Image credit: oer_amy via Wikimedia Commons

You know that your local public library has books. But you may not be aware of the myriad other resources and services offered - all free for cardholders.

Most public libraries have websites where you can borrow ebooks and audiobooks - including current bestsellers - and download them to your computer or mobile device. Many also loan out music and movies.

There's a lot more, though. Each library's inventory is different, but most offer access to online premium databases, such as Ebscohost, which would be prohibitively expensive for individual subscribers.

My local public library system serves a regional population of about 244,000 people. At the library's website I can find:

  • Academic journal articles - some only with abstracts, not full text. But most authors will send you a copy of their article if you write to them. Some articles are also available through interlibrary loan.
  • Links to local social service agencies
  • Consumer health databases
  • Digital current issues of magazines, including Consumer Reports and others that are not freely available on the general Web
  • Genealogy research resources
  • Business and finance tools
  • Homework helpers for students of all ages
  • Home school and cyberschool resources
  • Video tutorials on using Word, Excel, Skype and email, as well as on how to write resumé, how search for jobs online, how to book flights, and more.
  • Specialized databases with hundreds of thousands of references

My local library also loans assistive devices to people with cerebral palsy and other physical handicaps.

Check your library's website to see what's available for you!

Image credit: GwynethJones via Flickr

Librarians - Way better than Google

Perhaps the most overlooked resources at the public library are the human librarians. They are information specialists who can help you find what you need, cutting through irrelevant and inferior material. When you need more than what a Google search can provide, save yourself time by asking the librarian to point you in the right direction. If you can't visit in person, most libraries have a link to send in your question or to chat live.

In addition to your local library, you can also ask for research help at the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.