How are you using your public library these days?

Seth Godin says:

More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars.

My family primarily uses our public library for free DVD rentals and children's books.

Books for adults? Occasionally, but we're more likely to buy them from Borders or Amazon.

Reference materials? On the rare occasion that we need them, we seem to always find what we need on the Web.

Expert guidance on how to find and interpret information? Not needed. We can do it ourselves.

How about you? How are you using your public library these days?

Related posts

31 Responses to “How are you using your public library these days?”

  1. I go to the library weekly, to curl up in my favorite corner, and read, research, and relax.

    I have a librarian that checks on me — brings me books she thinks I will like, helps when I need to find information. Often sits down for 10 minutes for a catch up chat.

    I seldom check out books. But I have a pile of books near me as I gather info — which I also check online.

    I wander the children’s department, listen to the book lady read, and listen to kids chat about books.

    I walk by the study rooms and wonder what is going on inside – I see activity — but I can’t hear it.

    And when I walk out — they say “Good night, Jen”

    Sadly, I think in the next 10 years — perhaps sooner — the public library will be no more…….

    perhaps it has been replaced by online dvd rentals, internet resources, etc……

    but for me, I will miss it….and I will miss the people who interacted with me while there.


  2. To check out books… 🙂 I’d go broke if I had to purchase everything I read. I login to the online catalog (, and if the local branch doesn’t have what I want, I reserve it online, and they email me when it’s ready to be picked up.

  3. We revamped our high school library last year, and I was wondering if we had reversed a trend in time. I think we public education sets the pace for many life skills and the use of a library is one of them.
    Our new library now is a location for students to seek information – learn how to filter and verify information, compare and contrast information feeds, and step into the digital world with on-line forums, databases and audiences. Please visit

  4. Angie Wassenmiller Reply January 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

    I LOVE the public library and go there at least once a week. We use it to check out books, DVD’s, and Wii games for my daughter. We check out books for ourselves. I don’t really use it for reference materials. I’m part of a university, so I can access all of that online.

  5. I love my local public library! This semester, I found one of my course books for PhD class available as an e-book through my public library. Never thought to look there before and so love the access! Kids use the library alot – especially for all of the Juvenile series books. Usually, my public library checkouts are just books on tape. I use the online reserve and interlibrary loan (also online) alot, but we physically go to the library about 2x a month.

    And, just to plug the librarians – I find them to be incredibly helpful when I think to ask them (especially the children’s librarian).

    -Ann Duffy
    Roswell, GA

  6. We’re still much traditional library patrons. We have 100 books or more at anyone time checked out – mostly for the kids. Until I can afford an e-reader and more books become free, that’s the way it’ll stay. Keep waiting for someone to develop a library e-reader and some pioneering library to jump on board.

  7. I LOVE my local library. My city spent years raising money and public awareness and now we have a lovely building (which, by the way, includes a fireplace in one corner!)that not only has books and DVDs, but also has meeting space, a homework center, study rooms that groups can reserve and a teen center. We are fortunate that our library is open six days a week and is connected to the larger county system. Over the past couple of years, I have learned to check the online catalog first when I hear of a new book. Rarely have I been disappointed by the availability of materials. I am also gratified that every time I go to the library to pick up the books that I have reserved, it is PACKED with people. The local Barnes and Noble, a favorite study spot, closed at the end of last year so the library could become even more important for the community.

  8. I visit my library at least once a week from my computer. They offer digital downloads that i can put in my Zen player and ‘read’ as I drive!

  9. I visit my local branch library whenever one of my “on hold” books comes in. I don’t read nearly all of the books I reserve, but I start to panic when my pile becomes too short. Normally I go straight from the NY Times book review to the search screen of my public library to place my chosen books on hold. Even when the library has not yet processed a new book, I can look forward to a surprise notice sometime down the road.

    I don’t often remember to use the public library’s electronic databases, but just last week, I did discover Heritage Qwest there. There I found a book written in 1938 that made numerous mentions of my ancestors from Wayne County, Nebraska. I was delighted! (And it was free to download or print.)

    Whenever I go to my branch library, the patron computers are full. It’s a reminder of just how vital public library services are to those who do not have easy access from home.

  10. To be fair, many public libraries in the past 15 years have re-thought their missions, their services, and their hours. But still when I visit my public library, it seems that the primary patrons are the homeless, the jobless, and the retired. These folks certainly need service, but it seems more social service than library service right now.

    I would say that the Internet continues to whittle away at the traditional services of the library. The old economic model that sharing a book is cheaper than buying a book for everyone is breaking down. Cheap computers/e-book readers, iTune priced electronic books, GoogleBook and Gutenberg, Wikipedia, etc. are all creating an information environment that is increasingly affordable to an increasingly large percentage of people. At a buck a pop from vending machines or streamed online, who is even going to use the public library to get DVDs?

    Given local city and county budget shortfalls, Godin’s suggestion to libraries to train people in information skills is critical.

    But perhaps too late.


  11. I love my library. I use it for books (physical, audio downloads, and digital downloads), and DVDs. I wish they had video games available. Also through the library I have access to databases that cost to much for me to afford on my own.

