Rediscovering Your Local Library

By MONICA BURKE

If you heard a rumor that the internet and ebooks were making libraries obsolete, it could not be further from the truth. In addition to playing an important role in local communities—offering everything from classes in ESL, technology support services, public space, and so much more to all ages and demographics—libraries still remain the best resource for bibliophiles.

One of my best friends just graduated with her master’s in library science after working at several libraries in various roles. She has been teaching me more about what libraries have to offer, and now it is my pleasure to share some of those resources with you, dear reader.

If you ever have questions about what resources are available to you, don’t hesitate to ask your local librarian—they are there to help you discover a new book, locate an answer to a tough question, or find the right research tools.

To get started, here are a few tips and tricks you may or may not already know about:

Your online account

Many libraries are moving towards incorporating newer technologies into local systems. They make it their mission to make these resources available to everyone. In this digital age, many libraries have moved their services online, making it easier than ever to locate and access the resources you need.

Look up your local library online, and see what they have to offer. Many libraries allow you to search their collections online, just like a Google search. This way you can place holds or requests on materials from the comfort of your home.

I love this feature because it saves me extra trips to the library. I will request the book I am looking for, and the library staff will place it on a special shelf with my name on it and send me an email notification that it’s ready to be checked out.

You can also use your online account to keep track of what materials you have checked out and when they are due.

Don’t have a library card? Many libraries allow you to apply online.

Subscriptions, databases, and more

Libraries subscribe to a variety of online resources and databases which are free for you to use. Resources might include genealogical databases like Ancestry.com, language learning programs, and online courses so you can acquire new skills. If you have a research project or you want to learn something new, check out your local library first. Knowledgeable librarians can save you time spent searching for answers and library resources can save you money on subscriptions to these services.

Some libraries are moving towards purchasing and lending more unusual items that might also come in handy, from camping gear to digital projectors, sewing kits to sports equipment. Go online and/or ask your local library if any initiative like these exist for your local system.

Interlibrary loan system

Is there a book, movie, or CD that you are interested in, but your local library doesn’t have a copy? Place an interlibrary loan request! I did not come across this service until I was in college, and it has been a game-changer. I was able to borrow books for my senior thesis from other academic libraries and expand my bibliography.

For an interlibrary loan (ILL), libraries borrow materials from other libraries on your behalf. This cooperative effort across library systems majorly expands what resources you have at your disposal. It really comes in handy if you are a member of a smaller community library with a more limited selection. If you are in a more urban area, your library might also share books within the local system itself, which also expands what you can check out.

If you don’t find a book on the shelf, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not available to you. Place an ILL request online from your library’s website, or ask a librarian to assist you.

Online media and apps

Almost every library offers e-resources today. This means that you can check out eBooks, audiobooks, music, movies, and more right on your computer or mobile device. Many libraries offer these resources through an app that you can download to your phone, such as Libby or Hoopla. Libby is great if you are a member of multiple libraries, as they will allow you to link your account to multiple library cards and browse the different collections each library has to offer.

This is hands down my favorite way to utilize my local library. I can place a hold for an audiobook in the Libby app which is automatically checked out when it becomes available, and I receive an email to let me know I can start listening. If I don’t finish the audiobook before it is due back to the library, the next time I check it out, the app picks up right where I left off. Now I have made a habit of downloading books to take with me on road trips. And the best part is, it’s completely free!

Local events

Libraries are about more than just books. They are important community centers and offer a variety of activities and resources for just about everyone. ESL, tech support, assistance in filing taxes, computer classes, story-time for kids of all ages—the list goes on and on!

If you are new in town and looking to become more involved or make new friends, your local library is a great place to start. I used to participate in a local writers’ group in my hometown that met monthly at the library, and I met writers of all ages through the group. They also host a knitting and crochet circle as well as weekly rounds of chess, Mah Jong, and bridge. Now, when I visit my new local library, I often come by during story time for parents and children under two, which as you can imagine is just adorable. My grandmother is a member of two book clubs at her local library, which has been a highlight of her retirement (and I get to read her copies of past book-club reads when I go to visit!). It’s never too late to get involved!

