There’s a world to explore at your local library.

Jackie Felsteed assists Kevin-Coombe at East Melbourne Library
Jackie Felsteed assists Kevin Coombe at East Melbourne Library.

We live in an age where free places to hang out with a book are rare. Usually they amount to shopping centre food courts, fast food restaurants and cafés. But you can linger over one coffee for only so long leisure experiences that don’t cost money are becoming harder to find.

So isn’t it great we have libraries? That we can walk into any local library, stay as long as we like and do different activities for free. And no one pestering to order something else from the menu. Places that don’t ask anything in return for comfort, quiet and an array of interesting things (like books, courses, talks, internet and computers) seem eccentric by 21st century standards.

Libraries have always been great meeting places, where all ages come together to enjoy their own thing. Where preschool children are absorbed in story time at one end and the local knitters' club clacks away at the other. They are study refuges for students and specialised venues where you can delve into fascinating things like family history or writing fiction.

Most people over 65 have grown up with libraries and probably still use them. Chances are you’ve learned a few tricks along the way, such as asking a librarian for help rather than muddling up and down the aisles looking for a single book. Or checking out what’s new on the shelves of bookshops then reserving them at your library. Usually you can do this for free, although some libraries charge a nominal fee. But it’s still better economy than buying a new book.

You’ll probably already know that most libraries offer a range of talking books or large print books for people with visual difficulties, but did you know many offer monthly ‘book chats’ that include pick up and drop off for elderly or disabled people?

Libraries have kept up with the digital age, offering DVDs that are ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to tackle the online world of movie rentals. Most have a range of new and classic movies. Again, borrowing movies from the library is free.

Because libraries are also online, members can stay home to reserve and read electronic books (e-books), download films, music, and use e-reference sections for research. But why stay home when libraries offer such social opportunities? A popular routine is popping into the library to read the morning papers (in the language of your choice) or checking out what new magazines have arrived – which may be anything from Railway Modeller to Wild Magazine.

Some libraries have become community hubs by screening films and putting on morning tea discussions afterwards. Add to this talks by local authors and even short courses and you’ve got an authentic social resource on your doorstep.

Most libraries are within minutes of home. Many municipalities around Melbourne have at least a handful of branch libraries, so your nearest may be only a short stroll away. The same goes for larger country centres around Victoria. If you live in a small town, pop into the council office to find out when the mobile library – a truck full of books – is visiting next.

One kind word of warning – return your items on time. Aside from being common courtesy it means you won’t get fined. No excuses either, because all libraries offer generous loan durations – usually about three or four weeks for books and two weeks for DVDs and CDs. And you can often borrow more than you can carry – up to about 40 items at one time. So bring a big bag or a trolley.

To find your local library and learn about upcoming events visit www.publiclibrariesvictoria.net.au