I think it's easy, having been born in the United States, to ignore some of perks of being a citizen. Social security, habeas corpus and the right to an attorney are things that almost appear abstract unless you, or someone close, are directly benefiting from them.
Public libraries were completely ignored by myself for the better part of my life. For me, they were synonymous with poverty or, at best, banal frugality. It was almost as if using the library to acquire a book implied I could not afford the book on my own. It was an affront to my status as an employed male.
When I met my girlfriend, she would talk about the library with such affection only to see my eyes roll. I simply could not get it. Why would I ever borrow a book from a public institution when I could buy it, like every other normal American? Meanwhile, she was reading almost a book a week and my stack of expensive purchases was sitting in the corner untouched.
Then something changed my perspective. We moved across the country and spent the majority of our savings on the road trip, arriving in LA with every penny allocated for bills and Airbnb housing. We were on a tight budget and since most of the locations we stayed at had questionable internet, I found myself itching for some quality reading material. My first instinct was, of course, to look on Amazon or at the local bookstores, but I just couldn't justify the cost. Meanwhile, my girlfriend had already signed up at the library and come home with two great looking books.
So I signed up and walked around the aisles looking for my first book, which ended up being Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It ended up being a really great book. I was completely hooked.
I was raised a consumer, just like most Americans are today. My public education never taught me how compound interest works, never taught me about an emergency fund or why saving for the future is a good idea. I did, however, receive many "pre-approved" applications for credit cards the few days after I turned 18. I was also coached by many adults on how to take out a large loan for college, with the part about how long I'll be paying off that loan and how much I'll pay in interest conveniently left out.
Luckily, I did not take out that huge loan for college nor did I acquire large amounts of credit card debt. I finished one semester of community college then moved onto working at a record label where I learned audio production, film production and graphic design. From there, I moved to NYC and while waiting for work as an editor, learned how to program from articles online and books.
Essentially, my current career was built upon a foundation of knowledge that sits on the shelves or resides behind the login screen at your public library.
Sometimes, certain tiny changes catalyze massive paradigm shifts. When I got that first book from the library, the same book that would have cost me $20 online or at a bookstore, it made me reflect on how I seem to approach all problems as a consumer rather than a problem solver. "Buy your way out" seemed to be my slogan. Need a book? Buy it. Sink busted? Hire someone.
We outsource everything and learn nothing.
From the library, I dived farther into DIY projects. I taught myself how to bake artisan bread and pies, create self watering planters out of $10 of hardware supplies and how to invest money wisely. I started following Mr. Money Mustache and reading books on personal finance, including the eclectic Early Retirement Extreme.
In the past few months, I've rewired my brain to approach all aspects of my life with the same problem solving skills I applied exclusively to my work. I used to balk at the idea of building a beautiful bookshelf from scratch, or writing a novel or doing anything of marginal complexity outside my comfort zone. Now I think: what book should I get at the library to help me figure this out?