching. What was up with that? Between librarians being stereotyped as scary and controlling, to exaggerated tales of overdue fees, I grew up with the impression that the library was a terrible place that you only went to if you literally couldn’t afford anything else. Like the food bank. (The food bank is also fine, I learned.)
I started writing this article thinking of it as a collection of things that you could find at your local library, but that felt so broad as to be meaningless – or patronizing. I’ve chosen to narrow it down to things I have found at my library, as someone who only knew the library as a place where you could get a dirty old book that you’d forget about and accidentally end up paying $50 for.
The very first time I went to the library was to print out proof of residency for my new apartment. Up until I moved out on my own, I always had access to someone else’s printer I could borrow; I’ve since gotten my own printer, which serves me quite well, but those printerless months were quite dark indeed.
Well, the library has a printer, and it’s cheap and easy to use. This very first visit was enough to convince me I wanted a library card – and since I already had my proof of residency now, I was good to go!
One of the first things I saw at my local library was that right by the front, they had a whole set of lawn games free to rent! Whoa! If I was especially invested in playing cornhole or spikeball, this would have been super cool for me.
A maker lab
Not far away from the sports stuff, they have a whole selection of artsy-and-crafty equipment, from a 3D printer to a Cricut machine. Totally free to use within the library! The only caveat is that you have to take an hour-long class, something I haven’t had time for (scheduling and transportation are one of the main hurdles in my life right now), but I would love to be able to mess around with a Cricut before I put down the money for it.
I’ve heard other libraries have more advanced things, like woodworking and soldering tools, and in those cases it seems that you typically have to buy an annual pass and probably prove that you’re not going to accidentally kill yourself with them. It’s something I’d love to try, though, and I’m moving to a bigger city in the summer, so maybe I’ll have more to say on it later.
Connections to other libraries
I live in both a city and a smaller village attached to it; my apartment complex is just past the edge where it turns into the village, but for whatever reason, I’m legally considered to be living in the city (the two are in constant land dispute). I’ve been going to the larger city’s library, since that’s where I live ‘officially’ and it has more branches, but I recently decided to look up the website of the much closer local library and saw that my apartment complex was technically covered. This perplexed me – did I really qualify for two libraries?
I went there in person, and was told that the website must be out of date, which was when I learned about the odd territory issues on the border. The library is also a great place where you can learn what’s going on in your area, which has been very useful for me as someone who has no friends here. But it turned out they had a program where they could connect my city library card into their system anyway, totally for free!
Now I have two libraries I can go to, and they’re totally different, which is great.
This is something that only the village library seems to do around here, but it’s one of my favorite things. Last month they offered a package: a brand new recently-released mystery novel, a handmade bookmark, a mug, hot cocoa mix, and candy – all for only $10. I haven’t read mysteries since I was a preteen, and I fucking love collectible coffee mugs, so I jumped right on this one.
If I wasn’t able to afford it, that would’ve been fine, because this month they’re running something similar for free – on a table in the middle of the library are several books wrapped in beige paper, offering only the genre, tone, and first sentence of the book. A sign on the table invites you to take a chance.
I enjoy that this is a totally free way to satisfy that sick part of me that secretly wishes I could spend all of my money on gachapon machines. I got a horror novel for myself, a genre I struggle to be adventurous in. I had a Stephen King phase in high school and now cannot stand his writing, in the same way that I can’t stand boiled hot dogs either after eating too many of them as a kid.
I took it home, unwrapped it and…
It was another Stephen King novel. WHY.
But you know what? They won. I will read that damn book when I absolutely wouldn’t have before.
CDs and DVDs
Never in a million years would I have guessed that libraries are the place where physical disc media is thriving nowadays. Maybe that’s obvious to you, whatever, but until I started going to the library I sincerely believed that CDs and DVDs were a dead hobby that only nerds and old people resistant to change were still using.
Shame on me. I haven’t had a CD drive since I upgraded my computer in 2019. So I got a USB CD and DVD reader, and started borrowing CDs from the library – and then ripping them. This has multiplied my personal music collection, and gotten me to try a lot of stuff I never would have bothered to try before! And there’s some weird stuff too, like one I found called “101 Digital Sound Effects”.
Sales and events
I must have heard at some point that you could buy books from the library, but it got tangled up in my child brain. I somehow spent my entire life with the misapprehension that you could buy books from the library if you wanted to keep them, and that most people just chose to borrow them because it was cheaper. I genuinely have no idea how I got this idea in my head. I thought while writing this article that maybe you could buy things from Blockbuster (the only rental place I did go to with regularity), but no, it didn’t work that way either.
The library does not sell the same books it lends to you. Obviously. However, they do frequently sell books in a separate designated area. These are usually… well, overall shittier books, in worse condition. But there’s some really interesting stuff, like old magazines, CD collections, and history books for towns I live nowhere near.
Both of my libraries are constantly doing sales, sometimes with newly brought-in books, which I always put on my calendar and try my best to attend. They’re always overwhelming, and never have any authors I recognize, but I go there anyway because I like to at least try to be a part of it.
What’s really cool is that recently, the city library had a ‘craft swap’ event, where everyone was encouraged to put their spare crafts into a box by the front. I gathered together all of my redundant yarn and donated it. A few weeks later, the event itself ran, where you were encouraged to fill a plastic bag with as much as it could carry. We got scrapbooking supplies, buttons, fabric scraps, a spindle, cross-stitching fabric, pipe cleaners… I can’t even remember everything there was. It felt like Christmas.
Contrary to my expectations, the workers at the library are consistently very sweet and helpful. My favorite interaction has to go to the time I went into the book shop and checked out 3 books, only to learn for the first time that they didn’t take credit. We went to the ATM, but the ATM fee was twice the price of the books themselves, so I just left them on the counter and apologized. The cashier actually offered to buy them for me now, and that I could come back with the money later. I did come back later with even more money, and asked to pay it forward to the next people.
Other than the obvious and prolific Internet Archive, there’s a great deal of physical libraries that you can view online. Check out my selection of online libraries and digital collections that I’ve discovered.
Yeah, I know. Of course the library has books. But look, the biggest reason I didn’t go to the library before is that I didn’t think of myself as much of a reader. I had struggled through high school after the sharp transition from YA into adult sci-fi. Every new book felt like a massive commitment that I had to see all the way through. I know this will make some of you shudder, but I really was exactly that “only reads fanfiction” kind of person, well into my mid-20s – until I eventually switched to reading solely r/nosleep stories, which wasn’t much of an improvement.
The library has helped me so much in becoming a more literate and more rounded person. Finally, I have hobbies and interests outside of fandom! It’s also gotten me back into writing, which was the motivator to finally start publishing my novel and, of course, to get back into blogging.
I feel a lot like I’ve been the last person in the world to realize libraries are worth it, and that embarrassment has weighed very heavily on me. But I’ve written this in the hopes that maybe some other dipshit like me is sitting around on their hands because they genuinely didn’t know the library has more than just scary books that are too hard for you to read.
Best of all…
It has the lowest percentage of scary social interactions and crying babies in any building you’re allowed to sit down in that isn’t your own home. What more could you ask for?