Libraries also host a variety of one-time events. For example, I check the website regularly to find out about used book sales at the various branches in my city. Consider signing up for e-updates to stay in the loop about what is new.

One of the great benefits to your local library is that it gets you involved in the community in ways great and small. From interacting with other patrons to getting involved with local clubs, libraries can help you to find personal connection in an increasingly digital and solitary age. Libraries are more necessary and vital than ever!

How to Make a Yearly Reading Plan

By MADELEINE COYNE

Aside from the grim weather and Christmas tree removal (so sad!), I love the start of a new year for its goal-setting, habit-making (or breaking) aspirations. Yes, I am guilty of setting unattainably high financial or health goals and failing less than a month later. But I’ve also set more “fun” goals that I have stuck to—and that have still made me feel amazing about myself. My favorite is setting reading goals at the beginning of each year.

Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found that about a quarter of U.S. adults did not read a single book (in whole or in part) in the last year, meaning that many people are missing out on not only the joys of reading, but also the health benefits.

It is certainly not always easy to find the time or motivation for reading books. However, it becomes significantly easier when you make a plan. It may take a little bit of trial and error, but I’ve found that the following steps make reading many books in a year more than possible:

01. Setting realistic reading goals for the year

Before ever putting pen to paper and getting carried away with lofty ideas concerning how much you want to read this year, it’s important to open your calendar and take a few things into consideration. Are there certain months or weeks during the year where you are particularly busy and would have little to no time for reading—for example, busy weeks of work, holidays, a wedding, or a major life event (such as having a baby)? Write those down—take each one into consideration.

There is nothing more discouraging than setting a goal and not reaching it; so, it’s essential that your reading goals be just as realistic as your health and fitness goals. Do you have time for a book a month? A book every other month? Two or three books a month? Take the time to thoughtfully consider the amount of books you’d realistically like to complete, and give yourself the permission to be flexible.

02. Breaking your list into different genres or seasons

After you determine how many books you’d like to read over the course of the year, it can be fun to break that number down into different genres or types of books you’d like to tackle.

Last year, I decided to vary my regular fiction reading (both classic literature and new-release fiction) with a mixture of parenting, health, and self-help/spiritual books. This helped me to read more books from unfamiliar genres without burning myself out, since I always read a fun fiction novel in between the sometimes “less fun” books.

It’s also important to note that if setting any number of books is stressing you out, then you don’t have to pick a number! You can choose to focus solely on different genres you want to explore—for example, deciding that you are going to read only American history nonfiction books and historical fiction novels this year. Another fun way to do this is to determine your book selection based on the season, or time of year—reading only Christmas-themed books during the holiday season or only books with a summer setting during the summer months, for example.

03. Setting up a method to track your books

In order to keep up with your reading plan over the course of the year, it’s essential to establish some method to track every book you read. Giving yourself that concrete sense of accomplishment will really help you keep up momentum throughout the year. There’s the old-fashioned pen and paper method. I once attempted to keep a separate reading journal, including my own summaries and reviews of the books I read, but it lasted only a few books. While this level of dedication may work for some people, I learned that I needed something simpler. So I made a “reading list” at the end of my paper planner in the notes section.

Creating a simple Google spreadsheet is another easy way to keep track of books—with the added bonus that it lives forever online, making it easy to reference past years (especially when you create a new tab for each year). Whether you use paper or an online spreadsheet, I recommend making separate columns for the title of the book, the author, the genre, the month you completed it, and a simple rating out of five stars.These five simple steps take only a minute to record, and they serve as a good reminder of the kinds of books you’ve read and whether or not you enjoyed them overall.

For those readers who want to step up their game and join a community of readers online, there is a plethora of different apps and websites that allow you to create and save your book list and goals, as well as discover other books based on your interests, rate and review books, and discuss them with other readers online. Goodreads is the largest platform for readers, but you can also check out sites like LibraryThingLibib, and Riffle and determine which platform is the best fit for you. Sharing your reading lists and goals with a whole community of readers can inspire and motivate you to complete your goals!

