How to Make the Most Of Your Public Library

Be honest — when was the last time you visited your local public library? And we're talking in person here, not the via the magic of the silver screen, or the wonder of your Harry Potter daydreams. If you're anything like the majority of the general population, you may have let your patronage lapse slightly since the advent of Wikipedia. But that's OK — I won't judge you. In fact, I'm here to help.

As a lapsed library-lover myself, I know exactly where you're coming from — I mean, with WebMD to quell those sudden bouts of hypochondria and overnight delivery for all of your reading impulses, why would you ever bother to leave the house for your lit fix? But having recently rediscovered the joy of free, unfettered, local access to virtually limitless books, I'm here to tell you that if you've strayed from your borrowing ways, you're missing out on a whole lot more than just the free books.

After poking, prodding, and pestering my devoted local librarians with questions, requests, and more than a few long late nights in the stacks I've returned with momentous news — there are more reasons than ever before to visit your library. Here are just 10 to get you running to your local branch.

Local History And Color At Your Fingertips

If you've never had the pleasure of turning the yellowed pages of a dusty tome on the hunt for local history, you haven't lived. Hop into the record rooms of your local library, and start searching for mysterious gems about your area that haven't yet been uncovered. Whether or not you'd consider yourself a history buff, I guarantee you that the local secrets and stories just waiting to be uncovered are just as compelling as anything you're currently reading, and maybe even fodder for a book of your own. Now tell me that doesn't tempt you to make the trip?

Special Services

What brought me back to my local public library was neither flashy nor particularly fun. I was back at home for the holidays and needed to have something notarized, and could get it done free at the library. From low-cost copiers and scanners to notarial services and book clubs, you'd be shocked to discover all of the special services provided by your friendly neighborhood librarians. So, the next time you're desperately thumbing through your contact list, trying to figure out who might be able to help you out with an odd request, consider turning to your local library instead. If they don't have exactly what you need in-house, they almost certain to know where you can find it.

Unusual Collections

After spending so many years of my life with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I've learned that it is never safe to assume that you know what lies within the stacks at your local library. You might not find ancient texts on demonology (although then again, you never know...), but your local library almost certainly has a special collection or two you'd be surprised to discover. The New York Public Library system contains a treasure trove of rare signatures from authors of the Declaration of Independence, and the Arlington Public Library offers American Girl Dolls on loan to card-carrying members. Until you ask, you'll never quite know what might be lurking just beyond the desk or at the back of the stacks.

Network Access

Sadly, the amount of time I've spent throughout my life looking for WiFi could probably be measured in weeks and not hours; in fact, when I moved to Berlin, one of the very first things I learned to say in German was, "Do you have WiFi here?" Consider your own history with the vagaries of the World Wide Web, and then imagine a place where there is always Internet, where there are computers, and maybe even tablets, ready and waiting for you to get online and get going. Now imagine all of this is available 100 percent free of charge. Whether you're looking for a regular alternative to Starbucks ,or simply a last resort in times of computer-based crises, look no further than your local library, where Internet dreams really do come true.

Entertainment Galore

These days, your local library's multimedia center contains so much more than simply VHS tapes. Sure, you will almost certainly stumble upon a veritable treasure trove of classic and contemporary films (many of which you'll be hard-pressed to find online), but you'll also have access to audiobooks, TV, magazines, and rare dance, theatre, and art performances, too. If magazines are your idea of the perfect way to wind down from a hectic day, there's no need to clutter your mailbox with subscriptions you'll never make your way to the end of — just head on down to the local library whenever you're feeling the urge to unwind, and you'll be spoiled for choice, whatever your entertainment requirements might be.

A Room of Your Own

Having lived in some of the world's most expensive cities, I can tell you that a little space is often very hard to come by. And yet, your local library always there for you with a cozy nook ready and waiting for a good read, and more often than not a multi-purpose room available for all manner of events. If you're looking for a place to stage your next exhibition or host your new book club, or if you're trying to start a storytelling group or need a place to rehearse for your one woman show, try your local library before you decide to shell out all the extra dough it would take to rent a room on the open market.

Creative Company

If the resurgence of dating sites is any indication, Millennials are just desperate for a good way to meet new people. When you're on the market for friends rather than lovers the situation gets even stickier. Your local library is a great place to meet interesting people: there's plenty to spark a discussion and that no-talking rule you remember from your youth? That's gone the way of the dodo, at least in certain areas. Hell, my local gem of a library even has an on-site coffee bar with comfy chairs that look out over main street. Why waste your time trying to shout over the din of a noisy bar at Happy Hour when you could be up to your eyeballs in scintillating conversations down out the local library.

Free Courses

From Computer Literacy to Business and Entrepreneurship, Spanish to Home Economics, your local library may just offer exactly the course you're looking for without the hassle of a long trip to a community college or the anonymity of an online experience. So if there's a new skill you've been yearning to pick up but you haven't had the time or the money to make it happen on your own, consider checking in with your local library. They may just have what you're looking for.

Reference Texts Galore

The other day, while working away on a more academic assignment, I found myself wondering about some arcane grammatical puzzle, and went to the Chicago Manuel of Style to get myself an answer. Of course, once I found my way to the section I needed, I discovered that the cost of a subscription to actually access that material would blow my weekly budget out of the water. Reference material, it seems, is shockingly expensive. For those of us privileged enough to have had access to all sorts of academic journals, usage manuals, and dictionaries free of charge throughout our academic lives, the sudden descent into a world of paid subscriptions can be both disconcerting and depressing. Of course, at the local library, all these reference resourses and so much more are available absolutely free of charge.

Giving Back

From regular book drives to canned food collection and free tutoring services, the library can be a great place to focus your efforts to give back to the community. While the opportunity to give back may not seem like a resource, volunteering your time can be as rewarding as making a new friend or discovering a fascinating trove of local lore. That said, it can sometimes be tough to know exactly where and how you can give back. So, if you find yourself in the mood to do more but you're not sure how to begin, make your first stop the local library, and in no time you'll be contributing to your community and reaping the rewards of a warm heart and a more direct connection to the people and places around you.

Image: Alex Pang / Flickr; Giphy (10)