Writing On A Budget: Uses For Your Public LIbrary

Jan 29, 2024 | Ghostwriting

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Writers have an advantage over many other artists: they don’t need to spend much money to start. What are the basic tools? You need a computer, somewhere to work, and a ravenous imagination in order to get out the door. As you start to evolve your practice, however, seeking bigger opportunities, then a writer needs to be careful or else the expenses can start to add up. For the budget conscious writer, there is no better place to start than the hallowed halls of the public library.

Let me start out by saying, I’m a huge advocate for public libraries. Everywhere I’ve ever lived (or even visited for a short time) I have found the local library a sanctuary for chance encounters with discovery, consequence free meditation and, more than anything else, the development of craft. Not only is the library a haven for book lovers, it’s a safe place to work on your voice.

Charles Bukowski famously touted the library as one of the few places in our society where a person can go without the expectation of spending money. Looking for a job? The library is there for you, offering endless resources. Need a book? Check out the shelves. For the budget conscious writer, the public library gives you a chance to start your practice without spending an arm and a leg.

I’m also a fan of this quote by Albert Einstein.

library, einstein, erick mertz, oregon city

The Budget Conscious Writer’s Guide To Public Libraries

Here are eight uses for the public library every budget conscious writer needs to know. 

A Writer’s Use For Their Library, #1: Checking Out Books

Let’s dispense with the most obvious use for writers. Your local public library is, by definition, chock full of books, everything from new releases to classics. The budget conscious writer needs to read – a lot – and books can be quite expensive. Get that card and read deeply in your genre without spending too much money. 

Use For A Library, #2: A Work Place Away From Home

Is your home environment conducive to writing? For some people with a  dedicated work space or office, writing at home makes sense. If your home is hectic, loud or small (or you’re just looking for a break from the ordinary) you can use the wi-fi at your local library to create a haven. 

Use #3: Research

Libraries are full of research tools, archives of old newspapers, books, recordings, just to name a few. Writing a historical piece? The library is a great place to make a deep dive into the finer points of your topic of interest.  

A Writer’s Use For Their Library, #4: Covert Research

Making it as an independent author requires a lot of what I call “square peg” knowledge. What do newly released books look like? Feel like? What does a good author photo look like? Need to write a back of the book blurb, your local library is brimming with examples. 

I like to walk up and down the halls of my specific genre, looking at everything from cover images to fonts to reading the inside book flap, just to see what works for other people. 

Man in library looking at book

Use For A Library, #5: A Hub For Education

Moving to Oregon City, Oregon late in 2023, a smaller, more tightly knit community than Portland, I learned just how extensive library programs could be. My local library hosts writer’s groups, seminars, and adult education courses, all aimed at cultivating new writers. If you’re a budget conscious writer with an appetite to learn, here is an ideal place to set up operations. 

Use #6: People Watching

The public library is one of only a few places in our culture where a person can come in from the cold without spending any money. A writer can sit and people watch, which for some gets the imagination moving, without consequence. 

A Writer’s Use For Their Library, #7: A Reading Garden

Are cafes too loud? Is the weather too cold, or too hot, to sit outside at a park? Libraries are gathering places, designed with the needs of the people in mind. Adjacent to so many books, you can rest assured that there are comfortable places to sit, decompress and read. 

Use For A Library, #8: So Much Media

It’s amazing to me how much physical media the average library contains. In addition to physical books, you can often find a large selection of movies, television shows and music. My local has an amazing shelf of books on CD and, I learned rather recently, free access to on-line books and music. What an amazing treasure trove! 

Whenever I do my monthly budget and cringe over how much I spend on subscription services, I’m thankful that the library’s media offerings help cut that down. 

Public library

The Budget Conscious Writer: Keeping It In Perspective

Focusing on a budget is key, but it’s also important to know, that kind of thinking can get out of hand. Saving money should be a goal, but at what expense?

All of the budget conscious writer tips I’ve given will help you save money. But they’re also contingent on one very critical factor: your library being well funded, equipped and available to you. Access and quality varies from community to community. In my local area, I have all of the above resources at my disposal; if you live in a rural community (or one that doesn’t value their institutions quite as much) then your experience may vary.

Do you rely on the library’s computers for word processing and internet access? Great. But aware that you will, very likely, find a one hour a day limit. Research in the stacks? I love this. You may find that certain books, especially the hot ones, aren’t on the shelves very long.  

Bottom line for the budget conscious writer? Be resourceful… and mindful.