  12. I am a frequent patron at many of Southeastern Michigan’s wonderfully equipped libraries. I go to browse the collections to see what I can use at school, to check out as many things as they’ll let me, to gather information, to find resources to help me escape, to see what everybody else is reading, to warm up between errands, etc. Granted, I do not live in an area with an extensive homeless population that lives within walking distance of the library.

    No matter where I go or when I go, the parking lots are full and there’s always a line at the circulation desk (even at the libraries with self-checkout, which I also love).

    In fact, there’s often a lengthy line of people ahead of me when, as previous commenters stated, I place a hold on a book at my local branch. When 35 people are waiting for a book instead of buying it, that $24 book suddenly saved our community $700+ in purchases.

    I don’t see the evidence that Godin or you see that libraries are just physical Netflix locations, nor do I see libraries and Netflix as mutualy exclusive. (Netflix is more convenient for getting the unusual DVDs I like, but I’m a book and magazine girl at heart.)

    I do agree that public libraries can provide valuable instructional support, and many already do. My hometown library, for example, lets you have a one-on-one research consultation with a librarian FOR FREE. Think what that costs in a corporate environment, and think of the benefit that has in a state with almost 15% in unemployment.

    The local librarians know my niece and nephew by name and welcome them. They demonstrate that there are adults in the world who will care for them beyond their birth family.

    DVDs? Sure, we get those, but I also use their online resources, books on tape, books, graphic novels, and subscriptions to magazines I don’t get. Library displays point out materials I wouldn’t necessarily have found by myself but that are useful. My sister attends sessions to educate parents; my mom’s first email account was sponsored by the library. Quilt and knitting guilds meet at the library, and teens learn to make videos and podcasts.

    I work hard to create a school environment that values multiple avenues for learning and enjoyment. Believe it or not, books are still part of that package for the students I work with. And given the number of public library books that accidentally find their way into our book return, I know that public libraries matter to them, too.

    Look in libraries’ nooks, crannies, YA departments, and coffee shops, and you’ll see that libraries are more than repositories for shared resources. They’re study centers, tutoring sites, conversation nooks, warm fireplaces, TVs with CNN, and more.

    There. I’ve said my piece. Thanks.

  13. PS – in response to Kimberly, many local libraries do host video gaming tournaments and have software available for checkout.

  14. No offense at all meant to traditional library patrons with this comment. The books at the library are glorious resources and will be so for some time. That being said, people are not buying books like they used to while in fact they are reading more than ever using the internet and more recently devices like the Amazon Kindel.

    Unfortunately, locked devices and distribution systems are not really ideal when you consider how libraries work. Amazon does not want to license one book for a whole community when they can make more money selling books online to many people. The physical manifestation of books could become prohibitively expensive at some point.

    I don’t use my library because I have so many ways to access information, books, and news through the internet. What if we changed part of the role of a library to train and empower people to do something similar. Physical books will of course remain a key elements of the library for a long long time.

  15. The last time I went to the library was when there wasn’t any snow on the ground (feels like eons ago, right Scott?). I took my class across the street to the public library to learn the ins and outs.

    We use Paperbackswap or BookMooch. Trade old books to get new ones. The only cost is for us to send ours out when we’re giving them away.

  16. “Reminder, the library will be closing in 25 minutes.” 4:35PM CST. Been online the entire time at the county library today.

  17. I use the library for its databases. I rarely check out a book because I hate to pay fines (I don’t charge fines at my high school library for that very reason). But…the librarians and I collaborate on all kinds of cool things. The local branch manager leads book clubs in our school; they have a Professional Card which I use to check out materials for students and staff for various projects; and as part of the Big Read grant, they’re sponsoring a sculptor to work with a group of our art students; a graphic novelist who will talk to most of the student body (my first author visit–hooray!); and a theater group that’s presenting a drama in my library. If we need class sets of books, they make it happen. In our small rural community, a lot of people don’t have internet, so they use the computers at the library (for free).

  18. The last time I went to a public library, it was to use the washroom.

    Public libraries just don’t have anything that interests me. If I need a book, I’ll buy it from amazon or go to a university library.

  19. I have to say, I’m not sure this is the response Scott might have expected when he wrote this post, but personally I am gratified by the library love that shines through the responses to this post.

    What I hear is that it’s all about community–the same thing blogs and twitter and facebook are about. It’s about a place as well as people.

    And what is also clear is it is such a local thing. Some libraries/cities clearly are awesome. Some are clearly more mediocre/mundane. Like anything else, the places that tell their story and serve their community well will survive and flourish.

    These responses portray that more than I ever could.

  20. How someone uses the library is usually a story of how it was promoted when they were a child. When a child is exposed to a library young, through story time or another activity, they seem to continue to visit. So… obviously a lot of people who posted were exposed young and had positive environments to enjoy. Now the question should be how many of the children in todays school systems are being exposed to public and school libraries and are they having the positive experiences that their parents had?

