Ah, libraries. What’s not to love? For a witch on a budget there are few places more exciting and enticing than a public library. More than just a storage place for free books, libraries offer a wealth of resources at your fingertips – and most are completely free.
Free membership, free books
Public libraries are one of the few places you can go and sit without needing to buy something to have the right to be there. Even if you don’t have a library card, you’ll be able to just sit and read. Every library system has different membership requirements so make sure to ask. Some systems are very specific about where you must live, while others may offer guest cards or accounts for those visiting.
Intellectual freedom and patron privacy
Public libraries protect your right to access nearly any kind of information, and your records are closely protected. Some libraries even go so far as to completely delete patron circulation records (in other words, what you’ve checked out in the past) as soon as you return the materials. I encourage you to check out the American Library Association’s great resources on intellectual freedom, including your Library Bill of Rights.
Libraries take requests
Libraries thrive on serving their communities, but they can only do that if you make your voice heard. Check your library’s website for a request-a-book form, or chat with one of the library staff members about what titles and subjects you’d like to see. Patron requests impact purchasing decisions, so share your reading wishlist!
Computers and wi-fi
Most public libraries have computers available and many libraries offer free wi-fi. For those without access to cheap data plans or do not have a computer or internet service at home, these perks are indispensable. Again, this feature differs from library to library, with some systems offering automatic free wi-fi to anyone within range, while others may require a library card or at least a password. Some libraries are even starting to offer mobile wi-fi hotspots to check out, just as you would books or movies.
Free heat and air conditioning
There’s a reason why many cities declare its libraries Heating or Cooling Centers during extreme weather. And again, you don’t need to buy anything to come in and enjoy the AC or heat.
Socializing and programs
Pagan shops and witchy meetups aren’t the only places to find like-minded people. Libraries offer a huge range of programs these days, from cookbook clubs to knitting circles to coding classes to escape room games. Look for a community events board or library calendar to see what’s available at your local branch. Also, just like requesting book titles, libraries also listen to requests for certain types of programs. If you don’t see something on the calendar, ask for it!
Inter-library Loan (ILL)
ILL is one of the hidden gems of the library world. If you want a book and it’s nowhere in your library system, you may be able to borrow it from other libraries across the country with your library card. There may be a fee to cover shipping and insurance for inter-library loans, so check with your library about how the process works.
eBooks and Overdrive
Your local library probably has a subscription to a service like Overdrive or Hoopla which allows you to check out eBooks and media with your card. What’s great about eBooks is that frequently they auto-return themselves on their due date, meaning you don’t have to worry about forgetting to return them and having a fine. It may also be easier for your library to purchase eBook copies of your favorite titles than physical books.
Databases and subscriptions
Libraries, especially academic libraries (check and see if your local community college or university library lets non-students sign up for cards) often have subscriptions to academic databases, newspaper archives, digital magazines, or have accounts with services like Ancestry.com or Mango Languages. Check out your library’s website for what services they provide, or better yet – make friends with a reference librarian, whose job is literally to help you find stuff out.
Many libraries have private rooms you can reserve (sometimes for a small fee, but often for free) for gatherings. I know more than one Pagan group that used their local library as a free meet up space in a neutral location that wasn’t, say, a private home. And if you can’t reserve a private room, you can certainly meet up with other folks in the main part of the library, so long as you observe whatever rules are in place about group size and maintaining quiet.
This article first appeared on the Broke and Bewitched website, a now defunct blog side-project I was a part of with a fellow witch.