Faced with a seemingly infinite number of media subscription services, it is sometimes necessary for the modern content consumer to ask which ones are actually worth it and which ones are basically a scam monetizing our collective need for distraction and stimulation.
“Do I really need Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Amazon Video and the Basque-language animated horror app?” you might shout to the heavens, or possibly on a technology website. “Do I need more?”
No, you do not need more. That’s because there’s an almost limitless world of adventure and entertainment just waiting for you to sign up. Imagine, if you will, a single service that lets you enjoy thousands of different books, movies, albums, and periodicals. It’s increasingly becoming one of the world’s best-kept secrets, and it’s called your local library.
If your knowledge of public libraries is limited to depictions in film and on television, you might think of them as the boring book places that are occasionally attacked by ghosts. While, by definition, libraries contain books, most libraries in America now offer a wide variety of recorded media available for your consumption, including CDs, DVDs, magazines, ebooks, and audiobooks.
Looking for movies? Your library has ‘em. Looking for music? It’s got that, too. Trying to find the Zoobooks about ostriches you spilled chocolate milk on in 1998? Good news, numbnuts, it’s probably there.
“Okay, sounds good,” you may be thinking. “But how much does it cost?” Honestly, that’s the wildest fucking part: It’s absolutely free.
In most cases, all you need is a photo ID and proof of your current address. If you don’t have a fixed address, you might still be able to get a library card, because (unlike many of the services we now rely on each day) libraries are staffed by actual humans you can ask for help achieving your goals.
Yes, technically, libraries are not “streaming” services. To enjoy many of the fruits of this content garden, you have to physically bring yourself to the figurative “apples.” (If you’re homebound, your library may offer other options.) But you can still reserve many materials online for easy pickup, and even check out digital copies of audiobooks and ebooks through the internet.
Ultimately, as with all things in life, one must weigh the trade-offs of using this resource instead of yet another on-demand media service. Would you rather personally retrieve content that represents humanity’s collected works, for free, or pay money for instant access to a bunch of random shit that’s increasingly just filler thanks to a variety of byzantine licensing agreements?
Now more than ever, widget makers and pushers would like you to believe that every problem in your life has a product solution—preferably one with a monthly fee you pay in perpetuity. Many of these issues, however, were addressed long ago by more civic-minded individuals who saw the wisdom in pooling our collective resources for the public good. The library, a media-borrowing service that doesn’t cost a goddamn dime to use, is one such institution.
Keep your Netflix account, sure, but if you’re looking for that real shit, that Tom-Joad-denouncing-the-injustice-of-it-all shit, give your local library a chance. If nothing else, it’s a free place to duck out of the rain and into a good book. And if you really like it, consider pushing for better funding so that even more people can share your joy.