A few years ago, we offered a list of ways to become a pro at using your public library. Kelly pointed out that everyone knows about checking out physical books, and many even know about being able to get ebooks and digital audiobooks. But there are lots of other things libraries offer that even dedicated library users don’t take advantage of. Some of the things Kelly suggested were requesting purchases, making use of electronic databases and special collections, and asking librarians for personalized book recommendations. But that’s not all! Obviously, public libraries vary from place to place, especially around the world and in rural vs. urban contexts. But a lot of them do have similar services. I’ve made this list with my knowledge of Canadian and American public libraries in mind. If you’ve got ideas from libraries in other parts of the world, let me know in the comments!
Here are six more ways you can become the most hardcore of hardcore library users:
- Writer in Residence Programs: Did you know lots of public libraries have writers-in-residence? While in residence, authors spend a certain amount of time—often about half—mentoring other writers, usually through giving workshops and offering one-on-one support and editing help. Can you imagine getting to sit down with a published writer and getting feedback on your work, for free? If you’re just a fan and not a writer yourself, writers-in-residence often also give readings and/or talks about their work. In Vancouver, BC, where I live, there’s even an Aboriginal storyteller in residence program which features a writer/storyteller who does the same kind of things as a writer in residence but focused on Indigenous oral storytelling.
- Workshops, Clubs, and other Events: Libraries big and small offer so many different kinds of events, which are almost always free. Need to learn how to use Excel? There’s a workshop for that. Want to meet some other teen book lovers? There’s a book club for that. Want to meet other dads and learn some rhymes and songs for your baby? There’s a storytime for that. Looking to make some new friends? There’s a speed friending event for that. Need something to keep the kids occupied? There’s a book- or movie-themed karaoke for that. Interested in learning about green building techniques? There’s a lecture for that. Need to work on your English? There’s a conversation club for that. You get my drift. No matter what you’re interested in, there’s probably an event at the library you’ll love.
- Fancy Tech Equipment and Computer Software: Obviously this is going to vary from library to library, but even smaller libraries may have some tech stuff and computer programs that you don’t have access to. From basic, useful stuff like scanners and photocopiers to professional-level recording studios and 3-D printers, a lot of libraries have invested in various forms of technology. A few years ago at the Vancouver Public Library, they opened what they call the Inspiration Lab. In the lab, there are sound studios, high performance computers with video, audio, and photo editing software, and digitization equipment. For writers, they have ebook self-publishing software! I know some people who record and do all the editing for their podcasts at the library.
- Take Advantage of the Space: This might seem obvious, but a lot of libraries these days are amazing physical spaces with beautiful architecture. Your local library may not look like it should be cast in Beauty and the Beast but it’s probably a pretty lovely place to hang out in. If you’re a student or you work from home, the library is a great place to go for a change of scenery; the best part is, you don’t have to buy anything and you can hang out there all day if you want to. Personally, I don’t know why anyone would go to a coffee shop instead. Plenty of libraries these days actually have little cafes in or beside them, and have areas where covered drinks are okay. If you need a room for an event or group get together, also consider using the library. Whether it’s your study group or your gardening club, you can often rent rooms for no or a very small fee, and can have use of the tech equipment they have as well.
- Become a Volunteer: Many larger urban public libraries have organizations called the Friends of the Library, and these organizations provide great volunteer opportunities: you can make some great connections, get references, and gain experience. My local Friends group offers the chance to work in the not-for-profit used bookstore, do social media marketing, do fundraising, coordinate volunteers, and do office administrative work. Smaller libraries will also use volunteers to do tasks around the library, like re-shelving books. Teens can often get involved in the Teen Advisory Group (or something with a similar name) to plan events and have a say in library matters that affect them. At my library they have a program for established immigrants to volunteer and help brand-new immigrants with all of the stressful, bureaucratic stuff that comes along with moving to a new country.
- Your Library Account Features: Many libraries, big and small, are using platforms for their online catalogues that do a lot more than just tell you what books and other items the library has to check out. In the platform used by many Canadian public libraries, you can actually do a lot of social media, Goodreads-type stuff. You can post and read reviews, check out user-generated book lists (and make your own!), and add/browse tags. The cool thing is that if libraries are using the same platform, the information is available to all of them. So a list or a tag you create in Canada might be used by a library patron in Australia! If you’re looking for a particular theme (for example, books by Indigenous authors or with bisexual characters), you can search the lists or tags specifically.