Libraries: A Friend for Financial Independence

I think libraries are cool. I try to make use of libraries in my area and even enjoy visiting them on vacations. Something about a room full of books just makes you feel good inside (and smart!). But, I know plenty of people who love reading and are lifelong learners, but NEVER use these incredible institutions. Frankly, I find it quite puzzling and hope that after reading this post you become a library lover too!

Society and the library (shh!)

Recently my town finished construction on a new branch library within a five-minute walk from my house. On the weekend before the grand opening the town hosted a sneak peek for the community and after months of driving by the build site I was pretty hyped. As a library nerd and local resident I had been following their updates for months and it was finally time to experience that fresh library smell.

My coworkers and I were discussing weekend plans on Friday before the big reveal. I mentioned how excited I was to be spending part of my weekend getting a sneak peek of the new library. After some teasing and joking about my age, it occurred to me that libraries aren’t cool to most people. Obviously their joking around did nothing to dampen my mood and stepping into that new building was awe-some!

Like so many other stereotypes in society, the image of the library is quite extreme compared to reality. Sadly, too many people see libraries as quiet, stuffy buildings where you only go if you have to for school or your kids. I rarely see anyone else my age in the library unless they are with their children. Most patrons are 50+ or under 18 clocking hours because of school.

Modern libraries, modern beasts!

Libraries have been adapting to our new technological world for decades now and they are absolutely amazing resources for the entire community. I encourage you to take a few minutes to lookup your local library and see what resources it has to offer. Every library system is different, but below I’ve listed a few of MY favorite library features.

  • Keeping your home tidy: Since our library use has grown, inversely our home book collection has dwindled. An overflow of books has vanished and our home is just a bit tidier. One initial worry was that the library might not have a specific book. BUT, most libraries are part of a much larger local network. So that book you want is one interlibrary loan request away.
  • Pretty much free stuff: Clearly the number one reason you should be using your library. Of course today’s library is more than just books as most have offered movies, music, periodicals, discounted tickets, guest speakers, film screenings, eBooks, (etc…) for years. My library even has access to numerous online sources like Consumer Reports, Ancestry.com and Morningstar. But, IT’S NOT REALLY FREE! You most likely already paid for these resources in your taxes. Do you normally buy something to never use it?
  • A quiet work space: This is something I learned in college. If you really want to get work done, you need somewhere quiet where you can just slam through it. I can’t always find that peace at home filled with easy distractions. But at the library I can put my headphones on, type, read, study and take notes without interruption. If you live with roommates or just want some ALONE time, think about using the library as your secret office!
  • Joining your community: The library is generally a quiet place, but it is also a community gathering venue. Many libraries host book clubs, community education events and allow free use of any conference rooms. Take a look at your library’s calendar if you are looking for like minded new friends. Without the library it’s likely I would have never met my wife!
  • Personal betterment: I spent an above average amount of time in the library as a kid. I am thankful my parents brought me there often as I know it made an impact on my education and knowledge of the world. You always hear it, but reading is important for children AND adults. I feel like a kid whenever I am combing the shelves for that deep dive into my current interest or chance on that thought provoking unheard of novel.
A time for numbers

How about some numbers to put a FI twist on my library usage?

I once had bookshelves loaded with titles “I was going to get to someday,” but after ten years never did. These same titles were in the library, so what could I have saved by never buying them. It’s fairly easy to calculate the value of these resources, especially if you use this online calculator: ALA Library Calculator. I read 2-3 books a month, about 1-2 interlibrary loan requests a year, make use of ticket discounts maybe once a year and use certain databases frequently. I get outputs of about $600 to $1000+ per year. Granted, when I do buy books I find used copies, but generally the savings from using my library are even higher than switching to a cheap cell phone plan or shopping for auto insurance.

According to the value of this resource usage alone, I am shaving at least 6 weeks from my FI date. Not much, but my switching to a cheaper phone plan shaves just 2 weeks by comparison. Now when you add up all these lifestyle choices the quantity gives credence to the FI-minded persons decisions.

I am not going to try and quantify the other benefits, but run through how they will benefit your bottom line. If you make use of the library as a workspace, or even office, you could theoretically live in a smaller apartment or house. Money. Fostering relationships in your community could lead to a better overall local region, increasing property values. These relationships could also lead to new opportunities with like minded people, you could set up a tool sharing program, potluck dinners or discounted group outings. All good for your wallet. Fewer books in your home, small apartment or house again. Tidy living also brings mental health benefits. $$$ for you. And finally, personal betterment leads to greater opportunities through career advancement via enhanced creative thinking and broader experience.

If you could put a number on these benefits, it would likely tower over the easy to calculate number of not buying books and using the free tangible resources.

So hopefully I got you a little more excited about your local library. I think they are exciting and fun places to spend time. And because it is a tool in my FI-tool belt I wanted to quickly share my thoughts. Unlike many of the tools for FI out there, the library is harder to quantify into my numbers, but I can clearly see its impact on my journey.

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