Libraries: Good for frugality, great for community

This year, I've spent quite a bit of time at my neighborhood library. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but before this year, it had been a while. As a teenager, I remember our local library offering books and movies and magazines. But upon rediscovering the library as an adult, I've realized there are a ton of services I've been missing out on.

A friend of mine works for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, and I asked if I could interview her for this post. Instead, she put me in touch with John Szabo, the City Librarian of Los Angeles. He explained how, beyond their public services, libraries make some invaluable contributions to the community.

But first, the frugal part. Here are a few services, commodities and events I didn't realize my local library offered.

Free movie events

Over the summer, my neighborhood library offered a series of free Movies-in-the-Park events. Sure, most of the movies were for kids, and I've never really had a hankering to see Despicable Me, but we did make it for a showing of Back to the Future, picnic blankets and snacks in tow.

eBooks

Many libraries now offer eBooks, and the cool thing is, you don't have to make a trip to return them — the version is just deleted from your reader. Szabo explained: “People can go to the library's website, check out a book, download it to their Nook or Kindle or iPad — that is an incredibly popular service. Last year we circulated 1.7 million eBooks. There are never any overdue fines, because when it's due, it just disappears from your device.”

I haven't yet delved into the eBook world, but it's nice to know I can check out a bunch of books without having to leave the house or worry about returning them.

Movies and music

OK, so I knew the library offered movie and music rentals. But I had no idea how vast their collection is. I assumed their offerings were limited to, I don't know, Yanni documentaries* or something. But there's a huge selection — foreign films and comedies and TV series. I thought there were a lot of choices at my local library, and then I went downtown. The Central Library in Los Angeles has an entire room dedicated to movie and music rentals, and that room is easily the size of many record stores.

* I have nothing against Yanni or Yanni documentaries.

Online courses

“People may not know that they can take an online course at the Los Angeles Public Library,” Szabo said.

Want to learn Korean? There's an online course for that. Need a Photoshop class? There's one for that too. From pet training to baking to financial management, there's a huge number of courses that cover a variety of topics.

In Los Angeles, Szabo says, the public library offers “over 850 online courses that are now available free on the Internet.”

Financial literacy

In April, I discovered that my neighborhood library was celebrating Financial Literacy Month with a series called “Money Matters.” I wanted to attend one of the investment workshops; unfortunately I was out of town. But I recently learned that the series is actually ongoing. This month, they're offering classes on “Budgeting 101” and “Retirement Awareness, IRAs and Rollovers.” They also have financial literacy resources available on their Money Matters website. “We're always looking to see how the public library can meet the needs of our neighborhood,” Szabo says. “And financial literacy is a huge need.”

He explains that Los Angeles has the largest unbanked population in the United States. “And that can create all sorts of vulnerabilities in terms of predatory lending and even personal safety…We've partnered with numerous organizations to bring this financial literacy information to our residents.”

Other services you may not realize your library offers? Audio books. Printing. Copying. Practice tests. Genealogy searches. Granted, you might not technically consider these services free: According to a 2008 “State of America's Libraries” report, the average cost to the taxpayer for library services is $31 a year. To me, that's all the more reason to support them by making sure their services are utilized.

Beyond offering online courses and DVDs, libraries also do some pretty amazing things for the community.

Community outreach

Recently, the Los Angeles Public Library launched the “Citizenship Corners” initiative. Szabo sums it up: “In Los Angeles, there are 700,000 people legally eligible to become U.S. citizens, but for whom that process can be difficult to find out about, hard to take the first step, bureaucratic…What the library has done is partnered with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to offer citizenship information in all 73 of our libraries.”

He further explains that the LAPL has partnered with non-profits and other organizations to allow the libraries to serve as “the first step to citizenship. Over 3,000 people have taken that first step,” Szabo says. Impressively, a handful of other cities, including Chicago, are following suit. “They are unrolling the program right now. I talked with the mayor of Nashville a couple of weeks ago. They have the largest Kurdish population in the nation, and they are about to replicate the program.”

