Volume 2, Resources 5: The Library Post You've Been Waiting For

Hi friends! I am happy to report that I got my first Fauci Ouchie (Covid-19 vaccine) last week. It went smoothly and I look forward to getting my next shot in a couple weeks.

Photo of Patricia getting a Covid-19 vaccine. She is wearing a purple dress, a face mask decorated with flamingo print, rectangular glasses, and a leopard print beret
Photo of Patricia getting a Covid-19 vaccine. She is wearing a purple dress, a face mask decorated with flamingo print, rectangular glasses, and a leopard print beret

365 days ago, I sent out a newsletter where I told you about WorldCat.Org and I wrote, “I know I really should do a post about you needing to use the library BUT, that’s for future Patricia to deal with.”

Well, hello. I am future Patricia and I’m going to tell you about the library because I myself am a punkass book jockey. If you think that libraries are just for books or that they are obsolete, then I have some news that is going to knock your socks off. If you think that in order to use the library, you need to physically go to a location, then I am about to blow. Your. Mind.

A couple notes first:

  • I know all this shit not only because I am a library fanatic, but I did earn my Master’s in Library and Information Science (which is a whole thing that I have a lot of opinions about but that is for a different newsletter).

  • Most of my library experience is in the U.S., specifically in California; however, much of this translates to many other libraries in the U.S. (maybe elsewhere?), especially libraries in larger metropolitan areas.

  • Everything I am going to talk about here is free. FREE. FREEEEEE!

About Those Library Cards

In some places, you must live in the same city or county as the library you want to use; however, in California, most if not all county library systems will give you a free library card as long as you are a California resident. Personally, I have seven public library cards. Why do I need so many cards? Because each library’s collection is a bit different and that includes their electronic offerings. If I am looking for a particular eBook or audiobook, I can search 7 different libraries and see who has it available or if it’s a popular book, who has the shortest waitlist.

This isn’t true for all states. The Seattle Public Library offers cards for a fee for Washington residents who don’t live in the Seattle area. While there are systems that have a narrow service population, here are a couple of lists of library systems that will let you pay for a card if you live out of state. Before you get your knickers in a twist about “outsiders” using your library, take a step back and think about what this means for access for example, that a person from a marginalized group in a small town can access larger collections that have wider representation.

But Patricia, we’re in a pandesal! How can we get to a library and get a card? Most libraries have their physical locations closed right now or at most they are doing curbside pickup; however, many libraries will let you know on their website if they’re doing electronic library cards. You can fill out an application online and they’ll email you a library card number and PIN to use in the electronic catalog. In researching for this post, I saw that some smaller library systems are even mailing cards out to people via snail mail (after an application is completed).

The best way to find out what your local library is doing is to go to their website and explore!

Books, of course

Yes, of course you can get physical books from the library. If you use an ereader, tablet, phone, or computer or if you listen to audiobooks, you can download ebooks and audiobooks via a variety of apps. Different library systems use different apps but the most common ones I’ve seen are Libby, OverDrive, and Hoopla. I read via the Kindle app on my tablet but it works for non-Amazon ereaders as well like Kobo. I hop onto the OverDrive app, search for a book, check it out, send it to my Kindle account. Voila! I have a book that will disappear in 21 days (or whatever the time span is that you library offers). I am an absolute beast when it comes to listening to audiobooks and I download via the library directly to my phone. Yes, I could buy all these books but I do not have infinite money nor infinite space and there are many books I read that I don’t want to actually own.

If a library offers ebooks and audiobooks via an app, the library’s website should clearly let you know which app or apps they support and how to download them.

Pro tip: Cookbooks are expensive, especially if you are only interested in 2 recipes out of the whole $40 book. Download the ebook from the library. There have been a few that I’ve given a spin and realized I don’t want to own and others that I realized I’d like to invest in the book. Same with craft books.


Most of us knew we could get DVDs from the library but also, some libraries offer access to the streaming service Kanopy. Lots of educational films, foreign films, art films and documentaries. There’s a whole section for Oscar winners and nominees, which reminds me, I still have to watch Moonlight, which yes, is free on Kanopy with my library card!

If your library uses Hoopla, you may also have access to TV shows. I definitely used Hoopla at my dad’s house to play some Great British Bake Off (they didn’t have Netflix yet).

Both Kanopy and Hoopla have apps for Fire sticks and Roku, so if you have one of these and a TV you can watch these things for free on your big screen!

Other Things That Are Free Online Via (Some) Libraries

  • Newspaper access (I’ve used the library often to get behind the Los Angeles Times paywall)

  • Magazines of all types

  • Foundation Directory, which offers comprehensive information on grantmakers and their grants in a database of foundations, corporate giving programs, and grantmaking public charities in the US.

  • Archives of all sorts! I can easily fall down rabbit holes digging through online archives.

  • Learning portals like Lynda.com (yes, you can take Lynda.com courses for free via some libraries!)

  • Language learning software like Rosetta Stone, the hella expensive language software, and Mango Languages.

  • On Book Riot, I have a couple posts on free things you can access via the Library of Congress (if you are in the U.S.)

In-person, librarians help people polish up their resumes, create emails, figure out how to use Microsoft Office, and more. Even as physical libraries are closed, librarians are still doing this work. San Francisco Public Library has a whole-ass career center. There are tons of  Zoom workshops happening through libraries. And virtual author events! I just went to an author event through the Pasadena Public Library. In fact, the same library system just emailed me about group ukulele lessons via Zoom and that if you are in Pasadena and need a ukulele, they have a few loaners. I love that so much.

I look forward to getting back to in-person library services. Oakland and Berkeley have excellent tool lending libraries. Some libraries offer seeds for gardens. I’m reminded of this Book Riot post on weird things that you can borrow from certain libraries from animal skeletons to cake pans to artwork. I know that San Francisco Public Library has a whole section of vinyl records. When I was super broke, I used to get tax help at a library that did a specific tax-help program.

There is no possible way I could tell you all of the amazing things that are available via the library. I wanted to write this to let you know that libraries are so much more than just books. Yes, the library is great if you want to save some money but also, the library system is a way we can step a bit away from capitalism. Not completely, of course, because libraries need to purchase the things they offer etc., but it feels so good to have access to a resource or entertainment without having to connect my credit card.

That’s it for this week! You can shop any books I’ve mentioned in this newsletter at The Infophile’s Bookshop and support independent bookstores. If you want to send me some snail mail, you can find me at P.O. Box 21481, Oakland, CA 94620-1481.

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