You might think of your local library as just a place with dusty books and a shushing librarian. • But libraries today offer so much more — including many ways for you to cut your spending. If you're looking to save money, you may want to consider using free library services and ditching entertainment and educational costs that are swelling your budget. • As the economy continues to sputter, libraries are becoming more popular than ever. And libraries are responding by expanding their offerings to include everything from community programming to digital downloads. • Here are some ways to use your library to cut costs. • All you need is a library card.
Many libraries have been offering CDs for years. But in the past year, several area libraries have jumped into the digital game and are offering downloadable content. Library patrons in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties can skip paying 99 cents for an iTunes track and instead download an MP3 for free.
If you're into obscure music, your library may not have everything you're looking for. But in Pinellas, libraries have a sharing program, so even if your closest library has a slim selection, there's a better chance another in the county will have what you're looking for.
Pinellas libraries, for instance, have an impressively good selection of alternative and independent music to go along with all the hit records.
In the mood for a movie but don't want to rent or go to a theater? Most libraries offer patrons a large selection of DVDs.
You can reserve them online in some counties — almost like Netflix but about $100 a year cheaper. Yes, you might have to wait a few days or weeks to get the latest new release, but in the meantime you can catch up on a great selection of classics, recent movies or TV series.
Got a traffic ticket but don't want the points on your license? The library can help with that, too. In Pinellas, a handful of libraries offer driver safety and traffic school DVDs.
Patrons who have received a ticket can check out the DVD, then take a test at home to reduce the number of points that go on their license (when the state allows that option).
This can save you the cost of a course from a private company or going to traffic school.
Many libraries carry official car manuals in their collections, in both print and electronic format. Most also allow patrons access to the Chilton's Automotive database, which can save you money if you don't want to purchase a paper version from the manufacturer.
Almost all libraries offer story-time programs for young children and reading clubs and events for older ones. And for the adults, several community groups offer free programs in topics such as gardening and finding energy savings.
It's no secret that nearly everything has moved online these days — including job hunting. Many companies accept only electronic applications. As a result, more and more people are using library computers to look for work, and library officials say they've had to adjust to meet that need.
At all Pasco County libraries, for example, at least two computers are set aside for patrons to do things like fill out job applications, work on resumes and apply for government programs including unemployment benefits and food stamps. Users have to sign up, but aren't bound by time limits.
Books in different formats
Last but not least, libraries continue to expand their book collections. That includes different formats. Patrons can now check out e-books and audiobooks compatible with any number of devices, including the Kindle and iPad.
Want more info?
Visit these links to find your nearest county library:
• Hernando — hcpl.lib.fl.us/
• Hillsborough — thpl.org/
• Pasco — pascolibraries.org/
• Pinellas — pplc.us/libraries.shtml