Another project Szabo is passionate about is “Books for Babies,” a service aimed at new parents. With Books for Babies, the library would provide infants with a first book. The point being to “to remind [parents] to read to their child, the importance of reading early on, and also to remind them that library services are free, to come into the public library. We have tens of thousands of books for them to check out and make use of.”

Since I live with a camera guy, I decided to shoot and edit the interview with Mr. Szabo. You can watch the rest of it below. A special thanks to him, the Library Foundation and the rest of the Los Angeles Public Library for their time, resources and work within the community.

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Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
6 years ago

Our family loves our local library. Attending the local library is one of the best things you can do for your children’s education.

I’ll have to check more into the ebook delivery over the websites – I didn’t know this was offered. Good tip!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago

Great post! I think many people would be surprised if they knew what their libraries offered. I’m a little envious about the online courses 🙂 In addition to the above, my local library also offers: – free music downloads using a service called Freegal. As a library member, you can download three songs per week — and you get to keep them. – Digital magazines for your computer or tablet. – Local museum passes for families. There are a lot of events for families, public lectures, book clubs, etc. I think what puts a lot of people off around here… Read more »

Hannah
Hannah
6 years ago

Interesting post. I would love to see a privately run community center offering these services and programming to the community. The $31 a year definitely had me shaking my head since I have my own internet, nook, tablet, Netflix, hulu, etc. and don’t use my city’s library.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago
Reply to  Hannah

If it was privately run, wouldn’t that make it more expensive for some of the people who use it most? I’m curious what that business model would look like.

I have no objections to my tax dollars paying for services that others in my community use — like English as a Second language classes, reading programs for kids, job skills workshops, access to books for low income families, etc. I think these services make communities stronger. IMHO, libraries about communities — not individual users.

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Ditto, and Like X 100. I have no objections to my tax dollars going to aid and educate other people who will one day become the medical personnel who help me as I age, the teachers for my grandchildren, the business people who sell me the goods I need, and the politicians who run my government. That’s a much better deal IMHO than allowing people to fall through the cracks so they turn to crime that threatens me and my family and property. Frankly, if I want to save my tax dollars anywhere, I’d much prefer they hadn’t gone to… Read more »

Janice
Janice
6 years ago
Reply to  Hannah

You’re paying for Hulu and Netflix at something like $8.00/month at least, so you’re already in the hole for almost $200/year not to mention the books/music you probably purchase. Being on a fixed income, I can’t afford that, nor do I have to with the great offerings at the library–ebooks, movies, CDs, courses, etc. I’ve always got a couple of hard-cover as well as e-books going, and am a huge music hound as well. Haven’t read so much since I was a teenager! I’m 66 years old and have been going to the library since I was in grammar school.… Read more »

Priswell
Priswell
6 years ago
Reply to  Hannah

If you don’t use your city’s library, you’re missing out! It’s a wonderful resource!

Lucille
Lucille
6 years ago
Reply to  Hannah

I figure anything privately run would end up having costs or levy dues to “use” the community center, no?

$31 seems like a small piece of my tax pie. At least I can see where it’s going, even if I don’t personally utilize most of the services offered.

Jenne
Jenne
6 years ago
Reply to  Hannah

I was pleased that Get Rich Slowly chose to feature libraries. I know a lot of libertarians who complain that they don’t use libraries; but this seems silly. There are plenty of occasions when I want to read something without committing my cash to it (maybe buy it later) either in print or online, and that’s where a good library system works for me. If I had to pay for– and find storage for– individual copies of everything I read, I wouldn’t be able to read so much. Audiobooks in particular — even online systems like audible would take a… Read more »

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
6 years ago

Some people may not be happy with what a library offers but what they may not know is that the state university system is also available to the public. For example, here in San Diego, the library at San Diego State University is available to access for the public. There’s such a plethora of information there.

