20 June 2011

The Library Saves You Money

On my personal time, through my personal email account, I subscribe to a (free) personal finance blog written by Jim Wang called Bargaineering. He started a new series called "Money Leaks" on June 1st. The first entry was on "Buying Books" which was, in essence, a shout-out on how libraries save you money.

Which, as any reader of Connections likely knows, is a topic near and dear to my heart. In these lean and mean times, plugging money leaks - by using the Library - can help you put free-up limited $s for other needs and wants such as food for the table, keeping that mortgage current, paying down worrisome credit card debt, and perhaps even allowing you to take your family out to Hunting Island State Park for an afternoon in the sun and sand.

Wang highly recommends using your public library rather than purchasing books. As he states:

When you borrow a book from the library, you get all of the positives with none of the negatives. You don’t have the pay for it, you don’t have to store it, and you can return it when you’re done. If you want to read it again, you just check it out. At worst, you pay a few cents in fees if you hold it a little longer than you’re supposed to.

I agree. And let's not restrict the benefit of libraries just to the format of a hardback book for grown-ups. You can borrow soft-cover books. You can borrow everything from baby boardbooks to large print books for the sight-impaired; audio-books to fill up commuting times or drives to the in-laws house in Ohio; DVDs to keep the children happy; and/or Salsa music CDs to boogie with your beloved at home. And, what about asking for assistance from the qualified reference librarians on staff? Need to start a business or find a job? The Library has a WorkStarts initiative here to further you along the path of employment or self-employment.

Here's Wang again:
My most valuable tip when using the library is to sign up for online access if they offer it. Through our public library system’s website, we’re able to search for books, request holds, and even renew them from the comfort of our home. We get email notifications when a hold is available and when books are nearing their due date. If I find a book I want to read, I simply place a request for it. If it’s popular, sometimes I have to wait a while but eventually I can get it. If I enjoy it so much that I really want my own copy, I can always buy it afterwards.

As is the case for many public library systems, we provide online access through the "My Account" feature on the Beaufort County Library's homepage for the circulating libraries. (It's there in the upper right hand corner between "Catalog Search" and "Search our Site"). Once you've set up your account, you can request holds and renew materials from your home or office.

The caveats are: Sometimes other people are waiting for you to return the materials so renewals aren't possible; We have a limit on the number of holds active at the same time - I brush up against that limit myself fairly regularly; and, Some materials, such as those in the Beaufort District Collection, can be neither checked out nor placed on hold.

When the material is ready to be picked up, the system sends you an e-mail (if you've opted for that service).

Our "My Account" lists out what you have checked out, what you have on hold, and what fines or fees you owe and why. You can sign up online or you can call or drop by any of the Branch Library circulation desks/reference desks and staff will be glad to show you how to sign up for "My Account."

Q: How much money you can save by using the Beaufort County Public Library system?

A: The total figure, is of course, dependent on you! If you use a variety of library materials and services, you get great value for your County taxes. (Estimate the per capita for library services in Beaufort County as $25).

To calculate what you save by using our services, the State Library has posted a "Library Use Calculator." Put the quantities of books, magazines, programs, or meeting space that you have used (or will use) and the calculator totals up the national average of value for these goods and services (based on 2009 prices) for you.

Here's an example. Let's say you checked out Jackpot, Coffin Point, Dr. Rowland's History of Beaufort County, and took home the DVD of Conquistadors and explorers: South Carolina under the Spanish flag from one of the branch library history sections; came to Marvin Bouknight's South Carolina's Lowcountry ... Naturally author book/talk; learned the basics of how to use the Ancestry Library Edition database in the workshop Charmaine taught in February at the Hilton Head Branch Library; read 2 articles about how rice was grown in coastal South Carolina in the DISCUS subscription database; and called us for advice on how to locate materials to support your research paper on Civil Rights politics in this area. The total value of these services according to the Library Use Calculator is $177.00 - a return of more than 600% on your initial "investment" of $25.00!

As Jim Wang writes so succinctly: "The library is one of the most valuable resources you can take advantage of in your community. Since you pay taxes, you’re already paying for it, you might as well use it!"

Please note: Branch Hours of Operation may have changed as a result of the recognition of loss of staff, amount and times of maximum library traffic, and County budgetary concerns. Be sure to check the schedule.

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