In Praise of Public Libraries

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

Where can you get free access to the Internet, have a personal research assistant, take classes, see an art exhibit, meet people, learn more about almost anything you want to know, or just spend some quiet time reading? Why, at your public library, of course!

The public library is a vast source of almost entirely free information. Yet many people don’t take advantage of it. Most of us have spent time in the library, usually in our youth or with our kids. But it’s time to rediscover what the library holds for you as an adult.

Practical Applications

When I decided to become a professional speaker and start my own business, I needed to learn a lot, and fast. I also knew I was going to have to get pumped up and positive to move forward. That’s when I rediscovered the library. I found there was an entire section on motivational books, and I got charged up just scanning the titles! I also discovered books, videos, and audio recordings on how to be a better speaker and how to start a business. I was amazed at all the valuable information that was already in print or on disc on just about any subject I looked up. There were books on how to market my business, how to start a consulting practice, how to write business letters, etc. With every hour I spent in the library, I became more enlightened and energized.

When I was contemplating returning to school years ago, I needed some information to help me make a decision. I went to the public library to research schools and possible majors. While I was there, I also discovered books on how to get scholarships. When I became president of an association and wanted to learn how to run effective meetings and be a better leader, I found just what I was looking for at the library.

My initial attempt at getting my first article published, way back when, earned me an unceremonious rejection letter from a nursing magazine. After recovering from that setback, I did what I should have done in the first place: I went to the library and took out some books on how to write an effective article for publication. Within weeks, I had my first article accepted. The rest is history.

Most libraries publish a monthly schedule of classes, lectures, and special events. I once noticed an upcoming lecture called “How to Self-Publish a Book.” I had dreamed of someday writing a book, and I wanted to learn more. It turned out that I was the only one to show up for the lecture that night. I had the undivided attention of an experienced author for one full hour! Besides valuable information and insights, along with a promise to help me if I decided to get started, she recommended lots of good books I could read on the subject – all of them on the shelves of my public library.

Lauding Librarians

Not sure what you’re looking for or how to find it? Ask the librarian for help. Librarians are knowledge brokers. They’re very smart and generally quite friendly. I once went to the library looking for information about which professions needed licenses and certification in my home state. I was at a complete loss as to how to find this information. I described what I wanted to the librarian, and without skipping a beat, she rattled off the name of a state document and added, “I think we have a copy in the reference section.” I was astounded. In a matter of five minutes, I had in my hands what probably would have taken me months to track down. I have an enormous amount of respect for librarians. Of course everyone who works in a library is not a librarian. But the ancillary staff members, including volunteers, are also quite knowledgeable and helpful.

Depending on their size and scope, some libraries have whole research departments to help you with more in-depth searches. If you’re in healthcare and need help finding some related literature or have a topic to research, consult a health sciences librarian at your current institution or a nearby facility. There was a time that I wasn’t employed by a hospital, but wanted to review current editions of a healthcare magazine. I called a local hospital library and mentioned that I was a nurse who lived in the community and wondered if I could come in and look at recent copies of the magazine. The only question the librarian asked me was, “What time will you be in? I’ll get them down off the shelf for you.”

If you’re thinking about how small your local library is, stop. Almost all of them are part of a larger system and can tap its resources. Sometimes they have reciprocal privileges with neighboring systems.

In addition to your local public library, you’ll find some specialized resources in college libraries, most of which, with few exceptions, allow anyone to come in and browse. Of course, you can’t take any books out if you’re not a student there, but you can certainly sit and read and take notes or photocopy some magazine articles. And if you go to the library of a college that offers nursing or healthcare degrees, you’ll probably find all of the professional specialty journals there for your perusal. Scan the table of contents of a few and look for interesting articles.

If you’re bored, go to the library. If you’re feeling low, go to the library. If you want to brush up on your interview technique, learn how to be a better manager, or sharpen your communication and speaking skills, the public library is the place to start. Reacquaint yourself with your local library, make friends with the librarian and library staff, and embark on an endless journey of information and inspiration.

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