Beyond Borrowing Books

Today's public libraries are brimming with cost-free benefits

Carla Newsome McManus remembers the frequent 10-minute walks she would make to her local library as a little girl. “It was always quiet and close by,” she says. Today, Newsome-McManus, a Web developer who resides outside of Atlanta, still finds public libraries useful. “When I was in graduate school, there were a couple of technical textbooks about Java and ASP (computer software) that I couldn’t find in the bookstore but they were at the library,” says Newsome-McManus, who completed her M.B.A. in business information systems in 2000.

Libraries are more than just a place to borrow books. They offer a number of resources at tremendous savings. Check to see if the following are available at your local branch:

Book sales: Most public libraries sell items that have outlived their shelf life. A broad selection of books and magazines can be found that sell for a significantly reduced price. “We hold book sales about twice a year and most items sell for $1.50 to $3,” says Andrew Jackson, executive director of Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Corona, New York, a branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. “You can get a copy of the African American Almanac for $2, where if you buy it new it will cost $100.”

Access to research databases: Almost all libraries subscribe to research databases that are quite costly to subscribe to privately. LexisNexis, an online resource service for legal, news, and business information, can cost an individual subscriber a minimum of $250 a week. Libraries pay thousands of dollars to subscribe to LexisNexis, but you can access it through your local library for free. Newspaper archives are also available through library services.

If you have Internet access, you may not even need to leave your home to get started; some libraries’ Websites, Cleveland Public Library for example (www.cpl.org), require only that you punch in your library card number on the branch’s site to view material.

Tutoring services: Langston Hughes Community is just one of the many libraries that offer tutoring services for children. Their after-school homework assistance program is held Monday through Friday from 3–6 p.m. and provides help in reading and math for students in grades 1–7. “The director of the program holds a Ed.D. and the tutors are paid high school and college students, many of them majoring in education,” says Jackson.

If you need help with an assignment at home, larger library systems offer online homework and tutoring resources for anyone who wants assistance. They are definitely worth checking out as tutoring programs operated by private companies can cost hundreds of dollars. One such online program offered by Sylvan, the popular learning assistance company, charges a $150 registration fee and then charges $37–$41 per hour.

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