How to Use Your Public Library on the Journey to Financial Independence
A library is infinity under a roof.
With this week being National Library Week, I wanted to spend some time talking about the library. I know, for most adults without children, the library is probably a thing of the past. For many of us, we probably stopped going to the library after middle school or after college. With everything available on the internet, it's easy to rely on Google or Amazon for all of our information needs. I want to challenge that thinking and encourage you to get your library card and take advantage of what your local library has to offer. I think the library is one of the most underutilized resources out there. For anyone starting the FIRE journey (Financial Independence/Retire Early), don't discount the library as a tool for your journey.
The Library is the Original Sharing Economy
Instead of individual ownership, the library facilitates collaborative consumption. For minimalists or frugalists out there, this is a terrific way to be able to save money, reuse items and not have to worry about the maintenance or clutter of holding on to items. The library is the place for information. You can access a wide variety of books and resources to get your FIRE journey started. It's easy to use and while it may be hard to quantify returns, think of returns in money saved from not having to buy books, time saved from having information all in one place, opportunity cost from not spending your time or money on non-productive activities.
The library is a great place to start your FIRE journey. Browse and pick up books on personal finance. Learn about a range of topics. As you move further down your journey, you can start honing in on particular topics. The library can help you find local accountants, advisors or resources. The library has access to a wide variety of government records and policies and these could help and inform your next financial decision.
The Library is not as Local as you Think
Many of us probably remember our local town library as small with a limited amount of offering, but you would be surprised to know that libraries are now networked together and have a mutual lending reciprocal program going on. While your library may look small on the outside, it actually holds everything that you may want. Many libraries offer digital subscription to a wide variety of services from eBooks, movies, audio-books, magazines, etc. If a library doesn't have a book that you want, request it and have them purchase it. If you want it, others may want it too.
Our library offers Museum Passes which allow you a pass to a museum for free. What this means is that we can practically get any media for free. Instead of paying for Netflix or Amazon Prime or even cable, consider checking out your library and see what they can offer you as far as entertainment. Another great way to save money and access places that you may not normally go to.
The Library is the Only Place Where you are not Required to Make a Purchase
True story! As long as you can prove you are a town resident via a government issued ID or a utility bill, you can get a library card for free, you can access the library for free, you can borrow books for free, you can use WIFI and computers for free, you can attend workshops for free, and so on. The workforce is changing. You will now see many freelancers and remote workers working out of cafes. This is all well and good, but sometimes, you feel bad about sitting in a cafe for hours without purchasing a coffee or being tempted to get something. At the library, no one is pressuring you to make a purchase. In fact, the exchange of money within the library is frowned upon. This is refreshing to go a place where you will not be bombarded by marketing, by sales people, by ads that tell you you are aren't enough. Spend time at the library and get your browsing fix on without needing to dole out cash for it.
The Library as Your Classroom
Our town library offers access to eLearning platforms like Lynda.com, Khan Academy and hosts various in person classes from computer lessons to garden composting to financial educational programs for FREE. For kids, they have reading and story time which is a great way to expose kids early on to books and learning. For what I've experienced and observed, everyone in the FIRE journey has a hunger to learn something new, something different. FIRE people rarely take the default answer. They are open to experimenting, asking more questions and doing it themselves which is why the library should be part of the tool kit for those wanting to hit financial independence early on. When you stop consuming what's being sold to the masses, you start thinking differently, start thinking that other things are possible. The conventional way of doing things, of earning money, of spending money is anti-FIRE so open your mind to something different. Alternatively, you yourself can create your own community and create a support structure for those wanting to be on the FIRE journey.
Other Libraries to Take Advantage Of
Besides taking advantage of your local town library, check the libraries of the town where you work. If you work or are a student in NYC, you can access New York City Public Libraries across Manhattan, Bronx or Staten Island. We live fairly close to Princeton and sometimes go to their library because it's nice, airy and offers plenty of space to work in. We are not residents of Princeton, but they do offer free library cards to Princeton property owners, business owners with a Princeton address, teachers, Princeton Municipal staff, etc. For non-residents, you can also get a card for a small fee that could be worth it. Check your Alumni association and see what library privileges are available for you. The opportunities are endless and this is what the FIRE mindset is all about. Shifting the mindset to be more open minded and seeing things beyond what they are.
Other Benefits of Using the Library
By using the library, you help decrease the amount of goods needed to produce something new. By circulating books a few times over, we reduce overall consumption of resources. The library provides access for people across all economic levels. The more you use the library, the more you can have a say in the programs that they run creating a more democratic community which creates an re-enforcing loop for those that want specific programs in their community.
The library is also a great place to promote your organization or book. See what's possible to spread the good work that you are doing.
The library is also a key indicator of the health of the community. If the community is willing to spend tax money on having an updated library, it's a good sign.
What's the best resource you've found at the library? Let us know and share your story.