Lifestyle: Rediscovering the public library during this recession

One of the things I have rediscovered over the past year is the value of the public library. I always loved the library when I was young, but I never thought about frequenting it as an adult. This past summer, I had to meet my daughter's tutor there for one hour sessions, twice a week. While she worked with my daughter, I had an hour to myself to meander around and explore what my tax dollars in the big city pays for, and you know what? It's a lot! Think what you will about taxes-they do pay for a lot of free civic and public activities for the commons that everyone should take advantage of. When you look at it, you can save a ton of money in this recession by utilizing the library for all it has to offer. I know I am in a big city, so what our libraries offer may be different/more than yours-but take a look and have the librarian give you a tour of your own. You might be pleasantly surprised what your tax dollars are paying for that you can really use!

The Basics

So of course, there are books. But did you know that they have magazines, DVDs, CDs, and even museum and concert passes? As far as physical materials, You can place something on hold using the Internet and your library card, have books transferred to a branch near you, and even renew materials online if you want to keep something longer so you can manage not getting late fees. Our Chicago library is really plugged in, with your library card as your "account" that you can manage whenever you want.

Totally New Downloadable Media!

Using your library card online, the Chicago library has a new Digital Media section that allows you to download MP3s, eBooks, Audiobooks & DVDs straight to you computer at any time. Your selections will load to your computer instantly. When your loan period is up, the files expire, and your done! You can renew them online, just like the actual books, so you won't get late fees.

Concert Passes

You can pick up free lawn passes to certain concerts during the Ravinia Festival’s summer concert season. Anyone 18 or older can obtain up to two passes per concert from any CPL location. Lawn passes become available at the beginning of the Ravinia Festival season, so make sure to check early in the summer if you want a wide selection to choose from. 

Museum Passes

These go fast and each branch has a limited amount of passes, so call ahead for availability before you try and get them. But this is a great resource to see some of the city's best museums for FREE. You can check out a one-week museum pass for four (two adults and two children). Just ask at the front desk. Passes are available for a total of 13 Chicago museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.  For a complete list of participating institutions and more information, visit

Free WIFI and computer access

You can reserve a computer at any Chicago library by going online, or bring your laptop and use the free Wi-Fi. I went to Sulzer, and there was always a free computer for me to use. You just plug in your card number and you can have the computer for an hour. If no one else wants to use it, you can renew it. This was pretty awesome. If I were a kid with limited family resources, this place would be invaluable for doing online research for school work, free. For me, it was a great place to quietly get work done while my daughter was with her tutor.

Kids activities

Whether its a scheduled event or just hanging out on a Saturday, the library has a lot to keep kids busy and learning. I often had my daughter go to the preschool reading and activity hour at our local branch. It was a chance to meet other kids in the neighborhood and get exposure to reading and learning from someone else-FOR FREE. And even if there is nothing scheduled, they have books, puzzles, games and more that on a rainy day keeps them busy and active without being cooped up in the house. And they almost always have something fun planned for every holiday throughout the year to keep things fun and cheap!

Community Involvement

Often times, the local branch sponsors various meetings and lectures on educational things as well as community issues that you can stay apprised of. There is often a community bulletin board and flyers that you can stay up to date on what interests you. The lectures alone, for free, can teach you about green initiatives, small business practices and parenting. It's pretty cool.

Tax Advice and Paperwork

Some branches have areas around tax season with helpful tips and tax preparation guides along with the paperwork needed for taxes. A very helpful resource.

Small Business Area

Some branches have books, pamphlets and seminars supporting local businesses-along with paperwork to help (trademark searches, LLC filings, etc.). If you are thinking of starting a business, the library would be a great place to start.

Copier Access

Almost all branches have a black and white copier for making copies cheaply. A couple of the larger branches have color as well for a little more money per copy-but still cheaper than some of the retail chains.

Cheap books on Sale

Libraries are always cleaning out old inventory, and you can score some pretty nice books for as little as 25¢ a book. Our branches keep a rack towards the front near the main desk on books for sale. Be on the look out for good deals.

Historic Cultural Center

I know the Sulzer branch in Chicago has an atrium that keeps historical records of the near north side. I wanted to do research on my old home in Lakeview, and they had old pictures of various neighborhood streets, storefronts and homes. They also had a lot of pamphlets on how to find out the history of your home. Check to see if you library has anything like that. 

At the end of the day-you are paying for the local library with your tax dollars. So use it. If you add up what you save by going the library route, you save a ton of out of pocket money. Taryn Tawoda with, a great blog I follow, put together this analogy of what your savings are if you were to purchase VS borrow from the library. Its pretty considerable-not including all the kids activities and computer time. (be sure to check out the blog-its pretty cool)

Purchasing everything yourself*: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer ($10.99) Sex and the City - The Movie ($28.98) Circus - Britney Spears ($22.98) Glamour Two-Year Subscription ($15) Museum of Contemporary Art admission ($10) Ravinia Lawn Seat ($10) Total = $97.95 *According to List Prices

Using the CPL system: Get a CPL card ($0) Reserve a copy of Twilight ($0) Reserve Sex and the City - The Movie ($0) Reserve Britney’s new album ($0) Read Glamour at the library each month or check out back issues ($0) Get a museum pass ($0) Get a free lawn pass to certain Ravinia concerts ($0) Total = FREE (assuming, of course, you don’t have any late fees!)

Cost analysis by Taryn Tawoda 



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