Public libraries are underrated

A slightly didactic plea for everyone to visit their local library

Sarah Karkoff, Staff Writer

Ever since I was in elementary school, the public library has been a space that afforded me great solace. Even to this day, I frequently utilize the resources accessible to me through the library system. However, this experience is not ubiquitous. The average American is growing less likely with each passing year to visit their local library. As a result of this decline, I urge you to visit the library—or at least use their online resources. 

From 2009 to 2019, there has been a 28% decline in visits to public libraries. Moreover, a national study from the Survey Center on American Life finds that many Americans seldom or never interact with their local library. In a wholly digital age, it is not surprising that fewer people have a need for the library. Yet, libraries are far from obsolete, even for younger generations.

Fines and fees may deter some users from owning a library card, but the Cleveland Public Library system removed late fines in 2019. “We want to remove barriers, not block people from accessing the Library,” says Executive Director Felton Thomas Jr. “We want to connect people to knowledge and ideas, not stand in the way. This important step will help us do our everyday work of fostering learning experiences.”

Many of the Cleveland Public Library’s resources and benefits are accessible from home. Even if you do not currently have a library card, you can create an account without coming in in person; additionally, to obtain a library eCard, all it takes is a short form.

As my fellow readers know, one of the easiest and most accessible ways to read new materials is by pirating them online. Luckily, every book you have illegally read online through sketchy websites with numerous not safe for work pop-up ads is very likely available on Libby. Libby is a digital app connected to your library and library card home to a wide variety of ebooks. For each library card added to the app, you can check out up to 10 books. Additionally, books that other members are using can be put on hold, and you are notified when it is your turn to read. Libby also includes audiobooks, so there’s no reason to give Audible your hard-earned money when you can get the same exact product for free.

However, if you prefer not to read online, there are ways to make checking out physical books easier and faster. Many public library websites have the option to search through their entire catalog of books to see whether they’re in stock before you go. In the event that the book is currently checked out or at a different library in the area, your library card allows you to put physical copies on hold. Much like the Libby app, your library will send you a message when your book is ready to be picked up. 

Even if reading is not your thing, the library has many other opportunities and resources. The catalog of items that can be put on hold even include Nintendo Switch and Xbox games. Before purchasing a copy of a game yourself, you can easily save money by trying out the game beforehand.

Furthermore, public libraries have access to research databases that you can use for free. As a result, you may be able to access specific databases that even our Kelvin Smith Library does not offer. In the same vein, interlibrary loans are available and free for cardholders to use, although limited.

Free online classes are another valuable resource that libraries offer. For instance, Rosetta Stone language learning lessons are free if you own a library card. Additionally, the Cleveland Public Library allows members to access Linkedin Learning courses.

In recent years, there has been discussion in the Ohio Senate about reducing funding to libraries—including in the 2021 budget, where the legislature planned to diminish library funding by millions of dollars. Libraries are almost entirely funded by taxpayers and state funding. One significant way to support them is by visiting and utilizing their resources. When you check out a book, online or in person, you are helping to prove to the government that people value the library system.