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Short on cash but desperate for information? Well, where did you put that library card?

Here's the problem: You have got 24 hours to decide whether to use Joe's Discount Goods or Joanne's Value Products as your new supplier, or your customers won't get their shipments on time. You're in a quandary, wishing you could find just one nugget of information to tip the scales. Well, take a brief trip down memory lane. Remember that report you did in the sixth grade on marsupials? Now recall your sigh of relief when the librarian led you from the reference desk, across the silent carpet, past high school kids working on calculus and love letters, to that perfect book--the only book you used for the report.

It's time to rediscover your public library. Not much has changed since the sixth grade, and yet some aspects of the library are completely modern. From computer databases and free Internet access to hard-to-find business books and government documents, the public library may well become your research haven.

Recently, I visited our local business-friendly library, California's Newport Beach Public Library, and received a grand tour of the premises from information-services manager Susie Hubbs. Here's a rundown of some of the free things you can find at your local library. Note that most of it's in the reference section, so bring change for copies and a disk to download information from computerized databases.

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