  21. We go weekly. We take out DVDs and VHS videos (old school, I know). We borrow adult fiction and non-fiction. We take out the magazines – I read all kinds of magazines I would otherwise waster $7-9 on and would have to recycle after. I borrow anything I’m going to read for book club and my husband reads to learn about his passions, triathlon and marathon training. My kids take out picture books and chapter books. My son has learned that we don’t buy books, libraries are free and the book goes home when it’s done, rather than gathering dust on the shelf. He reads copiously, we’d never keep up. The librarians know our family by name and will pull our holds from the shelf as we come in. Occasionally they waive a fine because they can and they like us. I can’t wait until all our branches have wifi. It’s extraordinary to me that they don’t already but I think the funding has been a bit short in the last couple of years. Our branch is slated to be expanded in the new year. The library regularly houses activities for the community, lessons on computer use and search, civic meetings, you can rent space and programming for birthday parties. There is work to be done on entering the technology side of things but I think so far, so good.

  22. There has been many technological changes that have occured in the libraries over the past 20 years. 25 years ago I was still stamping and writing patron’s library numbers on cards to loan out a book. Now we scan, maintain all the information on computers. While it would be nice to think of libraries to be only books, found on shelves by us “… See Moreknow it all librarians”…, we have to change with the times. I am still needed to help with research, only now I search books as well as the internet to help patrons, using many online resources as well as book resources. I find that patrons do take out DVDs, but they take out books as well. We try to have more of the travel, language, classic DVDs as we are not trying to compete with the DVD rental places. It is always nice to see when a parent tells their child “you may choose one DVD, but you must also choose a book. Now patrons can reserve, renew, ask a question and even download an ebook directly through the library website. We have shown a steady increase in new patrons accessing the library which is a good thing. The percentage of patrons in our library are still wanting the book in its familiar comfortable format. 🙂

  23. Have libraries jumped the shark?

  24. The last time I used the public library was to study. About three months ago, I discovered that the library has study rooms. Not only can you study quietly, but there is internet access. Yay!

  25. @Carolyn Foote: I didn’t have any notions about what others might say. I just realized that our family generally mirrored Godin’s comment and wondered if others did too.

    There’s still lots of library love out there. I think you’re absolutely correct when you say “[I]t’s all about community–the same thing blogs and twitter and facebook are about. It’s about a place as well as people. And what is also clear is it is such a local thing. Some libraries/cities clearly are awesome. Some are clearly more mediocre/mundane. Like anything else, the places that tell their story and serve their community well will survive and flourish.”

    I also think Doug Johnson is correct, however, when he says that “the Internet continues to whittle away at the traditional services of the library.” It will be interesting (and probably also a little sad) to see where our public libraries are in just a decade or two…

  26. I use my library a lot. There is no way I could buy even a sizeable fraction of the books I read. Also, I homeschool my kids so I often get books for that. The internet makes it easier to use our library. If I hear of a book I want to read, I can quickly log onto the library website, reserve it, and have it delivered to the nearest branch library. You can’t go to a branch and expect to find what you want. That might work at the main library but not the branches. Also, I can get essentially any book I want since in my state there is a consortium of libraries including several college or university libraries that allow inter-library loans. Again, it’s an easier procedure to search for the book I want online and have it delivered to my local branch. You never know how long it takes, but you get the book. Sure, we check out DVD’s and CD’s, but for our family the public library is a pipeline of free books into our home.

  27. My family uses the library to check out books since we read quite a bit. It’s really nice to be able to provide our 3 year old with a wide variety of books.
    Since I have access to the university library’s online system I am able to conduct research from anywhere in the world. This has been really nice to have.
    Since I’ve been out of work for the past several months so I’ve enjoyed the “social services” that Doug mentioned. It’s been my office and I was pretty productive there. Guess that the services have not been “library” ones.
    Take a look at my post about the historic New York City Library from last week.

  28. I use the library as a repository for my used books. I don’t like touching books used by others, but I have no problem with those who don’t mind it. So I donate my already read paperbacks and old textbooks to the library. They either shelve them, or put them in the five for a dollar bin. If it helps them, great!

  29. Scott, my wife and I use our local public library, which has wonderful resources. When I find a book that I want to read (and I often do from the various books you recommend from your blog), I connect to my online catalog and search for the book. Rarely do I find that the library system does not have the book. I place a hold, and usually, within 5 days, I am getting notification that the book is in, with the exception of new books. For instance, I reserved the new Daniel Pink book two weeks before the release and had to wait one week before it got through cataloging (I am the first user to check out new books, like the new Mortenson, Gladwell, etc., a fact not lost on the circulation staff). If I like a book, I will then return and purchase it. They offer great programming, including concerts, 35 mm movies before they are out on DVD, for free. Great for people on budgets. Not all local public libraries are like mine, but mine is fantastic.

  30. I use the public library mostly from home to access the databases–one in particular has helped me to make informed decisions that has increased my net worth without using financial advisors. The databases are a literal goldmine of wealth.


  1. Using RSS to improve the reputation of a High School Library « Ceridwyn's 'Critical Discussion' blog - July 27, 2010

    […] By Ceridwyn, on July 28th, 2010 How did you view your High School Library? If you’re among the majority, you saw it as a repository of books and ‘some other stuff’; dry words on dry paper; a place […]

Leave a Reply to Susan