Where can you borrow an electronic book, host a conference-room meeting and get tools to lower your electric bill?
Your local public library.
Libraries have always been great money savers because of all the books and periodicals you can borrow and use for free. But they've continued to evolve with the times, and now a library card has become a must-have ticket to savings.
Here's a sampling of some unusual services you'll find both nationally and in Lexington, with help from Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association, and Doug Tattershall, spokesman for the Lexington Public Library.
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E-books: Today, many libraries, including Lexington's, are able to lend electronic versions of books to read on devices such as e-readers, smartphones or tablet computers.
You can download the books from Lexpublib.org.
Books automatically "time out" at the end of the lending period and disappear from your device.
And there are built-in potential savings: You won't incur late fees because there's nothing to return.
Internet: "One of the things people cut back on is high-speed Internet access at home because they can't afford it anymore," Raphael said. Fortunately, the number of libraries offering wireless Internet has more than doubled in the last four years, she said. Now, about 80 percent of libraries offer wireless Internet access, usually available to anyone, regardless of whether they have a library card.
Lexington's six library locations all have wireless and public Internet access computers.
In fact, most libraries, including Lexington's, leave the wireless on when the library is closed. Often, you can park in the library lot during off-hours and still get online, useful when you're traveling and need to check e-mail with a laptop.
Kilowatt meters: Many libraries offer Kill A Watt devices for checkout. These are electricity-usage monitors that help you measure how much energy an appliance or device uses, giving you the ability to track how much it will cost over time and identify electricity hogs.
Lexington's libraries offer the devices, as well as home energy audit kits, courtesy of the environmental group Bluegrass PRIDE.
Meeting space: Libraries often have different types of meeting rooms they will let members use, sometimes for free. All six locations of Lexington's public libraries have meeting spaces that were used by more than 4,000 community groups last year.
The library is also preparing for a renovation of its Central Library Theater, which is available for free to non-profits.
Live entertainment: Most libraries have a wide variety of child and adult programs. They might include a puppet theater or vignette from the local opera company. Of course, book clubs and author presentations are standard fare.
Lexington's Central Library hosts free jazz concerts on the second Thursday of each month in partnership with the Jazz Arts Foundation. The city's libraries also have around 1,800 children's programs and 1,000 adult programs that attract 50,000 and 22,000, respectively, in attendance annually.
Entertainment media: Besides novels, libraries, including Lexington's, offer such entertainment media as movies and video games.
Lexington's public libraries also offer discovery kits for preschoolers that cover a specific area of early childhood learning.
Online databases: Information databases can be extremely useful and are often extremely expensive. Some libraries, including Lexington's, will give you free home access to databases that otherwise cost thousands of dollars. You log in with your library card number.
Of course, the library also has a slew of printed research materials that can help with everything from applying to college to finding a new job.
Instruction: Most libraries, including Lexington's, hold instructional classes. Examples include gardening and cooking, grant-writing and creating a business plan, using a computer mouse or Microsoft PowerPoint, investing and money management, and writing a job résumé and cover letter. Lexington's Central Library and Eagle Creek Branch also have job seeking and résumé assistance.
Librarians: Perhaps the greatest resource of all is free access to an information expert, your local librarian, who, coincidentally, can turn you on to all the new offerings the library has.