Brian
Brian
6 years ago

We live at our local library. They offer so many things beyond books. My local library offer online reference and encyclopedias.

Debi
Debi
6 years ago

My very frugal mother introduced my to the public library very early. Her philosophy was “Why would you buy a book when you can read it for free?” Since I was a little girl before cable TV, personal computers, video games, etc., and lived in a rural area, books were a big source of entertainment. I would often read 5-6 books a week. Love, love, love e-books from the library. Now I can “go to the library” from my couch!

Artemis
Artemis
6 years ago

Wow, I just checked my local libray’s website and I found out they offer free admission to a local science museum.

Alex
Alex
6 years ago

From an aspiring video guy, nice job!

Paula
Paula
6 years ago

Every month or so, I peruse the New Arrivals at our local library website and request materials that interest me. Our library is part of a statewide system so this there is way more available online than what is at our city library. This way I get to read or listen to all my favorite authors free as their new books debut. I no longer buy books unless I must have them in my collection and save $$$. Hence, reviewing books for purchase cost me only a portion of the taxes we pay anyway. They call me when the requested… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
6 years ago

Love this post! We were just talking last night about how we need to start going to the library. We haven’t been in forever!

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
6 years ago

I didn’t realize that a library would offer some of those services, but think it’s great that they do. We’ve started using ours a lot more recently as our oldest is reading now and checking out a bunch of books every few weeks.

Courtney @ FamilyGoneHealthy
Courtney @ FamilyGoneHealthy
6 years ago

We love visiting our local library! If there is a book that I am interested in, I just go online and place a hold on it. When the book becomes available in our county then they get it in and email me for pickup. They also have a ton of current movies. I love taking my oldest daughter (almost 4) to choose some books and check them out. It helps teach her responsibility and fosters her love of reading!

Mrs. Waste not
Mrs. Waste not
6 years ago

My library also offer zinnio for free, allowing free downloads of the current issues of lots of magazines. We visit the library weekly and this has been one of my favorite new finds. A tip: sign up for your library’s newsletter. It will certainly keep you up on what is new and free!

No Waste
No Waste
6 years ago

Guys, I can confirm after many years of playing SimCity that this is true.

My Sims love the libraries I build.

Karen
Karen
6 years ago

Libraries are amazing! I’m a huge book nerd and I go to my library every week, and volunteer there to help give back to my community. One awesome thing my library (and surely others) does that wasn’t mentioned here is that they offer a huge space for community artists. We have all sorts of art clubs, from knitting groups to sculptors to water color painters, in my community, and the library rotates through “exhibits” to showcase local artists. They also partner with the schools and showcase art from all grades. It’s really amazing to see some of the talent in… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
6 years ago

E-books have become huge for our family. We had a problem returning books and generally found buying the e-book cheaper than the fines we’d ultimately end up paying. But with the e-books, once you’re done, you just hit check back in and it’s gone. Perfect for us.

Kyle
Kyle
6 years ago

If you’re a library user and you’re interested in what those $31 in taxes gets you, check out this awesome value calculator from the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/advocacyuniversity/toolkit/makingthecase/library_calculator

If you’re not a library user, plug in numbers for items you actually purchased yourself over the last year or so. I guarantee you it’s over $31.

Heather@Burning the Books
6 years ago
Reply to  Kyle

Thank you for sharing this. In fact, I’m very thankful for this entire thread. As a librarian, I often feel like we are constantly justifying our existence, when in fact these services are to everyone’s benefit…especially in a frugal sense.

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Kyle

Ha, that was rather fun! I am an avid library user – I’ve always called it my second home. I calculated that I get over $200 value/month from my library usage!

I’ve always lobbied our representatives to support the wonderful NYPL, and thought I was doing it mainly for other people (unemployed, low-income, children, etc.). I never before thought about what a great monetary deal it is for me, too!

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
6 years ago

Our libraries are amazing. I’ve been an avid library my whole life and think they’re a great resource for the community. Anytime I have a late fee, I know it’s a dime well spent since I’ll get it back in value 100-fold.

