Most people think of the library as a tomb for books. Compared to the immediate satisfaction of television and the researching capabilities of the Internet, the printed word doesn’t seem to hold much allure anymore. On top of that, most people spend their lives running around, and ‘just don’t have time’ to visit the library. Sadly, they don’t know what they are missing – literally. Libraries in the 21st century have a plethora of tools to help you, and for some, you don’t even have to leave home. For others, you don’t have to bother suffering through an antiquated book.
The fact that I couldn’t always find what I wanted to used to get on my nerves. Sometimes the book I wanted at on the shelves, sometimes it did not. While researching for school projects, I didn’t even know WHAT book I wanted, only that I needed to find the reference materials as quickly as possible. Now, as a mom of three young children, a trip to the library seems like a plan built around self-loathing.
With the advent of the Internet comes the ease of the on-line catalog. Most libraries allow you to access their entire collection, county-wide, from the ease of your desk chair. Visit their web site, sign in with your library card number and whatever type of access code you have (you may need to visit the library to receive this), and you can scan hundreds of books with the television on the background. Many libraries will allow you to narrow down by various types; you can search only children’s books, only young adults, only videotapes, only audiobooks, and so forth. You can search by author, by title, by subject, or by all of the above. The thing that makes me jump with joy, however, is the ability to put them all on hold. With a click of your mouse, you can have all of your selected items (some libraries have limits, others don’t) waiting with your name on it the next time you stop by. With three kids under the age of five, this has saved my sanity. Now my children can browse and select one or two books, and we can leave with an entire stack of appealing reading for them, and helpful items for me. I would also like to note that, through the process of interlibrary loans, which have been around for years but are still not well-known, you have the ability to borrow any book from any library in the country. Some libraries charge for this; others do not. However, if you must have a specific book, this can be the best way to obtain it.
Sometimes, however, you don’t even have to go to the library to check things out. More and more libraries have integrated downloadable books into their catalogs. If you have ever checked out the price of loading an audiobook into your MP3 player, the cost runs more than that of the paperback. Libraries, however, offer this technology for free. Now you can have your book and your music, too.
Speaking of music, as you browse the catalog, don’t forget to expand your horizons. On top of musical CDs, books- or CDs-on-tape, and magazines (and more and more libraries allow you to check out back versions of periodicals, as well), many libraries have movies on video or DVD. As a child, library videos never impressed me. However, my new local library has a selection to rival Blockbuster – and they charge you similar late fees! The checkout, however, costs nothing, so don’t forget to nose around and see what new releases sit on the shelves. You may have to wait on hold for them, but that’s better than waiting for a hundred other folks to get tired of them!
The final resource I would like to point out may or may not be possible only in Georgia; I would like to convince readers in other states to check around. Georgia libraries have hooked up an entire virtual database, connected not only to public libraries but also to universities. In fact, I first learned about this resource in college. Not only can you find various literary and professional journals online (granted, some with a delayed publication date), but many magazines, as well. You can access full-text articles for some of your favorite periodicals from the comfort of your computer – and without a paid subscription.
Technology changes every day. While an institution full of books may seem outdated to many folks today, libraries continue to make vast strides to keep up with the rising tide of information. Talk to your local librarian today regarding some of the resources available. Just remember to turn your stuff in on time!