The Card Every Writer Needs (Alissa Grosso)

It's nearing midnight and I am in bed with my trusty laptop fighting off sleep so that I can finish writing a chapter, when a question arises. Google can't quite deliver the answer I need. I can hear my dog snoring, and I wonder if maybe I should shut the computer and catch some z's myself. Then I have a rare midnight brainstorm: the library! Of course the physical building is closed at this hour, but thanks to my local public library's digital subscriptions I'm able to download a book that has the information I need, and I'm reminded of how awesome libraries are.

September is National Library Card Sign Up Month, so it seems appropriate that we're covering research this month at YA Outside the Lines, because libraries have always been my go-to place when I need to do research. Whether I need the cold hard facts of history or science texts that will make my writing factually accurate, need to read comparable books in my genre or need information on the business of publishing, libraries have served me well over the years.

Every once in awhile some idiot writes some clickbait article about how libraries have outlived their usefulness and are no longer needed. Usually this is someone who hasn't owned a library card in years or set foot inside one since they were a child, so the article writer ends up sounding like a fool.

For most of us, we know that libraries are places that are filled with books. There are some people who think that books are no longer needed or that thanks to their Amazon Prime membership, they already have access to all the books they could ever need. There are two things I would like to point out. First off, not everyone has an Amazon Prime membership (raises hand) and second of all, there are a lot of books that for whatever reason aren't available on Amazon Prime. The books alone that are available to people of all ages and all income levels for free from their local library, make libraries a tremendously valuable resource. It's also worth noting that librarians have gone to school for and spent a great deal of time curating their collections to ensure that a wide assortment of high quality reading material is available for their patrons. Amazon has no curators.

If you love libraries, you must read the web comic Unshelved.

If all libraries had were books, they would still be valuable, but it's 2016 and libraries have a lot more than books. Other physical items available for free from libraries include video and audio products, both entertaining ones like feature films and popular music CDs and educational ones like how-to videos and language learning programs. These are the basics that are offered by nearly every public library in the country. Libraries, though, continue to innovate and many offer their patrons the opportunity to borrow all manner of physical items. I can borrow a huge assortment of cake pans from my public library. A library that I used to work for has educational toys and products to help children with sensory processing issues. Games and passes to visit local museums are also available at many libraries.

Free wi-fi and internet access computers at libraries mean that even when you're financially strapped you can use technology for research, communicating or job hunting. For those that have computers or tablets at home, the library's subscriptions to different databases and digital products mean that you can enjoy around the clock access to information and entertainment.

I'm such a library-lover that I have a an old card catalog in my living room. Picked it up for $10 at a yard sale. The doggy, on the other hand, was free to a good home. 

Recently, my boyfriend and I took advantage of my library's Heritage Quest subscription, to do some genealogy research. We sort of (his family lost their second "O") share a last name and have always been curious about just how closely we're related. We still haven't found the connection, though we did learn a little more about our lineage by examining some old census records.

Libraries also provide lots of services for patrons. At the most basic level there's access to low cost printing and photocopying, but many libraries, especially larger county branches go well beyond this. Maker's spaces with things like 3D printers and binding machines are pretty awesome. My own county library has VHS to DVD conversion services and patrons can have access to an Ellison die-cut machine.

Finally, there's the programming. We all know about library storytime, but there are lots of programs for grown-ups, as well. Things like writing workshops, art classes, lectures and entertainment are held at many libraries that anyone can attend for free.

One of my first author gigs was speaking at a library just before my first book, Popular, was published.

I'm sorry if this post sounds like nothing but a big advertisement for libraries, but the fact is, that libraries deserve more advertisements. Unlike most advertisers, libraries don't want your money, just your patronage. I feel like not enough people realize all the things that libraries can do for them. Long before there was Siri, there were librarians ready to answer all your burning questions, and no offense to technology, but librarians do a better job of tracking down the answers you need.

So, if you are a writer or hope to become one, there is a card that you absolutely need in your wallet. If you don't already have one, go down to your local public library and sign up for a library card. It just might help you write your next book.

Alissa Grosso is a one-time library employee and regular library user. She encourages you to seek her three novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular at your local library or to find out more about her and her books by visiting


  1. I love this! I want a card catalog badly but haven't found one yet.

    My town's library is called Sachem Public Library. Librarians are amazing research assistants for me. Google is great, but the truth is, we don't have a very good way of discerning quality in search results. Anybody can post a blog article and Google will find it. But a good librarian can help you find the things Google can't.

    When I was writing Some Boys, I did a lot of research into the minds of rapists. A librarian helped me find information on date rapists that proved invaluable for me. Same thing for NOTHING LEFT TO BURN.

  2. Speaking as a recently retired librarian, it was the best career possible and you never really leave it. I answered a reference question at the transfer station over the weekend. You're dead on in this post about all the value in libraries today. People tend to forget that when times get tough, libraries end up serving more people, more often. As for the card catalog, I have a 68 drawer one in my storage building with tools and parts sorted by type. It's saved me hours since I got it 20 years ago.


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