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One of the great achievements of American culture is, undoubtedly, the public library. Many of us have childhood memories of checking out books from our own local library (or bookmobile!), picking out a video to watch at home, or participating in a summer reading challenge. When I was growing up, libraries still stamped due dates on book covers, audio-books were called “books on tape,” and only the morally corrupt didn’t rewind their movies before returning them. These days, the American tradition of public libraries is still strong, though they now offer the use of computers, Wi-Fi, DVDs, and even online streaming. Libraries still serve as a shared space in which worlds of knowledge and culture are open to all who come in the door, where anyone with a card can enjoy a small space of quiet delight in something for its own sake.

St. Joseph County Public Libraries

South Bend’s public library fully lives up to this great tradition. Ranked in the top ten libraries in the nation for medium-sized towns, the St. Joseph County Public Library is the product of a great deal of care and investment on the part of the community. There are ten branches throughout St. Joseph County, eight of which are in the city of South Bend, including the Main Library downtown (304 S. Main Street). All of the locations have numerous books and other materials, but the Main Library is the branch with the most extensive collection. Here, there are three floors of books and magazines of all sorts, housed in a quiet and pleasant facility with plenty of space for sitting and a large room devoted to children’s books, where you can also check out toys and games.

Movies and Videos

You’ll find, however, that books are only the beginning of this library’s resources. On the third floor of the Main Library, there is a collection of audio-books, movies, and video games, as well as a small sitting area with a television for viewing DVDs. The collection of movies at this library is impressive: there are numerous copies of most new releases and a plenitude of movies from all eras of cinema. All of these can be checked out for only 50 cents a day, a combination of price and selection that cannot be beat by any rental service in town (or online, for that matter!). Many films and videos of all genres are also freely available for check-out via online streaming.

Museum and Park Passes

But that’s not all. The library also has passes available for check-out that provide free admission to local museums, such as the Studebaker National Museum, the Oliver Mansion and History Museum, and the Wellfield Botanical Gardens in Elkhart. These passes can be checked out for free for a week at a time. Additionally, you can check out (also for a week) an Indiana State Parks Pass, which will waive the entry fee at all Indiana state parks, including the nearby Potato Creek State Park and Indiana Dunes State Park.

Audio-Visual Equipment

At the Main Library, teenagers and adults over the age of 14 can also utilize Studio 304, where all manner of equipment for print, audio, and video projects is available, including recording rooms, printers and scanners, an assortment of high-tech cameras, and computers with design software. For 10 cents per gram, you can even use the library’s own 3-D printer.

Events

As if all this were not enough, the library also hosts exhibits and events for all ages, including LEGO building sessions, story-times and activities for children and toddlers, monthly game tournaments for teens and adults, a summer reading challenge for all ages, and various other free events. In August, for instance, they will have an exhibit on Alexander Hamilton, an Intro to Tea, and a viewing party for the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21. The library also has many online resources and databases, including access to Consumer Reports online, guides to home improvement and legal forms, and resources for researching local history and family ancestry. Many of these can be accessed at home through a library account and all can be used on one of the many library computers, laptops, and iPads available for check-out.

How to Get a Card

All of this is made available free of cost to those with a library card. Notre Dame students can get their own library card at the Hesburgh Library circulation desk and can have books from the public library delivered there for pick-up. Family members will need to visit one of the St. Joseph Public Library locations in order to receive their cards. Note that, at the public library, you will need to present a photo ID and proof of residency in St. Joseph County. But where else can you get all this for free?

All of which only confirms what we were taught years ago:

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