If it has been a few years or a few decades since you've ventured into your local library, you're going to be very surprised by what you find. No longer are these dusty institutions of quiet corners, musty books and stern librarians, they are home to bestsellers, coffee carts, teen rooms, community, and civic gatherings. Libraries offer computer classes, babysitting workshops, tutoring programs and literacy programs, most of which are free, or are offered at a nominal fee. Not all services mentioned in this article are available at every library, but it's worth finding out if your local library offers a similar option. (For some books that you might be interested in, check out 10 Books Worth Investing In.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
1. Read for Free
Libraries are known for books, offering fiction and non-fiction hardbacks, paperbacks, and eBooks. The eBooks can be downloaded into nearly any format to fit your computer, eReader or other device. The downloaded books will expire at the end of their loan period so no returns necessary. Overdrive is one provider of download services to libraries. Take a look to see how simple it is: http://www.overdrive.com/.
The cost of an average hardcover book is $18.99, an average children's picture book is $12.99, an average paperback book is $6.99 and an eBook download is between 99 cents and $9.99.
2. Magazines and Newspapers for Free
Magazine titles from Reader's Digest to Vogue to Hot Rod, including back issues are available for loan. Local newspapers and the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and others are available for reading in the library.
The average cost of a magazine (monthly) is $5.99 and the cost of an average newspaper subscription is $60 per year.
3. Listen for Free
Music CDs from classical to rock and roll are waiting. If you need music for a children's party, wedding, anniversary or just listening while relaxing you can find it here. If you prefer your music downloadable, libraries offer MP3 downloads with a limited loan period.
The average cost of a music CD is $10.99
You can also check out audio books on every subject for your commute to work, for waiting on your kids at various sports practices or to listen to while you walk.
The average cost of an audio book is $21.99
4. Free Periodical Searches
If you are a high school or college student, you will be required to cite sources, footnote your thesis, or find some obscure fact for a class. If you find you need an article that appeared in Time Magazine on global warming from 2004, the library will have it on a database. The only cost would be for print/copies. Here's a quick look: EBSCO Periodical Search.
5. Librarian Access 24/7
If you can't find the answers you need, libraries await your question. In Ohio, they have Know it Now, (your local libraries will have different names for this feature) which gives 24/7 access to an online research librarian.
6. Internet and Wi-Fi
You can have free internet access and Wi-Fi, all you need is a library card. Be aware that most libraries utilize "censoring" programs for juvenile users, and parental consent may be required to use the Internet.
The average cost of internet service is $22.00 monthly.
7. Watch Movies for Free
Libraries offer children's movies like "Sponge Bob," "The Magic School Bus" and Disney movies to informational DVDs from National Geographic and the Travel Channel, to How-To instructional videos as well as major motion pictures.
The cost of an average movie DVD is $12.99, and $3.99 for a DVD rental.
8. Learn a Foreign Language - Free
Traveling abroad on business or vacation than check out the free foreign language learning databases. Using a service from BYKI, patrons can choose to learn over 70 languages. Their interactive learning site offers individual learning, flash cards, and words of the day.
9. Job Preparation for Free
Learning Express enables you to study for hundreds of tests including civil service, military entrance exams and preparation tests for SAT/ACT, MSAT, LSAT and dozens of others. You will find practice tests at all levels. You can practice, save your test, see your results and try again all for free.
10. Find Your Family History for Free
For family genealogists, libraries offer free access to search programs such as Ancestry.com, and HeritageQuest.com. These databases usually require you to search in the library, but occasionally some libraries will allow you to search from home after logging in with your library card number. Some libraries also have research librarians and genealogists on staff to assist with your search.
The cost of an online genealogy membership is $25.00 (monthly).
11. Free Books for Parents
The library is a significant resource to parents. Where else could your children find a free summer program that encourages reading, allows them to take home armloads of books free and usually gives them prizes for encouragement? Throughout many summer programs, authors, wildlife experts and a myriad of others drop by bringing their special knowledge to share. (For more money saving tips, read 5 Painless Ways To Save More Money.)
12. Free Auto Repair and other Databases
For those who don't like to read for recreation, there are practical free databases in auto and truck repair provided by ARRC, reference databases such a Kelly Blue Book, Antiques Weekly and Standard & Poor.
13. Other Free Services
Many libraries have a notary on staff (there may be a fee for notary services), offer tax forms, have dedicated internet computers to the IRS and Social Security sites, voter registration forms, test proctoring and fax services, and larger metropolitan libraries offer passport processing.
The Bottom Line
Obtaining a library card is simple. Visit the library, fill out a card application, present identification and you have instant, free access to a world of information. Check out your local library for some amazing programs and unbeatable bargains this summer. (For some more unique ways to save money, see Top 6 Unusual Money-Saving Tips.)