Free for All

Everything costs money: transportation, food and water, education, convenience. The cost of living continues to rise, insurance premiums are up, people are out of work, and there is an affordable rental housing crisis. It can be difficult to get the things you want and need and actually be able to afford them in the process, but knowledge, stories, entertainment, and insight in the form of books?  Those are free. Every town across the U.S. has a library, and they are free. (Okay, they aren’t technically free because your tax dollars pay for their upkeep, but you get what I’m saying.)

When Netflix was in its heyday and everyone who was anyone was signing up for the service, I had an amazing idea. “What if,” I said to my friend, “there was a mass inventory of books, and you could go online, check one out, read it, and return it? It would be Netflix but with books!” She looked at me in silence for a moment, digesting this proposal, and then said, “Isn’t that called a library?”

In all fairness the library does not mail books to you, so it’s not exactly like Netflix, and I still think my idea had some merit… But the library! How could I have forgotten that this existed?

I grew up in a town with an impressive local library. I loved going there with my mom for book sales or to pick up books she had put on hold. In junior high my best friends and I spent evenings there working on research papers and studying for tests. We reserved a private study room on the second floor and spent half our time goofing around, knocking on the adjoining walls of the other study rooms occupied by boys from another school, and laughing until we couldn’t breathe and were desperately trying to shush each other so we didn’t get in trouble.

In high school and college, however, the library became something I associated only with textbooks and 2am cramming sessions. I no longer read books recreationally, and once I graduated, the library became a thing of the past for me and I forgot about it.

Now, however, the library is a saving grace of mine. It’s because of the library that I can indulge in my reading habit without handing over my credit card. I am a heavy consumer of books, primarily audiobooks, and they are expensive!

More than ever the library is quite like Netflix and its instant access model. Most libraries continue to move further into the digital world and now offer audiobooks and ebooks via digital download. You find the book you want in the online catalog, check it out online, download it, and get started. And yes, it’s still free.

Physical libraries still serve an important purpose though. They are quiet places where you can seek refuge, where you can relax or get some work done without distractions. Some of my local libraries also have museums and art galleries inside them. They are also part of the Safe Place initiative that provides places where youth can go when they are in need of immediate safety and help. Many libraries offer free events for children and other outreach programs. They are crucial to our communities.

I urge you to check out your local library, both in person and online. It is an abundant resource for knowledge, enjoyment, stories, and humanity, and it is already available to us – all at our fingertips for free.

Photo credit: ginnerobot via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

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