What I Wish People Knew About Their Public Library

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I’ve worked part-time at a public library for over 13 years. I’ve noticed that some patrons are dynamic library users. These folks know about our events, have no trouble finding what they want, and use our online resources. But there are a lot of patrons who know very little. Here’s a list of things I wish people knew about their public libraries. We have so much to offer, says the woman who’s not biased in any way.

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YOUR LIBRARY’S WEBSITE IS FULL OF TREASURE.

If you’re a student and need to find articles for a research paper, your library will have great online databases to offer you, such as ProQuest or Science in Context. If you’re on a tight budget and want to get out of the house, check your library’s calendar of events. My district hosts trivia nights, offers concerts and poetry readings, and has taught classes ranging from yoga to art. Are you part of a homeschooling family? The library will be your best friend. Not only can you get educational materials, but check your library’s site to see if they offer special cards or classes for homeschoolers.

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YOU CAN HAVE AN ENTIRE LIBRARY IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND.

On your library’s website, you’ll probably find links to media resources such as OverDrive/Libby, Hoopla, RBDigital, or Freegal. I enjoy audiobooks, and I enjoy them even more when I download them to my phone from OverDrive and don’t have to carry around a large, plastic case with multiple CDs. I also like presidential biographies, which can be quite heavy. You know what’s not heavy? My Kindle Paperwhite and the biography I downloaded to it. Your library almost certainly offers downloadable audiobooks and ebooks, but they might also offer magazines, movies, comics, music, or TV shows.

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IF YOUR LIBRARY DOESN’T OWN WHAT YOU WANT,
THEY’LL DO THEIR BEST TO GET IT FOR YOU.

There’s a magical thing called interlibrary loan (or ILL) in which librarians will track down an item for you if it’s not in the collection. Libraries all over the world participate in this system, so there’s a good chance a librarian will be able to find that rare book you’re seeking. I fear patrons will search the catalog, not see what they want, and then give up. But you can always ask about ILL. You can submit a purchase request, too. Just a couple of weeks ago, I requested an ebook through OverDrive, and it was automatically in my checkouts by the end of the week. Trust me when I say your librarian wants you to get what you want.

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YOU CAN PLACE HOLDS ON THINGS THAT
HAVEN’T BEEN RELEASED YET.

At my library, patrons can already place a hold on the 2018 version of A Star Is Born even though it’s still in theaters. Jane Harper’s newest book doesn’t hit the US until February, but I’ve had a hold on it for at least a month or two already. If you want to avoid being 147th in line for a popular item, check your library’s catalog ahead of time and place a hold. Even if you think there’s no way the library will have it yet, check anyway. I’ve been surprised many times.

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YOU CAN CHECK OUT ALL KINDS OF THINGS.

Libraries are no longer places just for books; numerous libraries have a library of things available for checkout. Here’s a list of what I’ve seen various libraries offer:
-Ties and bags for job seekers
-Telescopes
-Museum/symphony passes
-Specialty baking pans
-Musical instruments
-Seeds
-Tote bags full of books for book clubs
-STEM kits and blocks for kids
-Video cameras

I’m sure there are a lot more, so make sure to see what “things” your library has available.

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LIBRARIES ARE NO LONGER JUST QUIET SPACES.

There’s a cliche about librarians in which they’re always shushing people. Perhaps that was the case at one point, but it’s certainly not anymore. Public libraries are no longer quiet places all the time. One library in my city has a coworking space. Another has a studio with cameras, a green screen, and a beautiful Mac desktop that I might be lusting after a teensy bit. Things happen in public libraries like storytime, game nights, art walks, and sometimes even concerts. It’s fun to see libraries become the creative cornerstones of their community.

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YOUR QUESTION ISN’T STUPID.

I can’t count the number of patrons who seem incredibly guilty when they ask me a question. They might say, “This is probably stupid.” I’ve also gotten a lot of, “I’m so sorry to bother you.” Others have confessed how long it’s been since they’ve been to the library at all. Let me assure you that your question isn’t stupid or a waste of time. It has definitely been asked before and will be asked again. Library staff is there to help you find what you need. If a staff person is ever rude or dismissive to you, that’s their problem and not yours. So feel free to ask about whatever makes you curious. The vast majority of library employees work there because they love learning, so they’ll be glad to help teach you something.


Every library might not have the resources I mentioned, but I’m willing to bet a lot of them do. What’s your favorite thing about your public library? What do you wish your library offered?

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