I’ve obviously known about the library for a long time. My mom used to take me to the Rochester Public Library when I was kid, and we would go to the little library at our elementary school beginning in kindergarten. But it really wasn’t until this past year that I rediscovered how incredible the library truly is and how lucky we are in Minnesota to have a large, sophisticated public library system. Everyone is so caught up these days with their iPads and Kindles and Netflix subscriptions that we seem to have forgotten what a true treasure the library is. And it is completely free, which is a rarity in this world.
I’ve always loved to read. In fact, when I was four years old I would sit down and copy books word for word in an attempt to teach myself how to read and write. And reading is one of the few hobbies that my whole immediate family is into (my mom, dad, and two brothers). So naturally when I started dating Dain (almost seven years ago now), I asked him what was the last book that he read. And he honest to goodness looked at me with a perplexed face and said “What do you mean? Like for school?” And my first reaction was……GASP. It was shocking and slightly disconcerting, but I realize that reading for fun is not for everyone. And I married an artist with a wholly different and awesome skill set. But I will say that I’ve changed Dain’s ways. He now reads for fun (at least while on vacation with me…..probably because books are a travel staple for me). So while Dain is slightly less psyched about my new passion for all things library, he’s been there a couple times, and he even got his own card too.
It all started this past winter when there was an adventure documentary I wanted to see (after reading my mountaineering books that inspired our upcoming Mount Rainier climb). Needless to say, it wasn’t featured at our go-to redbox, and I couldn’t find it at the few remaining video rental stores in our area. So I was actually totally prepared to buy it on Amazon when I remembered that the library carries dvds. And sure enough, my local library system (Hennepin County Library) carried the title I was looking for. And lets just say it was a total jackpot. And my library obsession began.
I actually steered clear of the library at my law school because that’s pretty much where all of the crazy people positioned themselves on a daily basis. And by daily, I mean 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every single day. And by “crazy,” I mean the really intense law students who did things like ask for a copy of your transcripts before letting you join a study group…not even joking. It was also a haven for the people who had rolling backpacks with light up wheels, 10 highlighters to color code their note taking, and their own personal book stand that they would carry to class (I’m seriously not joking about any of these examples…I met them all). I learned pretty quickly during my first semester that I wasn’t a “law library” person. But I did end up getting a public library card because I was on a law journal where I had to cite-check documents by looking at an original, which sometimes only lived in an obscure library. But of course when I set out to get my dvds, I couldn’t find my library card, meaning I had to go to the library in order to get a number so that I could reserve things online. I randomly chose the Southdale Library in Edina. And I pretty much fell in love.
So I’m going to let you in on the very best things about the library so that hopefully you can join in my sheer joy.
- It’s all online. The Dewey Decimal System is still in, but those little drawers with the cards are out. It is so incredibly easy to search for what you are looking for…whether it be books, magazines, dvds, cds, or books on cd. You can search by author, title, subject or keyword right on the online library catalog. And if you find something you like, you can request it, and they will transfer it to the library of your choice when it becomes available, hold it for you for 8 days, and send you an email letting you know it’s waiting. And in Hennepin County alone there are 41 libraries to choose from. Plus, they have an interlibrary loan program where you can get materials from any library in Minnesota. They have catalog computers all over the library so if you are actually there in person, you can browse to see what’s available just at the library you’re at (you know…for that instant gratification thing).
- They sell used books. The library offers out of circulation and donated books for sale for 50 cents or a dollar, which is crazy cheap. I recently picked up two Carl Hiaasen books in really good condition for a dollar each. You can’t beat that.
- They offer a Museum Adventure Pass. Essentially, you can go to a whole lot of cool places for free by checking out an adventure pass, which translates into two free admissions. Just to name a few, they have the Minnesota Zoo (which saves you $36 for two adults), the Walker Art Center (which saves you $20 for two adults) and the Minnesota History Center (which also saves you $20 for two adults).
- The library has free computers, wireless internet, and scanners. And printing for a small fee. Where else can you get that? Because we pay for that stuff at our house. And the funniest thing I’ve encountered about the library is that you can ask a librarian to turn off the pornography filter at library workstations. Seriously. Who would a) look at porn at the library and b) ask a librarian to turn off that filter? It remains a gigglefest of a mystery to me. To quote the section of the website addressing this issue: “The Library filters wireless access to block pornography. Unfiltered access is available to adults using Library workstations. Ask at the Information Desk for assistance.”
- They have free online databases for patrons to use. The example I know of is Westlaw, an online legal database that lawyers and law firms pay beaucoup bucks for. And you can get it for free at the library, along with other legal tools and even a phone line to connect you to volunteer lawyers (at least at Southdale). Pretty awesome if you ask me.
- You can check out 100 items at a time. I don’t know why you would do that pray tell, but you could. And that would be 200 items for us since it is per card. And checking out items is incredibly easy. They have a self-checkout, where you just scan your card and your items and walk out.
- You can recycle your old batteries. I know this seems trivial, but we had a bag of old batteries in our closet until I discovered the bucket at the library. They also have a ton of government forms there…like tax forms, which I only mention because I actually saw a news report about how people were having a hard time finding hard copy tax forms. Yeah, not at the library. They are abundant.
- Everyone is really nice. I know us Minnesotans are used to most people being pretty darn nice, but the staff at the library is exceptionally friendly and helpful. It’s so hard to find good service these days, but at least at the Southdale library, they take customer service seriously. In fact, everything about going to the library is painless. The parking is ample and free. And it’s on a bus line (as many of the libraries are). There are always plenty of quiet places to sit and read. And there is always someone to ask if you have a question about anything. Here’s a peek at what the library we chill at looks like. Very nondescript, unlike the new Central Minneapolis Library downtown, which was designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli.
- They have events and classes. Gratis of course. They have computer classes, language classes, writing classes, and even a master gardener series where you can learn about topics such as “ornamental grasses” or “low input lawn care.” And they have a few totally random offerings like “creative fruit carving,” “Wii games for grown-ups,” and “laughter yoga.”
- It’s completely free. Honestly. It is. You can read as many books as you like for free. Like Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven,” the first book I checked out this year (a seriously enlightening look at the history of Mormonism). The only fee I’ve ever noticed is for printing (which makes sense to me).
And they basically have books on any topic you would ever be interested in (or they can get them for you through another library). On our most recent trip, we perused all the stacks. And we found a whole section on home improvement and gardening.
We took a few home for some inspiration. Dain picked out selections about landscaping and construction (of backyard sheds since apparently he has plans for that). I picked up Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home book, but I had to stop reading when I was overwhelmed by the amount of places in our house that I have never cleaned (and never even thought about cleaning actually). Apparently your kitchen vent hood has a filter that should be cleaned, and window screens should be cleaned regularly…..sigh.
And we get them for three whole weeks. And that’s just for starters since you can renew them too. A handy little receipt with the due date prints out from the self-checkout machine or you can check your account online. And you get email reminders when things are due too so it’s pretty hard to have an overdue book.
I honestly could work in public relations for the library. I would probably love every minute of it because for some reason I feel like everyone I know is missing out on this great free resource. And if you haven’t been to your local library lately, you should ask yourself why. Because it is a truly amazing service. Our tax dollars are hard at work in at least one place.
(P.S. I could go on, but I didn’t want to bore you. Other cool services include story time for kids plus a whole children’s section with kid-friendly internet and computers. They also offer tutoring for school-age kids as well as home delivery of library materials for people who cannot physically make it to the library. And they have a lot of outreach services and classes aimed at non-English speaking populations.)