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Learn and save money at a public library

Value of materials and services can be in the thousands

News editor

Regular users of county libraries may not stop to think how much they’re saving by not paying for materials and services they use for free, but the value they receive is substantial.

Peabody Township Library users get a clue every time they check out.

“On my receipt printer, it calculates how much you would have saved coming to the library based on the number of items you check out,” library director Rodger Charles said.

Libraries are much more than books these days, and an online library value calculator created by Massachusetts Library Association provides a way to estimate how much all those features are worth.

Take the case of a family of four that uses these library services in a month:

  • Eight adult books borrowed;
  • 20 children’s books borrowed;
  • Four audio books borrowed;
  • Four e-books downloaded;
  • 10 magazines read;
  • Four movies borrowed;
  • One adult program attended;
  • One children’s program attended;
  • 40 hours of Internet usage.

Paying for all those materials and services would amount to $1,143.80, according to the calculator.

Multiply that usage across a year, and the value to that family would be $13,725.60.

All those services and more are available through one or more county libraries, and many patrons use some resources far more than in the example.

“We had some families come in this morning who checked out 20 kids books each,” Marion City Library director Janet Marler said. “They come in on a weekly basis and get 20 books each time. Kids books can run you $20 each.”

Charles has some avid adult readers.

“I’ve got patrons that will come in and checkout 12 to 15 books a week; they just love reading that much,” he said. “These are fixed income individuals. There’s no way they could purchase that many books.”

Library Internet connections, whether through desktop computers or laptops and tablets connecting via free wi-fi access, are cost-effective alternatives for connecting in the digital age.

“They don’t have to pay that monthly charge or buy a computer,” Marler said.

“I used to have people waiting at the door when I got here,” Charles said. “This is their only connection to the outside world. They are using free apps on the Internet. I’ve had people spend nine straight hours on the computer doing stuff. That’s a huge economic impact on the community.”

Charles said the quality of the library’s Internet connection exceeds what most home users have.

“I have 50 megabytes of bandwidth,” he said. “Do you think anyone else in town has that amount of bandwidth available to the public?”

Library connections aren’t limited to the holdings within their own walls, either.

Local library memberships qualify patrons to use the many resources available through the state library system, including online classes.

“Universal class is online education you can take free of charge, taught by professors from accredited universities,” Charles said. “There are classes on resumes, Quickbooks, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Access. When you complete it successfully, you get a certificate of completion that shows you took the class. There’s a whole bunch of different classes in there you can take — self-help, stress management, how to develop a budget.”

The collection of e-books and audio books available to download to personal devices is extensive, Marler said.

“They don’t have everything, but they have a good selection,” she said. “They have bestsellers in there, a lot of classics, children’s books. You can always find something.”

Physical copies of desired books not found in local collections can be obtained through interlibrary loan.

“I search the state for what you’re looking for in the format you’re looking for,” Charles said. “We don’t charge anything for that service. It would be nice if the patron would help us out with that postage.”

Librarians may also choose to buy a requested book for their collections, often at a price well below retail.

“I’m buying where other libraries buy, so we bundle our orders together so we get a discount,” Charles said. “If you give me a little time, I’ll purchase the book, get it in my computer, and I’ll let you have it for as long as you want to have it. When they’re done with the book they bring it to me, I stick it on the shelf, and it’s available for everybody.”

Libraries also have rotating collections of books to offer variety.

“Every other month I get 350 new books in the library,” Charles said. “It’s not the same old books over and over.”

Another popular way to save money is to check out movies.

“If they can have three at a time for three days, that’s a huge saving for families not to have to spend that,” Marler said.

Libraries won’t typically have new releases, she said, but have broad collections that include popular favorites.

Marion has a collection of games and puzzles that were donated to the library.

“We have a lot of adults check out puzzles in the wintertime,” Marler said. “It’s good fun and it’s great for grandparents. They don’t have to buy a game, but they can play something different with their grandkids. We have 30-some games families can take home and play and bring back.”

Charles said he has tablets loaded with books that kids and parents can use.

“They can read to a kid, they can read with the kids, or the kid can just read it,” he said. “I’ve got them on math, music, science, social studies, greatest heroes, all the way from preschool to adult.”

Offerings vary across libraries, but the scope of what’s available to patrons for learning and saving is extensive.

“There’s almost nothing that you can’t do through your local library anymore,” Charles said.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Marler said, “to give them a chance to read and have access to books and resources.”

Last modified March 8, 2018

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