Public libraries offer services to help cut your monthly bills

·6 min read

Jul. 13—Looking for something good to read? Or perhaps you need information on how to repair your 1978 Camaro. Maybe you're in the market for a new job and need to assemble a resume that will impress a prospective employer.

Public libraries can help you find what you're looking for, and in doing so can help a library patron improve their monthly bottom line by utilizing its resources for work, play, education and research.

"Librarians are kind of the original Google," said Kevin Kenkel, librarian for the Mitchell Public Library. "We help people find information, and we help people weed through an unimaginable amount of information to help determine what is good information and what is bad or outdated information."

And they have the experience and resources to help deliver that information. The Mitchell Public Library has roughly 90,000 items in its collection, ranging from print editions of books and reference materials, eBooks, audio and downloadable books and even DVD and BluRay movies that can all be checked out with a library card, which is available through application at the library.

They also host book clubs and guest speakers, offer meeting space and computer access. They even sell used books in the lobby at prices that are hard to beat.

The cost to access the treasures trove of materials at the library? It's free to residents of Mitchell and Davison County, with funding coming from taxpayer dollars. But even residents outside that region can take part by paying a $15 yearly subscription fee, which gives them access to the services of the library in the same way it does local residents.

Of course, libraries are traditionally associated with books, and the Mitchell Public Library offers them in all shapes, sizes and genres, as well as formats. Users can check out print editions of books, or check out audiobooks on CD as well as download books to their favorite e-reader or their phone. Book worms can save themselves the cost of purchasing the latest best seller by taking advantage of the local library's stock.

"We typically also purchase new publications in multiple formats so that we can meet the needs or interests of our patrons. We may have a couple of copies of a new publication in hard copy, and then also have it as a downloadable audiobook," Kenkel said.

Even more titles are available through a partnership through the South Dakota State Library in Pierre, which provides access for local South Dakota libraries to share state library holdings with local patrons.

"Our downloadable books are organized through the state library by a statewide consortium. The state purchases books, and those are available to the entire state," Kenkel said.

But a local library tends to offer far more than just reading materials. The Mitchell Public Library has a number of computer workstations that allow patrons access to word processing, database and spreadsheet software to help create letters, resumes and other documents. Printers are available for creating hardcopies, and internet access is available to send those materials via email if necessary.

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"Librarians are kind of the original Google."

—Kevin Kenkel, Mitchell Public Library Librarian

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Use of the computer equipment is another widely-popular resource at the library. Internet service can be an expensive utility, especially at higher bandwidths that allow for fast download and upload speeds. That may be cost prohibitive for some family budgets, but in the modern digital age, having access to the internet is a must for even some routine chores, such as paying bills.

"Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, we had over 18,500 hours of computer use by patrons on all the computers we have. The number last year was less than a third of that, but we were closed for two and a half months." Kenkel said. "As people are more comfortable again and things are normalized that will go up again."

The Mitchell Public Library recently upgraded its wireless access so that patrons could connect with the internet in the library parking lot, giving access to people who may not be able to visit during the day or in the event they need emergency internet access.

Such services are valuable to those who use them, Kenkel said, but a library is nothing else if not a source of information, and Kenkel said they also have a strong focus on education for children and adults alike. The library has a number of programs that help prepare young children for entering school. Visiting speakers give presentations on topics like wildlife photography, and classes on navigating Windows 10 and other software proves popular for those interested in such topics.

All of that comes at no charge outside the taxes a patron already pays, or the $15 someone outside the county would pay.

If you live in South Dakota, you don't even need a library card to access many resources at the state library level. The state maintains databases on numerous topics that anyone with an internet service provider based in South Dakota can access.

"Something else you can do to save money is use the databases that are available. A lot is provided through leadership at the state library. If somebody is researching a product to buy, the state library provides Consumer Reports statewide," Kenkel said. "You can go from our website and connect to Consumer Reports from home and search for the products you want to buy."

Other resources available through the state library include the Chilton line of car maintenance manuals, which offers users a chance to learn about repairing vehicles dating back as far as 1940. There are business databases if you're interested in economic research, as well as academic databases where practice tests for the ACT, SAT and GRE can be found, among others.

"So by investing some public dollars into these resources, the state library provides a lot of statewide access which we as the local library connect to. You don't even need a library card for those. If you have a South Dakota internet service provider, the state library has authentication set up, so if it's coming from a South Dakota ISP, you automatically get connected," Kenkel said.

Kenkel said an online calculator indicates that if a library patron uses 10 hours of computer, asks one reference question, and checks out one audiobook and a movie in a month, they have gotten $230 worth of value out of their membership for the month. When finances are tight, that can make a big difference on the household ledger.

From offering tens of thousands of volumes in its collection to granting access to the world of the internet, the library is a deep resource for information, education, services and research. And Kenkel said the library is always looking for ways to enhance the experience of its users. He said the library would like to add creative spaces that would feature 3D printers or perhaps a sewing room, where patrons could learn new hobbies and skills.

But for now, he encourages those who are interested to check out what is available at their local library. They may not only learn something, but could also save a few dollars in the meantime. Kenkel encouraged anyone wanting to know about what the library has to offer to contact them at 605-995-8480 or their website. Staff will be happy to guide them to what they're looking for.

After all, the library is there at the public's service.

"Public libraries try to help out however they can," Kenkel said.

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