Since my early childhood, one of the places I still love to visit is the public library. I'm privileged with a mom who happens to be a voracious reader, so I suppose the Library was a natural place to end up.
In fact, the library was a regular weekly outing for my brothers and I. On library days, mom would pack us into the car and head over to the local branch, where we'd spend hours and hours looking for and at books. Inevitably, we would come home with a huge pile of books: one pile for mom and another pile for us boys.
My mom's appetite for reading and her love of the library have rubbed off on me, which is a good thing. When I think about it, I love the library because I can find almost anything there: books, books on tape or CD, music CDs, music tapes, videos and movies (VHS and DVD), reference manuals, magazines and more. At my local library, you can even borrow artwork!
For me, the library is also a refuge from the rest of the world. When I spend time in those quiet halls, I feel relaxed. I love walking down rows of shelves, sometimes dragging my fingers along book spines, other times stopping to turn my head sideways, so I can read the book titles. The library even has that distinct scent of oxidizing paper and aging comfy chairs, which to me is very inviting and comforting.
But in the past few years I've come across a great new feature of the library system -- online reservations and requests. I can't recall how I stumbled on the Milwaukee County Federated Library System website, but I'm glad I did. I can use tools on this site to search for any title in the entire system and request it, using my library card number and PIN.
Once an item is requested online, I simply tell the system at which branch I want to pick up the item, and usually a week later, I'm alerted by email that it's arrived. This is a great tool, because I can now get most any book (even new releases) right from a web browser as soon as they cross my mind. Having online access is also helpful for busy times when I just don't have time to stop at the library and browse.
Using the library is also a great way to save cash, especially on fiction novels (what I call "read-once" items). Since I generally read a paperback once and never again, I really don't want a collection of fiction novels cluttering my shelves. It just makes good sense to save $7 (or more!) by borrowing a novel instead. The 3 week deadline also works well, since either I'll have incentive to finish a book, or I'll realize the book is not what I expected (100 page rule) and return it. This works for reference books too, since I can review a book in-depth before deciding to purchase.
As an example, last week I requested Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age after seeing a mention of his work in the Palm Digital Media newsletter. I visited the MCFLS website, keyed in the author's name and book title. Within seconds I'd found and requested the book. A week later, a library alert email told me my request had arrived, so I visted the library to pick it up.
Before picking up my requested book, I went upstairs and checked the non-fiction, new releases and found an interesting book called Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts. In his book, Watts tries to explain the science of networks and how many of the networks we're part of, yet often take for granted, operate. Often I'll stumble on interesting non-fiction books here, like Silicon Boys, mentioned in my weblog.
Finally, I hit the music CD rack and grabbed 6 world music titles. These included music from Africa, India, France, Portugal and even a selection of tunes from Cape Breton Island. You never know what you might find in those bins!
Then I checked out, picking up my requested book, Diamond Age. Total cost: nothing but the time it took to visit the library (which to me was a pleasure) and a small portion of my property taxes.
So, here's the upshot: if you used to be a library fan but haven't been there for a while, I encourage you to renew your card and check out the library again. If you've never been to the library, find out what you've been missing! You might be surprised! :-)
The library is an amazing place, especially for kids. Now is your opportunity to gain access to a wealth of knowledge and information. Maybe you'll leave your children with fond library memories and positive habits like mine.
I for one hope to make the library as special of a place for my son as it has become for me. That's the least I can do for him.