The Best Free Resource You’re Not Already Using
About a year ago, I started working as a full-time freelancer. Beyond forming a career out of things I actually want to do, there are tons of rewarding perks; I may have to work more hours than I would at a 9-5, but I can make my schedule work for me. Plus, working remotely means I can visit friends in other cities and not have to take a “vacation day.” There are challenges, too: it can sometimes be draining to feel like you’re constantly looking for work — applying to partake in individual projects can seem like you’re endlessly on the job hunt, especially when you’re starting out — and dividing your attention between multiple clients is something that you just have to get used to.
But the absolute hardest part of being a freelancer for me is not letting myself spend all day everyday on the couch in my underwear. It’s so tempting: it’s a free, comfortable space to be on my computer. I don’t have to pay for the coffee. Sometimes there’s a cat around. I like to get work done in the morning, and only having to meander into the living room is a godsend of a commute. But when 2 PM hits and I realize I haven’t showered, changed, or applied deodorant, I think, Maybe some structure would be good.
I love working in coffee shops just as much as the next writer/editor, and it’s especially nice when you can co-work with a friend in the same position. I’ve mapped out the ones with the best WiFi and treat situations (for other NYC-based Great British Bake Off fans, FIKA sells princess torte). But spending all day in one can get expensive, especially if you are me and you just really enjoy spending money, and fancy donuts exist. Jumping into freelance with a particularly tight budget, I needed to find somewhere I could go that would be free to sit in all day and offer good WiFi and chairs with better back support than my sofa.
You guys, it’s the library. The library is that place. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to get to that conclusion, especially when I spent basically every Sunday of my college career in one. Of course, getting to borrow books for free is reason enough to visit your local library. But for something that offers so much in the way of free services, I find it curious that the majority of Americans aren’t perusing their local stacks every weekend.
You can have a free movie night on the reg. You know that annoying friend that always complains about wishing there were still video stores because the internet offers “too much choice”? Are you that annoying friend? Good news for both of you: you can recreate the Blockbuster-laden days of yore at the library, and for free.
Being around others working actually motivates you to do work. No matter which library I go to in NYC — there are many — there are always people there working. Sometimes studying and actually using the library’s physical resources, but more often than not, they’re just on their own computers, taking advantage of the quiet and the free internet. When I had a “day job,” I would go to the library on an occasional weekend day or evening to get some writing done, and as a full-time freelancer I started going several times a week. I never stay on social media pages too long because I’d be embarrassed if anyone else in the room thought I was wasting my time (because, fuck it, I do care what strangers think).
You can scope out different locations for the best workplace. This takes some personal ~hands on~ research, as not all libraries are created equal. If you live in a larger town or city with more than one library location, try out different ones to see which would be the best to hunker down in for an afternoon. I really talk up the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center because those second floor chairs are ergonomic as hell. The Jefferson Market location downtown is in a particularly gorgeous old building and is open on Sunday afternoons. Plus, going there means exploring a part of the city I don’t venture to all that often. And it’s not the coziest, but the Mid-Manhattan Library is huge, stays open until 11 pm (!) four days a week, and definitely has the best book selection.
Also, I can’t stress this enough: the outlet space available to you in the library is unparalleled. Some of them even have those large tables with the outlets in the center, so you don’t even have to fight your way to a wall spot. You can’t eat in most locations, and I’m not advising you to break those rules, but no one has ever locked me up for sneaking in a muffin and a water bottle.
The library reinforces a city’s sense of community. Maybe it’s the very important Center For Knowledge air that the library gives off, but somehow it just seems like the safest space to go. If the city map rugs we sat on in preschool taught us anything, it’s one of the cornerstone buildings in urban planning. That communal aspect still exists; when the Michael Brown protests were happening in Ferguson, the library was the one public service that stayed open and allowed children and teachers to meet and keep learning even when schools were closed due to crisis.
Supporting public services is a good thing to do. Since it’s a publicly-funded institution, it won’t exist if the public doesn’t use it. There’s tons of free programming; the NYPL hosts book readings all year-round and even hosts them outdoors during the summer. Several locations, including the midtown flagship building and the Library for the Arts, regularly put on interactive exhibits. Nearly every branch offers free education classes for everything from computer literacy for adults to summer reading help for kids. And this isn’t just limited to New York; after a quick Google search, I just found a letterpress workshop in Ann Arbor and a citizenship class in New Orleans. Even if you don’t need literacy education or ESL classes, many people do. Supporting the institutions that offer these services for free can only serve to strengthen local communities. That’s a nice thing to think about when you’re mooching off WiFi.
Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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