If you've been following along on our adventures for the last couple of months, you might have noticed that we mentioned going to the library an awful lot.
The truth is, we didn't plan on going to the library much when we started our trip. We knew we would have to get work done somehow, and for us that means having access to the Internet. We'd planned on using cell service, but in some of the more remote places we visited, the closest cell signal was more than an hour away.
After a frustrating attempt to use the wifi at a national coffee chain, we set out to find a connection somewhere else. As we drove past a library, I said, "I bet the library has wifi." And it did.
Luckily, that was at the beginning of the trip, and as the trip went on, we discovered more and more reasons why we love libraries.
Libraries Aren't Just for Books
I'm the first one to admit that I love books. I have tons of them, and am always reading something. Even though there was no way I could read them all, I took a whole box of books with us on our trip. And Mike will be the first to tell you that I go a little crazy if I don't have a good book to read.
Sure, libraries have books. But books are just the beginning. From free wifi, a place to sit, community resources, and interactive programs, libraries have so much more than books.
Libraries Have Free WiFi Hotspots
Did I mention that we started going to libraries because they had free WiFi? Every library we went to had free WiFi hotspots that often outperformed the ones powered by Google at coffeeshops. Sure, we weren't always able to stream Netflix, but we were able to get the job done, and fast.
Libraries Have a Place to Plug In
On our trip, we spent a lot of time camping "off the grid." We were able to power our computers from our RV's batteries, but doing so dramatically reduced the amount of time we could spend in any one place - even with an added boost from our solar panels. Being able to charge our computers while we worked at the library was an added bonus.
Libraries Have a Free Place to Sit
If you go to a coffeeshop to work, read, or hang out with friends, they're going to expect you to buy something. And after a few hours, they'll expect you to buy something else. But at the library, they'll let you stay until closing time and won't ask you for a penny.
Libraries Have Computers You Can Use if You Don't Have Your Own
Just about every library in the country has a computer patrons can use if they don't have their own. Whether you want to browse the Internet or apply for a job, if you need to use a computer, you can find one at your local library.
Librarians are Better than Google
Librarians are trained in how to do high-level searches that go beyond typing a few words into Google. And if you don't know exactly what you're looking for, they can guide you to the right spot. As Neil Gaiman said, "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one."
Libraries are Judgement-Free Zones
If you're poor, illiterate, disabled, LBGTQ, or just lost, a library can offer a whole lot of support - without the judgement. Libraries connect people to much-needed services that they might not know are available.
And forget about the mean librarian who hisses "SSSHHHH!" at loud patrons. Even when people were being disruptive, we never saw librarians SSSHHHH someone. If it was a "quiet room," the librarian would direct the noisy patron to an area of the library where they were free to express themselves. If a little kid was acting out while their parent was trying to use the computer, the librarian would find her a coloring page and some crayons, or toys to play with. When a lady came in to the library needing to type up her very first resume and didn't know how to use a word processor, the librarian showed her how. All without any judgment.
Libraries are Community Centers
One library we went to was in the same building as the city hall. But even other libraries offer connections to the community that can be hard to find. From programs at the library, to advertising local events, or connecting people to community resources, libraries perform an essential role as an accessible, easy-to-use community center.
One of the things I loved about traveling to many different libraries on our trip was the local flavor I could sense from each library. Some libraries had displays of local art, or books about the region, or displays of recent community events that gave a good sense of what that area was about. Going to the library and knowing what the community was like helped us feel less like strangers - even if we were just passing through.
Libraries are the Original "Sharing Economy."
Before Uber, Airbnb, and "sharing economy" were household terms, there were libraries. Libraries can purchase a limited number of items - books, CDs, DVDs, computers, printers, even 3D printers - for many people to use.
And if your library doesn't have what you're looking for, ask your librarian. Chances are you can still get it through interlibrary loan. Best of all, unlike Uber and Airbnb, borrowing from your library is free - just remember to return your books on time to avoid late fees!
Libraries are the Place to Be
Sometimes you hear people saying that with the advent of the Internet and eBooks, libraries will soon be obsolete. But nothing could be farther from the truth. People still love "real" books made out of paper, and you can still find those books at your local library. Plus, libraries offer things like free WiFi, computer access, community programs, and connections to local services. In every library we went to, from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah, and Colorado, there were lots of people taking advantage of all the library had to offer. Sometimes the library was so popular it was hard to find a seat!
You Don't Have to Have a Library Card to Go to the Library
Having a library card lets you borrow books and other resources from your library. It's free to get a library card from your community library. An application is easy, and doesn't take long. But you don't have to have a library card to get in the door. We went to more than a dozen libraries during our trip and were able to use WiFi, printers, and photocopiers - all without a library card.
We couldn't have made our trip possible without the resources offered by all the wonderful libraries we visited along the way. And now that we're starting to settle down, we're excited to get to know the library in our new town!