My great little library card, Part 1

With one card, I gain entree to some of the best consumer values in New York City: a computer with high-speed internet and access to sophisticated search engines, dozens of classes and performances, music, video and research help. My card even lets me access much of this from home.

I'm talking about my New York Public Library card, of course. Its latest offering is an update to the ASK NYPL service, the free program whereby librarians will answer my research questions in Spanish or English. It's now available 24/7. I can query by phone, e-mail or online chat. More complicated questions will cost me. (The NYPL Express service charges about $60 an hour.)

Through a quiet but steady adoption of tech tools, public libraries across the U.S. have become lifelong learning labs for adults and children alike, teaching tech literacy to would-be netizens and bringing culture of all kinds to the masses.