Using Your Public Library

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Suburban stockade introductionOne of the top goals at Fortress Peschel is to never spend money if we don’t have to. We never did have much spare hard coin floating around—it was all earmarked for something the minute it showed up—and now that we’re living off of our savings as we make a go of Peschel Press we have even less. So I try very hard to not spend money.

hershey public library book sale

The public library can also be a source of cheap, used books. Many hold annual book sales.

Financial security has always been our long-term goal and even though we don’t look very secure right now, we sort of are. We don’t have any debt, including mortgage or vehicle loans, and that lets us work full-time towards our goal of our home-based business of writing and publishing our books. Being debt-free is the only reason we’re able to do what we’re doing. Our skills, hard work, and expertise don’t impress creditors. Being debt-free means we don’t have to earn as much hard coin to meet our monthly nut. We still have to say no to all kinds of things, but the trade-off is more than worthwhile.

Our goal of being debt-free encouraged us to take advantage of free and low-cost resources. One of our most important is our public library.

Libraries are one of the best resources available to all. They are free or very low cost, you can find reading and research materials, movies for your DVD player, and a wide variety of music. Some even have video games and eBooks.

Best of all, if they don’t have a specific book, the nice librarians will get it for you from another library! Often for free! This is the interlibrary loan program and virtually every library has one. We use it all the time. As the head of Peschel Press, Bill could not have researched and written any of his books: the annotated versions of Whose Body?, Mysterious Affairs at Styles, Secret Adversary, two volumes on the life and times of William Palmer, Victorian poisoner, and a series of collections of period Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. He does meticulous research and sends Denise, our local library goddess, to the far ends of the earth via the WorldCat catalog and other databases to find the materials he needs. And she does it for free.

We could never have afforded to buy all of the books we used. What surprised us was how many of them were old, rare, or printed in very limited editions. We’ve even gotten microfilms this way. Libraries lend them to libraries outside their own systems so you, dear reader, do not have to travel the world to get and read some obscure tome on the use of strychnine doping by Victorian athletes.

If you aren’t using this program for your research, then go to your local library and ask how it works. Getting a book through the interlibrary loan service lets you preview it so you can decide if you want to purchase it through AbeBooks for your home library. This has saved us some real bucks, when a book we thought would be useful turned out to be a dud. Other times, the interlibrary loan copy showed us how valuable it would be to have a copy that we could use, index, write in notes, and otherwise mark up.

We have two local library systems available to us. This is something you should check on in your local area; you may have more than one system available to you. Pennsylvania has odd library systems, some quite large and some tiny. We live in Hershey—the sweetest place on Earth!—so we have the Hershey Public Library available to us. The Hershey Public Library is tied to the Middletown Public Library so what is in the stacks at Hershey is only part of what is available in the on-line catalog of materials. Many times, a book I want is available in Middletown. I’m allowed to check it out, as a Hershey resident, but I don’t have to drive to Middletown to do this. I request the book or magazine and it is delivered to Hershey where I pick it up.

There is also the Dauphin County Library System, which Hershey, for some mysterious reason, refused to join when it was created. The DCLS is quite large, with many branches and a far wider array of books than are available in Hershey. As a resident of Dauphin County, I am eligible to get a free library card to the Dauphin County system and I use the branch in nearby Hummelstown as my pick-up and drop-off site. I request what I want from their vast on-line catalog and the item is delivered to Hummelstown. I can also go through the stacks at Hummelstown and see what looks interesting.

Like Hershey, Dauphin County has an interlibrary loan option. We have used it, but Hershey’s is just as good and has the advantage of being within a long walk. So if there’s an item I want, I check Hershey’s catalog first. If it is unavailable, I check Dauphin County’s system. If I need an interlibrary loan, I always check Dauphin County’s holdings first since it’s faster and it saves both libraries money.

It’s important to know if your local library is tied to a larger system. We had this in York, S.C. as well up here in Pa. All the county libraries were tied together but if you only looked at what was on the shelves, you wouldn’t have realized this. You had to go to the catalog, request a book, and then the system would deliver it to you at your local branch. This makes many libraries far larger in terms of their holdings than they appear. What you see in your local branch on the shelves is only a tiny part of a much larger system.

Sometimes you get a different choice. In Dover, Del., we had a nice library and I used it. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that the state of Delaware also had a branch library tucked away. Their collection was radically different from the Dover library and as a state resident, I was eligible to use it. If you live near your state capital, check for this option.

Sometimes, but not always, colleges let their libraries be used by the general public. They won’t stop you from going in and reading one of their books inside the library. They may not let you check it out to take home unless you are a registered student. If you are taking classes at a college, including a community college, find that library and get a card. Their selections will be quite different from the local branch, as they’ll tend to have more technical works and fewer fad diet books. Using the college library may let you avoid buying expensive textbooks. If the library has what you need, and you won’t need it often, try to use their copy.

When a library is part of a larger system, the books may rotate among the branches in ways you don’t expect, making the stacks more varied than you would think. Hershey and Middletown don’t share their stacks but as I mentioned they share their materials. Dauphin County, however, doesn’t do this. If I request a book from their system, they move the first available copy to Hummelstown. When I return it, the book stays on the Hummelstown shelves. This means that the books gradually, as they are requested from branch to another, move from one physical location to another, always refreshing the stacks with new materials. It’s a terrific system to keep the shelves full of changing material.

Next Week: More Fun at Your Public Library