“I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.” -- former First Lady Laura Bush

I’ve had a library card since first grade (first book checked out: The Cat in the Hat) and was a proud card carrying library patron all through college and my adult life.

But I have to admit, when the iPad came out in 2010, and I realized I could buy books and store them on this slim device, patronage of my local library waned. It was simply too easy to purchase books via the app -- tap, tap, tap, done -- and I didn’t even have to pull out my credit card.

All that came to a screeching halt two years ago when I began figuring out where all my money was going . . . and realized I was spending well over $100 a month on digital books (and apps, too).

I knew my buying spree had to stop, but since I’m a voracious reader, I needed to feed my addiction so . . . I became reaquainted with my local library.

As I used my library more, I began to realize it offered a great many services at no cost -- services I’ve put to use in my freelance business.

Availability of almost any book

My library is pretty good at stocking the latest bestsellers, including non-fiction and business books. But, they don’t have everything, so for a long time, I felt like I was missing out on some really good books -- that is, until I discovered interlibrary loan.

Interlibrary loan is the process whereby libraries borrow from each other’s collections. Some libraries have combined their collection database with other local libraries, and you can search this database online and request material. Or, your library may be able to request material from any library within the state in which its located.

My library has both options. For the statewide option, you need the assistance of the librarian, who conducts the search. If one of the libraries has your book or other material, the librarian puts in a request and it gets sent to your library where you check it out.

I love, love, love interlibrary loan! I’ve saved significantly on the cost of buying books, as well as postage/shipping and gas. How cool is that!

I’ve used interlibrary loan to find books mentioned by clients that are important to their work or industry, those that cover older or more esoteric subjects, and to do research in preparation for a project. Knowing this service is available (and free!) has been a huge boon to my business.

Most libraries have some sort of interlibrary loan, so be sure to ask your librarian how it works. Then, take advantage of it! Getting books and other materials from the library is such an easy way to save cash without having to work at it.

Availability of materials in digital formats

If you haven’t been to your library lately, you’re missing out one of the best kept secrets: a wide variety of digital material.

Should you want to read a book on your device, you can check out e-books from the library online. Each library has its own system, so be sure to ask. Some libraries even have digital audiobooks -- which means you might not need to pay for an online subscription service.

When I used to chauffeur my son around, we’d listen to audiobooks on CD I’d get from the library. I can still remember my son and I listening avidly to the actors reading The Secret Life of Bees and the Eragon series. Today when I have to drive long distances to client meetings, I always stop at the library a few days before and pick up an audio business book in order to pass the time productively.

You can take digital material with you when you travel, again saving on costs and impulse purchases. And, if your travels include longer term stays, such as 30 days or more, you can often purchase a guest library pass. My colleague who lives in New Zealand vacations in Hawaii for a month each year; because her family are avid readers, she purchases a pass from the local library for $25.

Magazines

As a marketing consultant, I do a whole lot of research for client projects, most of it online. But sometimes, when doing public relations or other similar projects, I need to see magazines. In the past, I’d go to a local newsstand and buy these publications.

Not anymore. Now I head on over to the library and peruse what they have on hand. Most of the time, I find what I need, and if my library doesn’t have a particular publication, I can suggest it. Even better, my library lets me check out magazines, and since I have to return them, I don’t have all that magazine clutter in my house.

Meeting rooms and quiet areas

Many freelancers like to get out of the house and work at a local coffee shop or meet colleagues or clients at one.

While it is nice to get out of the house, working at a coffee shop does have a drawback: namely, you have to spend money to justify taking up space at a table. And, you might even have to pay for wifi.

Your local library, I’m happy to say, has rooms you can use at no cost for either work or meetings (at my library, you simply sign in for one). You can use a room as a quiet place to work when something is happening in your home, such as construction, or you’ve lost power.

At my library, you can also sit in one of the comfy chairs near the big sunny windows and read or (pretend) to work while listening to conversation or people watching.

Heck, my library even offers coffee for a $1 -- and the wifi is free! You won’t find that kind of deal at your local coffee shop.

In addition, most libraries offer the use of computers -- a handy benefit should yours need to go in for repair unexpectedly.

Community workshops

This past March, I made my first international trip to New Zealand to visit my business colleague. I learned how to travel on a budget by attending a free community workshop the library offered.

The woman who taught the workshop was a world traveler and gave us the inside scoop on travel bargains and finding different ways to finance travel -- such as volunteering to work on a farm in exchange for room and board. I took massive amounts of notes and continue to thank her and her tips to this day.

If your library offers something similar, you could volunteer to give a presentation based on your work -- which could have nice benefits, such as increased exposure in your local community, giving people useful information, and gaining practice public speaking in a low-stress environment.

In conclusion . . .

As you can see, libraries offer a wealth of material and other services that can benefit your freelance business. In fact, libraries offer a whole lot more. I’ve only focused on the benefits relevant to freelancers.