The libraries of today are so much more than dusty shelves and librarians who shush you.
Dee Culbertson, director of the Madison Public Library in Madison, Ohio, points out that libraries are rapidly becoming cultural centers with access to everything imaginable — even if you don’t actually visit the library:
“We love that our patrons can check out everything from a character-shaped cake pan to driving cones from our library. They can use the same library card to access free online resources — including LinkedIn Learning, the Sony music catalog, streaming video and more. The library’s not just about books anymore.”
So, before you spend money on a subscription or a one-time purchase, call your local library.
Following are examples of the varied items you can check out and the services you can access for free through libraries.
1. Streaming video
For years, it’s been possible to check out DVDs and Blu-ray discs from your local library. But you might even get free access to streaming services courtesy of your library membership.
For example, if your library partners with the streaming service Kanopy, you can access more than 30,000 commercial-free films from the comfort of your home, as we detail in “13 Ways to Stream Movies and TV Shows for Free.”
Visit Kanopy’s website to find out if your library participates, or ask your library if it offers access to any streaming video services.
2. Electronic publications
Looking for a magazine or a book to read on your mobile device? Your library card might give you access.
As long as you have the right login credentials for such an app, you can download or otherwise read various publications for a set period of time, free of charge.
Norfolk, Virginia, resident Zack Miller listens to audiobooks while working out, using OverDrive through the Norfolk Public Library.
“I reserve audiobooks through the library and save hundreds of dollars per year,” he says.
3. Online courses
LinkedIn Learning offers its catalog of online courses free to patrons of participating libraries. So, ask your library if it partners with LinkedIn Learning or similar services.
Los Angeles resident Ky Trang Ho used her free LinkedIn Learning access through the Los Angeles Public Library to take blockchain technology courses.
“This is pretty cool when you consider that there are 13,000 courses and a LinkedIn Learning [membership] starts at $24.99 per month,” Ho says.
4. Self-improvement classes
Check to see what types of self-improvement classes and seminars are offered through your local library.
You might be surprised to discover that you can learn about budgeting, take foreign language lessons and practice using technology at the library for free.
“To get this formal training elsewhere, it could easily cost $30 per session,” says Danielle Bayard Jackson of Tampa, Florida, who uses libraries in the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative. “At our local library, it’s free.”
Take your life to the next level — and maybe even make new friends — by taking classes at your local library.
5. Museum passes
Nancy Selig of Milton, Massachusetts, was thrilled to discover that the Milton Public Library offers free passes to museums in Boston.
It’s also possible to find free passes to museums and other local attractions at other public libraries around the country. Check your library’s website or ask a librarian.
6. 3-D printing
Culbertson, of the Madison, Ohio, library, points out that some libraries are becoming makers’ laboratories. Ohio’s Madison Public Library offers 3-D printing and even laser engraving.
Many libraries have 3-D printers, which can allow you to try out this technology — or even print out simple household items, like a spoon or a phone case, at a discount.
If you want access to cutting-edge technology but are not ready to buy it yet, call your local library. See what is available there.
7. Party supplies
Throwing a party and need supplies? “Our library has those things available for loan,” says Culbertson.
Some libraries offer access to bakeware, fondue pots, pasta makers, chocolate fountains and even large coffee makers, says Culbertson.
These items are often too pricey to buy for a one-off event, but your library might have a stash of nontraditional items you can borrow.
8. Co-working space
Free Wi-Fi in libraries, along with quiet spaces, can provide you with a place to do your homework or even work on your business in peace — without the price tag that comes with renting a desk at a shared workspace.
Feiran Liu, the owner of a strategy consulting firm in San Francisco, uses the study rooms at the San Francisco Public Library to work.
“Before there were co-working spaces, there were libraries,” says Liu. “The public library is helping me save at least $300 a month by allowing me to use a nice, quiet study room.”
9. Meeting rooms
Looking for a place to hold meetings? Some libraries will let you reserve meeting rooms for free, especially if you are part of a nonprofit or similar type of group.
Check with your library if you’re hard-pressed to find a meeting place for your organization.
Maybe you shouldn’t actually view your public library as a babysitter. However, if you’re looking for something for your toddler or elementary-age child to do — and you’re looking for a little sanity — the library might just be a gift.
Selig points out that her public library offers after-school programming, including educational and hands-on activities for young children and even teenagers.
Check to see if your library offers clubs — including chess, book and even role-playing-game groups — that can keep the kids occupied.
What unusual things have you checked out of your public library? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.