Get a Read on How Much You Can Save Using Your Library

in the library
Mike Kemp/Rubberball
Libraries are passe. Or so prevailing wisdom goes. After all, in the Internet era, where practically every American has a computer (or tablet or a Web-enabled smartphone), there's no need to trek to the library to do research. And books? Who checks out, or even reads, physical books in the age of the Kindle, Nook and iPad?

That all sounds logical, except for one thing: The facts contradict the theory.

Readers Welcome

Half of America has visited a library in the past 12 months, Pew Research found in a poll of 6,224 Americans ages 16 and older. And a mere 4 percent say they've moved exclusively to e-books.

What's more, while the millennial generation is widely understood to be more wired than their elders, it turns out that the younger you are, the more likely you are to frequent the library:
  • 59 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds say they've visited a library at least once in the past year. (And to be clear, we're talking about full-service, separately housed public libraries -- not just the school media center.)
  • The same holds true for 48 percent of millennials ages 18 to 29, and 52 percent of folks ages 30 to 49 (moving into Gen X territory here).
  • In contrast, those ages 65 and up, whom you'd expect to be most hidebound in their devotion to clothbound books, are the least frequent users of public libraries. Only 39 percent of this group says they've visited a library in the past year.
Get a Library Card -- It's a Bargain

Why do libraries retain their popularity in the digital age? In part, it's probably economics.

According to a Huffington Post poll last year, about 68 percent of Americans read at least one book last year. Breaking that number down further, "25 percent read between one and five books, 15 percent read between six and 10 books, 20 percent read between 11 and 50, and 8 percent read more than 50" books. That works out to an average of about 12 books read per reader.

The "official" estimate of the American Library Association is that library patrons check out about 8.1 books per person per year -- suggesting that the majority of books that Americans read are checked out of libraries. In fact, the numbers suggest that Americans borrow twice as many books from libraries as they buy from bookstores.

And why not? The School Library Journal in 2013 figured the average cost of a book (excluding reference books) is $15.32. Multiply that by the 8.1 books checked out of a library, and you have $124 that library patrons -- including you? -- save in book-buying costs annually.

A confirmed cheapskate, Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith rarely passes on a bargain -- and thinks free reading material from the library is one of the best bargains out there.

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When I go to the library I find the section on the subject I'm interested in and I gather all of the books on the subject off the shelf, take them to a table and read all of them.
I've done this on almost every subject they have. I'm an expert on a lot of stuff.

July 29 2014 at 8:06 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Libraries are networked now... Some spanning 2 or 3 counties. I have only had a problem getting two books. Albert Pike's book on Scottish Rite rituals and John Keynes "The Economic consequences of the peace"....The other 100 books I have wanted were available.

July 29 2014 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Gadgets are fine,but I prefer books.Hit my local library every week,as well as the used book fairs.I'm an avid reader,and I also get books for two elderly neighbors.I've been their "librarian" for ten years,and its so rewarding to see the happiness it brings to them.You can't share kindles,nooks,ect. the same way.

July 29 2014 at 2:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to PETEY's comment

Sure you can

July 30 2014 at 7:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Our local public library (built in the 1930's) was completely remodeled last year. I liked the library before the remodel --- but I really love going there, now. They added a nice reading room, with comfortable chairs and a big fireplace (which is in use, daily, in the Wintertime). The computer area was also enlarged and is very popular.

I'm a fast reader, and I go thru lots of books every year. If I had to buy them all, I would be spending serious money. LOL So, I'm happy to have a great public library just a couple of miles from my home.

July 29 2014 at 1:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Even when I had a job and could afford to buy books, I hated to buy them. The only ones I would buy are the really popular ones that would take forever to get at the library. I love going in the library. I love browsing. I'm always encouraged when I drive up to the library and the parking lot is full. Unfortunately, most of those people are using the computers, not looking at books. But they have a large area for kids, and there is usually a lot of people in that area. I will probably never jump on the e-book train. You still have to buy those books.

July 29 2014 at 10:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pj512's comment

I download books from my library completely free

July 30 2014 at 7:06 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

That is not to mention the savings coming from using their computer, likely to be much more than $125./yr!

July 29 2014 at 9:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply