Want to save money? Join your local public library.
In Canada, where public libraries in Toronto and Calgary lead an upswing in library use, library patrons are a diverse, thrifty, and growing constituency. So it’s not surprising Toronto Mayor Rob Ford backed down on his 2012 plan to close several branches of the Toronto Public library.
The zeal to save libraries extends beyond Canada.
The United Kingdom’s government faces robust criticism for public spending cuts that include closing some public libraries. In May 2013, British-Canadian ex-pat, Malcolm Gladwell earned ire and applause by musing aloud that New York Public library could fulfill its mandate by selling its posh main branch to a condo developer, and redirecting money to keep its small branches open.
It gets ink, but attacking libraries isn’t a good way to build a following. Library patrons know budget cuts usually take more from their wallets than they return. One American study, “Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries,” September 2004, found adult Florida residents who use public libraries save $824 million U.S. annually.
Public libraries were born with a mandate to help you improve your finances.
Prior to the First World War, free library activists in English-speaking countries spurred a library building boom because they believed reading was the great social equalizer. Foremost among them was Scots-American industrialist turned philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. He funded hundreds of libraries in several English-speaking countries, including Canada.
Library use increased during the Great Depression as well as during economic slumps of the 1970s and early 21st century. An Internet search yields academic studies and articles bolstering the notion that cash-strapped citizens still access literacy skills, job search tools, free internet, computers, and books to stretch their budgets.
Your family can access library services from home and at the library by simply forking over a $15 to $25 membership fee. (In many cities, kids under 13 get free memberships).
Library card-holders save time and gas money accessing the online catalogues, e-books, databases and reference material from home. If you reserve books, movies, music, and magazines before you head to the library, they will be waiting for you to pick them up on the pick-up shelves in the library lobby.
Can’t afford to purchase a library membership? Use the library anyway. Even if you don’t have a dime in your pocket, you can access most services inside the library.
If you haven’t been to the library since you were a kid, you might be surprised to see dozens of library users working at public access computers and printers. You will be delighted when you access free wireless Internet on your own device without being forced to buy overpriced coffee at the library’s on-site café. (Yes, your local library may have a café.)
Start improving your finances right away. The library shelves are lined with resume writing books, budget planning resources, market research for your business, and financial planning books. Be sure to sign up for free workshops on tax-planning, wills and estates, family law, and smart purchasing.
Life should never be just work, especially when you cut spending. Why not attend a free craft, gardening, painting, family history, or writing workshop? Watch a movie, listen to symphony or folk concert, or meet your favourite author.
Make the kids happy, too. Let them take home books, along with free toys from the toy library, listen to concerts, attend story-telling clubs, and make crafts while you browse through the collection.
Do you have a family member with vision problems? Help him choose a large print book by his favourite author; or get him to sign up for your library’s homebound program, which delivers books, music, and movies to people with mobility issues.
Saving money doesn’t need to mean cutting corners on enjoying life. Use your library to stretch your budget, and you’ll be richer in more ways than one.
Jane Harris-Zsovan is an author of books and articles that distill complex research to show human faces behind history and social policy.