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I've always spent a lot of time at public libraries. America's 17,000+ public libraries are truly a cheapskate's paradise. Where else can you have free access to literally hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, CDs and so much more? Sure we pay for them with our tax dollars, but libraries are a bargain even a cheapskate can afford.
Recently I gained a whole new appreciation for my beloved local library here in southern Maryland. The morning after Hurricane Irene knocked out our electricity-which meant no running water, phone or internet as well-I saddled up my trusty-but-rusty ten speed and pedaled over to the library.
Fortunately the library hadn't lost its electricity, and I wasn't the only hurricane refugee who made a beeline there-the place was packed. People were using the library's computers to make contact with the outside world, or bringing in their own laptops to access its free Wi-Fi.
We sat around the comfy seating areas and swapped Irene stories (quietly, of course) with neighbors and friends, new and old. We temporarily escaped the post-storm stress by browsing the bookshelves and periodicals.
The library staff kindly kept a big urn of free hot coffee at the ready for everyone to enjoy, and some of us later dropped off snacks from home, including items that might otherwise go to waste if the power outage continued. We even started a friendly competition to see who could come up with the most creative recipes using things we had on hand.
I wasn't the only patron who arrived with a toothbrush and shave kit in hand, using the library's spotless restrooms to freshen up before returning to our waterless home. Talk about a multiuse facility.
Thankfully our electricity has now been restored, and thankfully we had a public library nearby to help us weather the storm. That's where you're likely to find me, hurricane or calm.
Photo of New York City Public Library Main Branch by Wally G via Flickr Creative Commons.