The Library Card: Your Other “Rewards Credit Card”

Library CardsI have been a huge fan of libraries since I was in grade school. Being an avid reader, I would have gone bankrupt years ago had I had to purchase every single book I’ve ever read. Whenever we have moved to a new city, the first thing I always looked up even before moving there was the location of the public library, and one of the first things I always do is go and apply for a library card.

A credit card, when used wisely and responsibly, brings you a number of benefits and can save you money. And so does a library card. The public library is one of your most useful resources for saving money. With a library card, which you can obtain for free, you have almost limitless access to a variety of services and materials such as:

  • Books – Fiction
    Especially good for people who read a lot but usually only read books once.
  • Books – Non-Fiction
    Books on careers and jobs, writing resumes and cover letters, learning computer software and programming, accounting and taxes, starting your own business, etc.
  • Foreign Language Books
    Fiction and non-fiction in foreign languages prevalent in your community. Many California libraries carry books in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese.
  • Audio Books
    Classic, children’s and contemporary literature on CD or Audio, including new releases and popular titles.
  • Music
    Classical, contemporary, film soundtracks, international music, etc. CDs that you can check out just like a book.
  • Movies
    Most libraries have movies (DVD and VHS) that you can rent for $1 or $2 and let you keep for a week.
  • Magazines
    There’s usually a good selection of general and special interest publications to choose from including titles like: People, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Better Homes & Gardens, The Family Handyman, and even young adult magazines such as Seventeen. Instead of paying for a subscription, you can read current magazines at the library and some libraries will let you check out back issues to take home to read.
  • Newspapers
    Current editions including local and national newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. can be read in the library.
  • Computers
    Free computer access for word processing or internet use. Instead of paying for computer use at Internet Cafes, you are usually allowed 1 hour of free use per day and more if there are not other users waiting.
  • Online services
    You can access online databases of periodicals and articles and educational websites from within the library or your home computer. Many libraries offer online access to e-books, audio books, and music that you can download and read or listen to on your computer.

Continue reading for information on other useful services provided by your library and tips for responsible library use.

Other services provided or sponsored by your public library:

  • Reserving Materials
    If your library location doesn’t have something you need, you can request the same item from another location. When it arrives at your local library, they will contact you by phone or email to let you know it is ready for you to pick up. This service is almost always free and you are only charged a small fee ($.50 or $1.00) if you fail to pick it up within a reasonable amount of time.
  • Renewing Materials
    Most loan periods are 3 or 4 weeks, depending on the library. Unless there are other users waiting on the same items, you can often renew your materials for up to 2 more times. Libraries make it very easy for you to renew items these days with online or automated phone renewals.
  • Special Events
    Some public libraries host guest lectures and performances by professionals in various fields such as writing, music, history, etc.
  • Used Book Sales
    If you like to collect books, library used book sales are one of the best sources for expanding your personal library or collection. You can often find new, like new, or vintage and antique books for very good prices. Most hardcovers sell for $1.00, trade paperbacks for $0.50, and paperbacks for $0.25.

A few tips for borrowing materials from the library:

  • If you tend to forget due dates, set up a reminder on your computer email program, Google Calendar or cell phone to to either renew or return your borrowed materials a few days before the due date. Some libraries have email notification systems that can send you email reminders too.
  • The online account access is a very convenient feature. If you can’t make it to the library by the due date, just log on, check all the items due and hit the renew button. It’s a good idea to do this a few days before the due date in case some of the items are not renewable.
  • Don’t let anyone else use your card.
  • If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of the materials, use a paper towel and some rubbing alcohol to wipe the surfaces before using them.
  • If you’re applying for a library card, bring ID and proof of address such as a utility bill addressed to you if your current address doesn’t match the one on your ID.

Some people don’t like to use the library because you sometimes have to wait a while to read new releases. But in the big scheme of things, is it really so bad to wait a few weeks or months to read that new novel? A little patience can save you a lot of money.

To see how much money your library can save you, go to your local library’s website and look for a page called the “Library Value Calculator”. Enter in the number of books you read per month and any other services you could be using there and see how much you can save.

After all, if you think about it, you have actually already paid for these services by paying your taxes, so you might as well use them.

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3 thoughts on “The Library Card: Your Other “Rewards Credit Card””

  1. I wanted you to know that I’ve linked your excellent post in my post about library cards. You inspired me to learn more about my library’s many services. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I couldn’t agree more. I never feel so incredibly self-indulged as when I am strolling through a library tossing new picks on top of an armload of books.

    I posted on this recently at my blog, FrugalLuxury

    http://frugalluxury.blogspot.com/2009/03/movies-books-and-music-all-for-free.html

    …and also mentioned that many libraries now offer you the ability to download audio books from home or away. Very helpful when you’re traveling, or can’t get out to the library because you’re home with kids, or whatever.

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