Entertainment: Hot Dewey Decimal action

The public library: a great place to cool off and unwind

Sacramento Public Library (various branches); www.saclib.org; 916-264-2920.

Gas prices got you down?

Is that question getting obnoxious yet?

And you’ve already spent your “economic stimulus package"?

Well, good for you, doing your duty to bail out the S.S. Fiscal Policy Disaster, but now what?

There are still ways to entertain yourself—and your kids—without blowing more big, hypothetical bucks.

Start with the public library. No, really.

If you haven’t stopped by one lately, you don’t know what you’re missing. Not only are all the Sacramento public libraries accessible by public transport (which automatically makes for a cheaper, greener trip), they’re not your grandma’s libraries. In fact, they’re as much fun as any multimedia information and entertainment complex could possibly be—and they’re air-conditioned.

So it’s got books. They won’t kill you.

It’s also got things we all spend good money for and then can’t find a place to keep. Say, for instance, graphic novels. The Central Library has moved a good-sized rack of them up into the main lobby, an improvement for those of us who don’t feel comfortable browsing while surrounded by teenagers. Need your Sandman fix? Want to find out what’s up with manga but don’t want to spend a fortune? In addition to browsing until you find something, there’s always the catalog.

Dude, it’s not a card catalog anymore. This is just like using Amazon.com, only it won’t swallow your credit card and start racking up interest. And if you think Amazon’s a convenient way to get books, music and movies, wait until you try out the Sacramento Public Library Web site (www.saclib.org). Sign on from home using your library card number and browse to your heart’s content, selecting all the words, tunes and images that appeal to you. The library will pull your books, CDs, DVDs or videocassettes and have them waiting for you to check out at the branch of your choosing.

It’s not just that you can borrow DVDs and videos for three weeks at a stretch—and you can—but that you don’t pay a dime for ’em, provided you’re a card-carrying member of the public library system. Not just the educational kind, either. They’ve got everything from Transformers to I Am Legend, from Atonement to 28 Days Later.

Really. And it’s free.

That is, unless you’re one of those people who can’t remember to return your stuff on time (and you can usually renew online or over the phone). But at least library fines—as opposed to late fees—benefit you in the long run, since the money’s used to support the library.

If you’re one of us oddballs who still actually reads, there’s even more to offer. The library offers e-mail updates in all sorts of areas. Interested only in a genre like sci-fi or mystery? The library can keep you up to date and make it easy to request new titles. It’s also possible to request books that have just been ordered or even those that the library is merely considering (it’s a good way to let the librarians know what patrons are interested in).

And if you need help learning to use a computer, sending e-mail or (we’re sorry) polishing your résumé, the library has classes, books and audio/visual material to make whatever “employment transition” you’re going through just a bit easier.

For free.

Got kids? You can find all sorts of creative and fun activities at the public library. In addition to the usual “storytime” events for babies and toddlers, there are movie parties, anime gatherings for teens, arts and crafts, classes (including assistance with college prep) and a few gatherings for gaming (think Guitar Hero). Just click on the Programs & Events button on the library Web site to find all the fun (some of it educational) that you could possibly want—and if it wasn’t at the library, it would cost you a whole lot more.

See. Grandma would surely approve.

But it’s not all for the kids. This year, the library is expanding their summer reading program to include adults. The Catch the Reading Bug 2008 summer reading program will have an opportunity for kids to earn books—and adults to earn book bags.

All for free.