This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

I was visiting my local public library the other day when I realized how much I have come to rely on its resources to facilitate my freelancing lifestyle.

In fact, I would say that the public library system has been a key factor in enabling me to pursue my freelancing career over the years with maximum efficiency and minimal cost.

I recently moved and getting my new local library card was the very first piece of documentation that I sought. Even before my new driver’s license or health card. It was that important to me. Here’s a partial list of reasons why. 

It is a place to go

A freelancer is usually stuck at home. Working, or not working, there’s rarely any place to go these days that doesn’t require you to buy something. A library is quite simply the ideal home away from home. In winter it is warm, in summer it is cool. There are people around so you don’t feel isolated but total privacy for you to do your own thing without interference. Everyone has to be somewhere and if I’m not at home, or at the home of friends, the library is next most where I’d like to be.

It is a place to work

Most libraries now have free wifi access. If you don’t have a laptop, most libraries have desktop computers you can work on. Here’s an invaluable tip: If you are visiting another city and need to use a computer, apply at the local library for temporary user access. Provided you can show them who you are, many local library systems offer visitors these guest access privileges.

It is a place to get away from work

Sometimes you just need a break. The library is my favourite place to take a break – there are always new departments and areas to explore – and I’m always made to feel welcome. In fact in my new city it was the local library staff who first said to me, “Welcome to your new home.”

It is a place to seek inspiration

You are surrounded by the work of the world’s great (and on occasion not so great!) thinkers. What’s not to be inspired by? I love the pure serendipity that browsing the library enables. I think true inspiration comes from unknown places when unexpected confluences interact. In a world wherein one giant mercantile entity tells us “If you like A then you’ll also like B” (which I probably don’t!) the library says – “Who knows what you will like? Open your eyes and open your mind and find that which you weren’t aware you were looking for”. That, to me, is the source of true inspiration.

It is a place to meet

Need a professional environment to meet a client or subject for an interview? The library is your obvious choice. Many have small study rooms or quiet spaces available which are ideal to record interviews. The added security precaution of not meeting in your own home is a wise one if you do not already know your client or subject (and even if you do).

It is a place to read

I guess this is obvious but we live in such a hectic hurly-burly world that it seems no one has time to read. In my library I can always find time to sit down (usually in very comfortable chairs) and just take a half hour to read something new. It seems almost impossible not to (unless you are on deadline and even then!)

It is a place for workshops, lectures

Today’s library is not just about books. Bigger branches will have more activities but even smaller branches offer an array of workshops, lectures and talks on a wide variety of subjects for free. Some are useful for work or future work and some are just fun for your own personal interest. I’ve attended sessions on topics I never even knew I’d be interested in – tax laws, local history, internet security, history of technology, etc. And if you have an area of expertise – why not offer to do a talk yourself? It can only enhance your professional reputation. 

It is a place to borrow books, CDs, DVDs

There’s so much to do at the library that it is easy to forget that you can actually borrow stuff and take them home with you for free! What an awesome concept.

It is a place to interact with intelligent, helpful staff

I have always found most library staff to be helpful and intelligent. Almost all have been able to assist me to find whatever resources I needed and most were able to direct me to even further unknown (to me) resources. Occasionally you will find an expert in some area. What a delight to be able to “pick their brains” and throw possible story angles at them. You’d be surprised at how many have writing credits themselves and know exactly the challenges we face. 

It is a place that helps define community

You can find out about where you live by visiting your local library. Local community issues, problems, personalities and history are all to be found there. Being a freelancer it is too easy to get isolated or disconnected from the immediate community as we often contemplate more global issues. The library is the perfect conduit for learning about where you live and getting a better sense of your offline real life there.

The takeaway

So – as you can tell – I’m a big fan of the public library system. Any chance I get, I tell my local politicians “Hands off!” when they contemplate library budget cuts. I support my library by buying their used books and DVDs (and usually giving them back after I’ve enjoyed them) and by joining any “Friends of the Library” organizations that may exist.

If you haven’t visited your local public library lately, do so today. You will be surprised at the multitude of resources and facilities available to you at no charge. 

For everyone, but especially freelancers, public libraries really do matter – a great deal.

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