Ely
Ely
6 years ago

I love love love my county library. If I bought all the books I read and all the dvds I watch, I would be flat broke. Instead I only buy the ones I really love, and borrow all the rest. If there’s something my library doesn’t have, I can find it via interlibrary loan. If the items I want are all checked out, I can put them on hold & get an email when they’re available. There are many services the library offers that I don’t even use. Computers and free wireless internet are available for those who don’t have… Read more »

Alea
Alea
6 years ago

For the past six years, my office was located near the Central Library in Downtown LA, and upon discovering the Business section, it was like finding a gold mine combined with a candy store. Many times I combined a financial book with a fun book (travel, mystery, bios) and the one refrain I have now is “Oh, if I knew 5 years ago, what I know now!” Recently, one of our co-workers celebrated his 50th b-day, and being the well read finacial genius that I am, I suggested that reaching this milestone he can contribute more to his 401(k) and… Read more »

Rich
Rich
6 years ago
Reply to  Alea

Central Library is one of the most amazing libraries anywhere! Love the rotunda.

debtfreeoneday
debtfreeoneday
6 years ago

I had no idea so much was available at local libraries. It’s been years since I visited one and I don’t know why! That’s cool that you can take a training course at the library. The library where I live is tiny but I’m definitely going to see what’s on offer there.

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

I definitely support going through the local library. Though I typically prefer hard copy books over ebooks, I can see how libraries could benefit from having digital rentals.

Diane C
Diane C
6 years ago

As as avid library supporter, I am thrilled with this article. However, a major point was under emphasized: Want to expand your social circle and make new friends? Get thee to a library. There are endless volunteer opportunities, through which you will meet lots of interesting people. Even if you don’t want to volunteer, but are just feeling a little lonesome or disconnected, a trip to the library is apt to cure what ails you. Once you get to know your library system, you will be as horrified by #3 Hannah’s comment as I was. Please, Hannah, pay a visit… Read more »

Hannah
Hannah
6 years ago
Reply to  Diane C

Sorry you were horrified. I shared my point of view, but I understand that not everyone has the same point of view. I generally think that if something has value, and there is demand for it, then people will pay for it and it can be self sustaining. The article and video mentioned services like citizenship and personal finance education that sounded valuable to me. Privatizing those services is how they would fit in with my views. As for people who can’t afford Netflix etc. that is not essential and I’m not losing sleep over it. If you see it… Read more »

Chris B
Chris B
6 years ago

I hate to admit it, but I had no idea they were building new libraries in my neck of the woods. There are a couple new establishments going up within 10 miles. I haven’t visited a library in many years, but I am definitely going to check these out.

EMH
EMH
6 years ago

Living in Chicago, space is limited but the library makes me feel like I live in a mansion. There are music rooms with pianos that I can play. I can watch movies for free. I don’t have the space for my own workshop so I can go to the Maker Lab and use the 3D printer, laser cutter or ShapeOko milling machine.

The library is so much more than a warehouse for books.

deb
deb
6 years ago

Nice article! I LOVE the library. And it’s great to see a local-to-me (Los Angeles) themed article here.

i also took advantage of the the Los Angeles Public Libraries as an outlet for volunteering. I tutored someone for 6 months in English literacy. It was hard, but a great experience.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I’ve had my TV for about two and a half years now and still haven’t exhausted the DVD collection at my local county library. I haven’t spent a dime on Netflix, Hulu, etc – yet.

I haven’t had to purchase a book in 4 years.

The online search, database, online reference desk, and online renewal system makes its simple and painless to use.

