By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
I haven’t set foot in a public library in years because I typically buy books and then swap with my mother and sister. But I think it’s about time to curb my book buying habit and head for the closest branch.
I got my first library card when I was five years old and could print my name. I also worked at the Cornwall Public Library for three summers when I was in university. When considering a graduate degree a Masters in Library Science was high on my list, but I ended up applying to law school because I was math-phobic and I thought the computer skills required were beyond my capabilities.
The Toronto Public Library is the world’s busiest urban public library system. Every year 18.5 million people visit the 99 branches and borrow over 32 million items. An astounding 89 per cent of relatively recent immigrants report using the Toronto Public Library, which is not surprising considering materials are available in more than 100 languages.
Although I knew that libraries do way more than circulate hard copies of books these days, when I looked at the Toronto Public Library’s website I was blown away by the broad scope of its offerings.
Here are only a few examples:
Books: You can borrow hard and soft cover books, magazines, large print books, audio books and ebooks. Ebooks are compatible with a wide variety of electronic devices including your PC or Mac, BlackBerry, iphone, ipad, Kobo and Sony readers.
Music, DVDs etc.: DVDs, CDs, music downloads to personal devices, videos (including language learning videos), cassettes and CD-ROMs can be borrowed for varying periods, in some cases as determined by the licensing agreement.
Other items: Other more esoteric items on loan include music scores (21 days), museum and arts passes (expiry date as specified on the pass), a picture collection (42 days) and pedometers (21 days).
Databases: While most of us depend on a simple google search when we are doing research, the fact is that the really good stuff is often contained in specialized “for pay” databases. The library gives you free access to an almost infinite number of academic and other databases containing titles related to subjects as varied as architecture, business, medicine, science and religion.
Computers, Internet Access & Digital Services: Internet access, Microsoft Office and computer classes are free in every library branch. Free wireless internet access is also available at all locations. In addition, for a small fee, you can use computer and scanning equipment with powerful graphic design and web development software.
Programs, classes and exhibits: Programs are geared to children teens and adults at every age and stage of life. You can attend author talks and lectures; book clubs and writers groups; career and job search sessions; story times for children; historical presentations; business and personal finance workshops; and even legal aid clinics.
Exhibits and displays: The Toronto Public Library provides free space for art exhibits which reflect the diverse cultural interests of the city and its neighbourhoods. Artists are invited to submit their work for possible exhibition at 14 possible Toronto Public Library branch locations during the 2011 – 2012 exhibit season. An Art Selection Committee considers works in all media, including photography (no sculptures). Selected artists are given one-month showings.
So if you haven’t been to a public library in a while, or you’ve never been to one at all, check out the Toronto Public Library’s website to find out how you can access a cornucopia of information and entertainment. A library card is free for anyone who lives, works, goes to school or owns land in the City of Toronto. If you live in the GTA but outside Metropolitan Toronto, you can join public libraries in your municipality.
Take it from me, public libraries are definitely the best deal in town.