City, Opinion

The Role of the Boston Public Library in the 21st Century

The question “Where is your favorite spot in the city?” is a complete no-brainer for me. The answer will always be, “the Boston Public Library.” It has been there for me more than any sort of entity has been in the past three years (well, at least until nine o’clock). It’s where I spend my time, where I get my textbooks and where I go to get a slice of life. It was the number one place we had to go when my family came from Minnesota to Boston. Not that I would ever diss a library, but let’s just say the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley is not the kind of place that instills a sense of wonder in its patrons. I’m pleased to say my 10-year-old sister was just as amazed at the Boston Public Library(BPL) as I am every time I go there.

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A window to Boylston St.

Recently, the library announced it would be opening up a cafe and a broadcast station for WGBH, the public news channel for Massachusetts. The modern side of the library, the Johnson Building, has been under going renovations for the past year and is set to be complete in the summer of 2016. While the new cafe and station are most certainly an attempt to bring in revenue for the $78 million renovation taking place, it also changes the definition of what a library could be.

When most people think of libraries, they think of books. While they’re not wrong to think that’s what a library should offer, the 21st century library can do so much more for its community than share books. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a library as “a collection of sources of information and similar resources, made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing.” This definition most accurately describes what public libraries are, even if it seems broad. Libraries are centers of information for a specific community. In the 21st century, that’s more than just books.

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Wall decor inside Teen Central

Take for example, the BPL’s teen center. A place where history books, coloring books and anime volumes can exist among each other and still make sense. In one of two rooms adjacent to the main room of teen central are Macs and PCs loaded with the complete Adobe Creative Suite, the kind of software found in my college’s computer labs. Installed in this lab is also 3D printer. All of these high-tech exemplars of luxury are available for young teens to use for free.  And the sole purpose of “The Media Lounge” is to enjoy playing Xbox 1, Playstation 4 and Wii U. Video games? In a library? The BPL knows enough that video games can be educational, but also realize the value of them as a stress relieving activities. In addition to Teen Central, the library also offers a a college planning center sponsored by American Student Assistance (ASA), a non-profit organization that helps students plan financially for secondary education.

Of course, the BPL offers plenty of services for its users that aren’t teens. But it’s crucial to note that at the forefront of all the changes occurring in the renovation is an emphasis on making the library a place for young people. The Children’s Library is a rainbow splattered room that is filled with books, but also glowing lions, touchscreen tables and a sensory wall. Engaging Bostonians from a budding age and keeping them involved in their adolescent years is key to letting them know libraries are a place for them too.

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I remember the awe of my 10-year-old sister as she walked through the children’s section of the library. It had completely changed her schema of what a library could be. Despite our ten year age difference, the library of my youth is completely unrecognizable to hers. The next generation isn’t going to have the same library experience as we did and perhaps won’t even need to know what the Dewey Decimal System is. What they will hopefully have is an excitement for libraries; and an enthusiasm for libraries translates to an enthusiasm for reading and learning in general.

The incoming broadcast station should be seen as good news for the 167-year-old institution. By making news more accessible to the public, allowing citizens to possibly be involved in the news making process (or at least watch it unfold), the BPL is continuing it’s tradition of bringing the power to the people with knowledge.

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Tips for Saving Money

Budgeting is hard and saving money is even harder. Staying home while your friends go out isn’t any fun, but unfortunately, many college students are already in debt and adding more debt can follow you for a long time. You don’t have to sacrifice everything, but making just a few changes can save you hundreds per month.
Use cash. If you don’t need to build credit or if you think using a credit card will be too much temptation, don’t get one. Even if you do need to build some credit, going into debt right away won’t help. Using only cash will help you budget better, because you can only use as much cash as you have. Don’t even carry your debit card with you. Take out as much per week as you feel you can spend and then don’t take any more out until the week is over.
Write it all down. Even though we have bank and credit card apps that tell us when we spend money, it’s not in front of us all the time, so it’s easy not to think about. Hang up a whiteboard and write down everything you spend (even your $2.00 cup of coffee) so you can see where your money is going.
Limit how many times you go out. No one likes to say no to friends, but if you can’t afford to go out, it will be better for you in the long run. Encourage friends to hang out in one another’s apartments to cut the costs of restaurants and bars. Alcohol is expensive and you may not be able to afford it every time you go out.
Look for free things to do. Especially in cities, there’s always something going on. For example, Boston has tons of free outdoor movie nights all summer. You could get passes to movie screenings or many museums have a free night every week. Pack a picnic and head to the beach for the day. Think outside the box to find something fun to do.
Keep a grocery list and watch sales. A grocery list will help you buy only what you need and not everything you see. When you’re planning meals, look at your supermarket’s sale flyer and see what’s cheap that week.
Keep a savings account. I would suggest going so far as to get a savings account in a different bank. With all the technology and apps, transferring money is easy between a checking and savings. Putting it in a different bank all together makes it much less convenient.
Loose change. Do not throw away your loose change! Keep a jar, a piggy bank or anything. It adds up in the end.
Set aside a little each week. Even if you can’t make large payments, put $20 or $30 per week in a savings account or take it out and put it in a piggy bank so it’s completely out of mind.
Make coffee and lunch at home. Buying lunch and coffee every day really adds up. That’s almost $4,000 per year you could cut in half if you made your coffee at home and brought a lunch to work.
Thrift shop. Thrift shops are great for finding lots of cool clothes for pretty cheap. The internet is also helping out with lots of websites for people to sell their clothes, bags and jewelry with as well. If you’re feeling really creative, you could also learn how to fix your own clothes, so you can sew them up instead of throwing them out.
Netflix/Hulu. Even subscribing to both of them is substantially lower than the cost of cable. You won’t get to watch everything in season, but between the two of them, they have a pretty good selection.
Use a library. Libraries are a free option to read almost any book you’re looking for. If you don’t find it at your public library, most have networks of libraries in the area you can request it from.
It may not sound fun, but saving a little money now will help out a lot in the long run.
(Photo credit to 401(K) 2012)