TEB
TEB
6 years ago

I work in the public library system in Kentucky and while we may be small, we are mighty. We offer free classes, health forums, and movies. We offer Inter-library loans, audio books, bookmobile and outreach services. Free downloads to most devices-i-pad, kindle, e-reader, nook, etc, and free computer use. There are always folks who complain that they never go in the library so why should they pay taxes and my response is usually a friendly “I understand since I don’t have children but still pay school taxes.” Thanks for the calculator. I’ll take it to the next meeting and see… Read more »

Priswell
Priswell
6 years ago
Reply to  TEB

The better educated the community as a whole, the better all individuals in the community live. A person could be flat broke and without a job, but with a library, they can at least get a start on educating themselves and locate employment opportunities and start getting out of the hole. We homeschooled, and the library was a HUGE part of our education system. I’m so grateful that the library was there to supply a bulk of our needs. Need to learn about Rome? Library. Need to learn about bugs? Library. Want to get a glimpse of astronomy? Library. We… Read more »

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
6 years ago

I grew up regularly going to the library in my hometown, which I loved! Of course when I was in college and law school, I also spent plenty of time in university libraries, though more with a focus on studies than anything else. However, since graduation, I basically have not been in a library (excluding my office law library). I guess living in a major city now, I just figured it would be kind of a hassle to get to and find parking. HOWEVER, this post made me check out my local libraries online, and boy was I astonished to… Read more »

charles@gettingarichlife
6 years ago

I haven’t bought books in years thanks to our library. It’s amazing how many of my friends have never used a library yet they buy books all the time.

getrichwithme
getrichwithme
6 years ago

Libraries are an amazing local resource / hub.
The more people that use the library – the harder it is for our town and city halls to close them down.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
6 years ago

When i first started on my frugal journey the library was on of my frequent stops. I would look books on GRS that helped with financial literacy or just of interest to my such as Never Eat Alone and the Glass Castle and Tightwad Gazette and checked them out. My children also have required reading every month and i would check out books for them as well. I’ve seen upgraded to a Kindle and check out books occasionally on it. LOL that is when my kids are not pestering me to use it. I dont have much time for reading… Read more »

theGooch
theGooch
6 years ago

I’d love to use the library , but they close shortly after I get off of work, so I can never go. Their weekend hours match laundry/ errands time so I can’t go then either. If they were open later, I would get to use them.

C.j.
C.j.
6 years ago

Great article. Wish I knew a librarian! You forgot another great benefit of the library is FREE electricity! The one’s in my area have plug outlet ports great for using a home charger to charge a cell phone, ipod/pad etc. Also great for portable DVD players. The children’s section at both branches here allow you to check out a movie that’s used for the portable DVD players in the Children’s section

Tai
Tai
6 years ago

There is an app called Overdrive that links to your library. You can save gas by skipping the trip to library and downloading books on to your kindle or iPad. You do need a library card but that’s easy. For New Yorkers, you can apply for a New York public library card and they will send it to your home. Love it!

Retired By 40
Retired By 40
6 years ago

Our local library is great! The Big Guy loves audiobooks, and they have a huge selection. I also love checking out movies and video games! It is a resource that many people overlook.
This post made my Favorite Posts Roundup!
http://retiredby40blog.com/2013/09/16/favorite-posts-roundup-3/

Harold J. Forbes
Harold J. Forbes
6 years ago

Great article on libraries! I am a huge fan of ebook lending through public libraries as it eliminates the hassles (mainly visiting the library and paying the fines when I return late) of traditional library lending. One tip regarding ebook lending: ebook offerings differ between library systems, even if they use the same platform, based on the level of service they are paying for. If you have trouble finding something you want to download at one library check and see if you are eligible for a card at another and check their offerings. Where I live I have access to… Read more »

Evan West
Evan West
6 years ago

This is only the second article I’ve read by Kristin Wong, but already she’s becoming one of my favorite writers on this site. I love my local library and it never ceases to blow my mind how helpful and ready to serve me all the staff are. I can’t get as much attention and enjoyment from places I pay for. The fact my local library offers so much for nothing never ceases to make me smile. I haven’t looked far beyond what they offer in terms of research materials and literature but this article has definitely inspired me to find… Read more »

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