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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Free Library Resources

Many libraries today provide a lot more than books. Grab CDs for a road trip, download magazines and books, get advice on how to work your new phone, and much more!

You’ve always taken advantage of free book borrowing at your library. Perhaps you grew up going to story time there or visited with your own children. Maybe now you’re taking the grandchildren and continuing the pleasant pastime of choosing which new books will come home to be read at leisure. You may think there’s nothing like opening a new book, knowledge and adventure waiting for you inside. While that will always be a pleasure, there is much more that a trip to your local library, or even some apps that work with your library, can provide.

The public library was an American invention, according to William James Sidis, having had its inception in free parish libraries offered in more than 289 Anglican churches in the colonies. These were subsidized as early as 1701, later growing into the modern system through broad public support, financial contributions from wealthy philanthropists, and donations of large private collections of books. 

Many viewed the advent of the internet as a death knell for the institution. How could the library ever compete with personal computers, when so much information was right at your fingertips? Who would go to the trouble of picking out a book or magazine, when it could be delivered to you just seconds after buying it? E-books would kill the library, according to Art Brodsky in a 2013 piece for Wired. But it never happened. Libraries adapted to the times, and they are stronger than ever today. As internet caf├ęs proliferated, libraries kept in step by offering the use of computers for free. But many people still aren’t aware of all that libraries have to offer.

Your Options in a Nutshell

Want to have some fun with the grandkids? Many libraries facilitate this wholesome treasure hunt that uses a smartphone to navigate a set of coordinates to find a container (geocache) hidden at the final location. At the Denver Public Library (DPL), patrons can learn how to play at Geocaching 101 before downloading a free app that will guide them to locations along the Denver Public Library Series GeoTrail using the DPL Geocache Passport. As geocaches are found, players sign a logbook and record a unique code on their passport before returning the geocache to its original location. The first players to complete the challenge will get a limited-edition DPL Geocoin. Check if your local library or one nearby offers geocaching.

You Can Take It With You

Road trips have been forever changed with the advent of books on CD. Check out a mystery, and you may find yourself at your destination, sitting in the car, unable to move until you find out whodunit. Enjoy a romance, humor, whatever your fancy; an abundance of titles are available and the readers are professionals, sometimes even the author. It’s a great way to enjoy yourself while painting, sewing, cooking, gardening or any other activity that pairs well with a great story. 

Step up the tech and help yourself to a downloadable book, audiobook or music. Volumes that may cost $15 to buy can be downloaded from an app. Many libraries use Libby or Hoopla to offer patrons an array of stories. It is a lifesaver if you have an older adult in your life who is no longer able to load a CD or figure out how to run the Books for the Blind machine.  The audiobooks can be played from a smartphone or voice assistant, such as Alexa. Just add audiobooks to Alexa’s skills, and your loved one can manage everything by voice. You won’t be able to find every book you want, but there is a wide selection with star ratings. The best part may be the number you can download, which is often a generous eight titles a month. 

“I share my Hoopla account with my blind mother,” said one grateful library patron. “That way, even when I haven’t been able to visit her in assisted living during the pandemic, I can download audiobooks for her from home. They are always playing in the background when I call to check in. I think it’s the one thing that’s kept her sane during this time of intense isolation.”

Libraries are pairing with other institutions for innovative offerings. In Colorado, for example, patrons can check out two passes for free for entry to any state park, complete with an activity backpack that contains binoculars, brochures and other educational materials. After the adventure, users are invited to share a photo via a special hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. The Denver library promotes cultural tours, with passes for the Butterfly Pavilion, Denver Firefighters Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Trolly, Denver Zoo, Forney Museum of Transportation, Molly Brown House and more. And you don’t have to live in Denver to take advantage of the deal; any state resident or student attending a Colorado college or university can get a free Denver Public Library card by signing up online. 

Also in Colorado, having a library card grants access to eBooks for kids through Bookflix and TumbleBooks, eMagazines with Flipster and RB Digital, music from Volume and Music Online, and Overdrive for eBooks, audio eBooks and movies. It’s always worth checking the library system in your state capital to see if you can sign up for the ability to use an expanded array of technology.

High-Tech Resources and Learning

Let’s start with the learning component. Have you been reading through this article, thinking you’d love to take advantage of some of these options but tech is a foreign language you never learned how to speak? Fear not. Libraries are a friendly place for you, often offering classes on how to operate your smartphone or computer. And if you’re interested in using one of those handy apps for magazines, say, just ask a librarian. These days, showing you how to download services and even talking you through the process is part of the job. 

What else might you find at your library? “Maker programs” are a whole new category that you may have access to. Think 3D printers, design software, virtual reality (VR) platforms, and audio and video editing software. If your local library doesn’t have a media lab, you might kindly suggest this blog on how to build one on a shoestring. Oftentimes, people living in smaller towns or areas without a strong tax base can find more services in a larger town. Look online or call to see if a nearby city has a 3D printer you can check out, or a VR headset available to try.


Remember when you waited in line to check out books? Forgot when they were due? Had to pay a late fee for overdue books — right at the checkout desk, so everyone could see you were a slacker. There was a definite element of shaming. This thinking changed, and modern technology makes it possible for the system to evolve to be much more patron friendly. Many libraries today offer an easy-to-use self-checkout scanner. The best part? The system will email reminders before books are due or alert you that a hold is available. Many libraries have given up overdue fines in favor of encouraging more borrowing, with the idea that increased reading is always a good thing, and the books they lose are out there somewhere, providing an opportunity to learn. Those libraries that do still fine often make the process of paying as painless as possible, employing discretion and a variety of ways to pay. 

What’s Ahead?

Libraries are considering adopting even more new technology. Take facial recognition. While the ethics surrounding it are controversial, some companies already use it to remember a customer’s prior order, or track concertgoers. Libraries are watching to see if it may be useful to simplify access to buildings, resources and services. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to access our local library around the clock without any need for a library card. 

So-called 5G, or fifth generation, cellular mobile communication is on its way. One use will be for virtual and augmented reality, transforming phones into VR machines with the addition of a headset. Telemedicine is also booming. Imagine a private library space where you could videoconference with your doctor, sharing health information you obtained with a MedWand.  And how about borrowing a drone from your library to fly around your neighborhood, or perhaps it could deliver your books. 

Whether you just want to be able to listen to an audiobook, or you’re ready to edit the film of your grandchild taking her first steps, your public library is a free resource. Yes, we pay taxes to fund them, but you can use your library every day of the year without paying an additional penny. They are open to all, waiting to help you toward your next adventure, whether literary or in the great outdoors! 

Click below for the other articles in the October 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors