Blown away …

FI haven’t been to a library in years.  Yes, I know.  Shame on me.  I used to go and then I stopped.  Why, libraryexactly, I do not know.  Crazy when you consider how much I love to read; and the cost of books.  Anyway.

A friend of mine is an absolute devotee.  She is always either coming from or going to the library.  And recently she told me that now, at least here in Toronto, you can download books.  Who knew?

Gotta admit, I was impressed.  She told me I just needed my library card and I could go to the website and knock myself out.  So I started looking for my card.  I knew I had one, but I just couldn’t find it.  I searched everywhere, in every wallet, in every drawer.  Nope, nothing.  No biggie, really, I could go get another one easily enough.

So off I trotted one day when I had a bit of time to kill.  Well what an experience that was!  Mind-blowing.  In a good way.  At a time when libraries — and the entire book publishing industry in general — are literally clinging to life with dental floss, I am blown away by how our libraries are re-inventing themselves and staying relevant; and how entrepreneurial they are.

The ‘vibe’ was so fabulous in the branch I went to, I just wanted to hang out a while.  I’d gone to the Toronto Reference Library, not the public library.  It’s an enormous space, with fabulous light and tons of room to sit or browse or work.  Or shop, for that matter because they have a store where you can buy all sorts of neat reading and writing-related stuff.

It took mere minutes to get a new card so I wandered around for a while, grabbed a “What’s On” book and found a seat at a table.  The last seat at any of the tables, mind you.  The place was packed.

Was I in for a surprise!  Not only did I learn you can download books of every possible description and genre, you can also download every magazine you’ve ever thought of reading, daily newspapers, music, movies, audio books, you name it.  They stay on your device for three weeks and then just disappear.  Brilliant.

You can order actual books and have them sent to the library of your choice.  You can book an hour with a librarian if you need assistance with a project.  You can rent computers.  You can print a paperback book of your own.  You can even reserve a meeting room which, for people like me who work from home, is such a wonderful service.

There’a a book club and workshops for writers, really interesting author talks and lectures, career and job search help, computer training, homework help for kids after school, help for people wanting to start small businesses, personal finance courses, reading programs.  And believe it or not, in these still tough economic times, they manage to provide a bookmobile service for those people who can’t get out.

You name it, they’ve got it.  In a way, the ‘lending’ of books, in the traditional sense, is the least they do.  And it’s all free!

Two branches, one being the Reference Library, even sell books, for between $0.50 and $1.00 each.  I’m afraid to go in there because I know I’ll need a U-Haul to get me home.  But you and I both know it’s only a matter of time, don’t we?

That visit was one of the most inspiring couple of hours I’ve had in a very long time.  They sure have a lot to teach all of us about how to reinvent yourself — something so many institutions, businesses and even individuals are struggling with these days.  So, needless to say when, during my application process, one of the questions was whether or not I would be willing to be asked for a donation from time to time my answer was “Hell, yeah!”


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