SMART CONSUMER: Use every trick in the book to save at your local library
The world is waiting, and much of it is free, writes John Cradden
The internet age means most people who need to do some research or find some information quickly go online. It's become second nature.
Almost all of us have internet access at home so the notion of a going to a building containing physical research materials might one day seem hopelessly out of date.
Getting music or downloading an e-book is also child's play; just click your mouse and the stuff is on your netbook or iPad in seconds.
So what, you ask, is the point of public libraries? You might wonder if the nearly 350 libraries around the country are now underused.
Not a bit of it, librarians say. According to Brendan Teeling of the Library Council, which advises Government and local authorities on their public library services, usage has soared in recent years.
And what most people don't know is that e-books, CDs, DVDs and a host of other services are available at libraries, saving you euros that could be spent elsewhere.
"The number of visits increased by 13% between 2007 and 2009, and statistics from individual library services suggest that this increase has been maintained. The number of books being borrowed has also increased," he said.
Just over 16 million visits are made to libraries each year. Between 2008 and 2009, library membership across the country rose 6.5% to over 810,000 people -- about 18% of the population.
"Usage has definitely increased in recessionary times, but of course there are people who don't use them who would benefit greatly if they did," says Patricia Fitzgerald, senior development librarian at South Dublin County Libraries.
1 Before we get into the hi-tech stuff, let's start with the old chestnut, books. How many can you borrow these days?
It depends on the library, but generally the allowance is 10 books for an adult and six for under-18s.
"If you were to buy that number of books, you'd be talking about €80 for the adult books and €40 for the kids . . . and if you or your kids are avid readers, well that's what you'd get through," says Fitzgerald.
"Plus it's got the added bonus in that if you don't like the book you've borrowed, well you haven't paid any money for it, so it's a brilliant free way to try out new authors."
Saving: Up to €80 a month
2 But every time I borrow books, I always forget to bring them back on time. Doesn't that mean I will get whacked with fines?
Library fines tend to be quite low but, of course, that's no reason to take advantage.
There is such a thing as renewing books, which you can do as often as you like, within reason, and in many cases, without actually having to set foot outside your own doorstep.
"You can renew online or by using our new app for Androids, and which will be coming out very soon for iPhone," says Fitzgerald.
3 I recently bought an Amazon Kindle e-book reader. It's brilliant and popular titles can cost as little as €2 and up to €10, but can I 'borrow' e-books for free from a library?
Actually, you can. Some libraries have a facility on their websites that enable members to download the e-books to your e-reader or iPad. "Brilliant for the holliers. Imagine what that would save you on Ryanair excess baggage," says Fitzgerald.
Once you download the relevant software, you can download e-books to your device, and they'll stay on it for three weeks and then essentially 'delete' themselves. Really useful.
Saving: Up to €30 a month
4 My local DVD rental shop has cut its prices recently, but the cost of renting DVDs, Nintendo and Wii games and buying new music CDs or downloads still adds up. Don't tell me these can also be had from libraries?
They certainly can. If you're an average family that rents two or three DVDs a week at €4-4.50 each, that would amount to nearly €50 a month, or over €550 a year.
You can borrow DVDs for one week or CDs for three weeks from your library in the same quantities as you would books. They may not be the most up-to-date releases, but the beauty is that if you don't like the movie, you don't feel like you've wasted a few euro -- only your time. Some libraries will also have Playstation or Wii games too.
Saving: €50 a month
5 I read the newspapers online most days of the week to save a few bob, but I miss the times when I could afford to buy the real thing every day.
"Magazines and newspapers are also free to use at your library . . . so in theory if your library's handy to you, you could pop in each day to check the papers saving yourself about €14 per week," says Fitzgerald.
"Plus no need to buy Hello! magazine etc. They're all there, including back issues."
Saving: Around €14 a week (if you buy a paper every day)
6 Even though I have internet access at home, I like being able to bring my laptop with me. But it's hard to find Wi-Fi access, and when it's available, it's often not free any more.
It's free in a library. An hour of web surfing at an internet café costs up to €2, sometimes more. Many libraries now have free Wi-Fi facilities, so you can bring along your laptop, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone or whatever and go online for free. Of course, if you don't have these devices, all libraries have computers that you can use free of charge.
Saving: Up to €2 an hour
7 Libraries are supposed to be quiet. Why are they sometimes so noisy?
The days of people hissing silence are over. "Apart from all of the free things that we offer, libraries are a community space, great for meeting people, relaxing. They are a social space," says Fitzgerald.
Thousands of events are held at libraries throughout the year. At South County Dublin libraries, for instance, you can do language classes, computer classes, craft sessions, or attend author visits, science talks and workshops, exhibitions -- and all free of charge.
"An event like readers' day, which we have in November each year and is hosted by acclaimed author Dermot Bolger, who interviews a host of prestigious writers, poets and playwrights, would normally cost about €30 admission."