04. Making it fun by including incentives or joining a reading group

As is the case with all goal-setting, it is often helpful to create small incentives or rewards for yourself in order to help you stick to your reading plan. These can be as large or small as you want them to be. As someone who loves to collect 10 more books before I’ve finished the two in front of me, telling myself that I can buy a pretty new book after I’ve completed the books I’ve picked out for the next three months is a great incentive for me.

To make tackling your reading goals even more enjoyable, find a book club to join—or start one! Not only will reading alongside others motivate you to keep reading, but you will also benefit greatly from having people with whom you can discuss and dissect the book. If a book club sounds too intimidating or time consuming, you can also join different reading clubs or online forums for book discussion and other reader’s reviews of a book (Goodreads is, again, a good place to do this).

A yearly reading plan is more than another list of things to accomplish over the coming year. It is a way for you to challenge yourself as a reader, motivate yourself to explore new genres or books you don’t typically read, and have fun doing it! 

The Hidden Perks of Using Your Local Library

Five benefits to discover at your friendly neighborhood library

By CLAIRE SWINARSKI

Remember Cheers, the show about a bar and its patrons that ran through the eighties and early nineties? Okay, maybe you don’t remember it; but you’ve probably heard of it. The theme song had a catchy refrain: “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

That’s how I feel waltzing into our local library. I’m usually dragging along a tote bag full of books, often carrying at least one child on my hip, and, on good days, holding a thermos of hot coffee. I go to the library at a minimum once a week, but typically more often. It’s a familiar place dedicated to sharing one of my favorite things in the world: books! And at times, it feels like a secret treasure.

When people hear about all of the things we do at the library, it’s often followed up with an incredulous, “For free?!” When my friends hear about how many books I’ve plowed through in the past month, they quickly ask how I can afford that many, and when I respond that I get them from the library, I’ve more-than-once had someone respond that they didn’t know people used libraries anymore.

Libraries aren’t just buildings full of stories. They’re important cornerstones of communities. Yours probably has one: after all, there are more libraries in the United States than there are McDonald’s. As much as I love checking out a great novel, there are tons of other reasons to hit up your library. Here are five hidden perks you may not have been aware of!

01. Ongoing education

Libraries frequently offer classes on everything from computer literacy to financial planning. They also sometimes bring in official government assistance on things like taxes so that you can make sure you’re getting all of your forms filled out correctly. Check out the main bulletin board or online calendar for upcoming events. If there’s a particular topic you’re interested in learning more about, bring it up with your librarian—there’s typically a set budget for events each year and librarians are usually more than willing to get patron input.

02. Meeting authors of your dreams

Lots of libraries bring in authors for book clubs or lectures. If there’s an author who really rocked your world lately, ask your librarians if they would consider bringing them to the library to speak.

03. Securing a quiet work or study space

It’s obvious that college libraries make for a great place to study, but your local library may have spaces available for quiet work as well. If you need to finish up a big project or are working on some creative writing, see about securing a study room at your local library. Getting out of your living space can be helpful, but the clang and clatter of coffee shops are too much for some people to stay focused. Libraries can provide quiet spaces to get things done.

04. Entertainment for kiddos

Whether you’re a mom, aunt, or babysitter, you probably know how great it is to get out of the house, especially as the weather starts to turn colder. My two toddlers love playing in our library’s children’s section, and more importantly, they’ve learned the importance of reading as an activity. They’ve even learned social skills, like sharing and communicating with adults, and have had to ask the librarian to help them find certain books. That’s not even including organized events like story times and playgroups, where I’ve met two of my best friends.

05. A safe refuge for the marginalized in your community

Even if the library hasn’t personally benefited you, local libraries are often a refuge for the people in your community experiencing homelessness. The free Internet access allows them to hunt for housing and jobs, and the warmth of a safe building can make a world of difference when you’re facing extreme hardships.

So the next time someone offhandedly wonders if libraries are “still a thing,” make sure to respond with an emphatic YES—and check out your own. 

Claire Swinarski is a writer, wife, and mom living in Milwaukee. She also hosts the Catholic Feminist Podcast and is the author of GIRL, ARISE, out in spring 2019 from Ave Maria Press.