“Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries,” writer Anne Herbert once said. Not only is your town’s public library a virtually unlimited source of no-cost reading material, it’s also a treasure trove of other free resources, from classes to computer labs and more. And if you haven’t set foot in a library since you graduated from college, you may not know what you’re missing.
You might assume that the advent of the digital era has made libraries, with their long shelves of books and racks of newspapers and magazines, irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Savvy librarians have adapted to our changing world, so that that today the public library is just as relevant as it was in Andrew Carnegie’s day.
“Public libraries are arguably more important today than ever before,” Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, told The Atlantic. “Their mission is still the same — to provide free access to information to all people. The way people access information has changed, but they still need the information to succeed, and libraries are providing that.”
Sure, libraries are still the place to go if you want to check out the latest bestseller. But they offer so much more than that. Whether your public library is a one-room building or a massive downtown institution, here are 10 free things it may offer. Better yet, many of these resources are available online, so you won’t even have to leave the comfort of your couch to take advantage of these deals.
1. Seeds for your garden
Some libraries let you exercise your green thumb while also saving you some green, offering a variety of seeds you can check out and plant in your vegetable or flower garden. Unlike most items you borrow from the library, the seeds don’t need to be returned, though you’ll probably be asked to harvest seeds from your plants and donate them to the library so that others can enjoy the service.
2. Household tools
To help you turn your seeds into a bountiful harvest, some libraries let you borrow gardening tools like rakes, hoes, and trowels. This free-to-use equipment is often part of a larger tool lending library, which may have everything from drills and sanders to laminating machines and sewing machines. Users of the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota can even check out energy meters to measure how efficient their home appliances are — a money-saving move on multiple fronts.
3. Language lessons
Need a crash-course in French, Japanese, or Farsi before your next vacation? Your library may offer free online access to language learning software like Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages. When you’re ready to try out what you’ve learned, many branches also host free conversation clubs or live classes, or you can check out a foreign language movie to test your knowledge.
4. Museum passes
The average price of a museum ticket is $7, according to the American Alliance of Museums, and large, prestigious museums often cost much more. That means that if you can get your hands on a free pass – available for checkout from some public libraries – you could save big. The Boston Public Library, for example, lets people check out a pass good for free admission for four people to the Museum of Science, potentially saving a family of four $86 or more.
5. Yoga and fitness classes
You may not think of a library as a place to get a workout, but many offer free exercise classes, helping you trim the cost of getting fit. Yoga classes, which require nothing more than some open space and an instructor, are a common offering, but some libraries also have free Zumba, aerobics, and dance classes.
6. Digital magazines
Sure, you could buy a digital subscription to your favorite magazine or sign up for a service like Next Issue, which gives you access to dozens of magazines for about $10 a month. Or you could just check out digital magazines on your tablet from your local library. Most libraries offer digital periodical access through Zinio, customizing the titles they offer to fit with patron interest. Simply log on with your library card info and choose the titles you want to read.
“It’s a nice, easy way to get a really high-quality magazine experience without actually having the print magazine,” Peggy Murphy, the collection services manager for the Los Angeles Public Library, told MediaShift.
7. Activities for your kids
Children’s activities at the library aren’t limited to story time. Your public library may also have free after-school tutoring, teen book clubs, craft classes, game nights, and Lego-building clubs. Plus, you can check out DVDs of your kids’ favorite movies and possibly even video games. Some libraries even let you borrow board games.
8. Genealogy research tools
If you want to discover if you’re descended from royalty or related to one of the Founding Fathers, head to your local library, which should have Census Records, newspaper archives, old telephone records, and other resources that can help you unearth information about your ancestors. Plus, many libraries have subscriptions to specialized genealogical databases like HeritageQuest Online, Geneaology Connect, and Ancestry.com, in addition to offering workshops and classes to help you get started on your family history project.
9. Job search and resume help
Hunting for a job is hard, but your library makes it a little bit easier. Of course you can check out career guides and books packed with job interview tips. But you may also be able to drop in for a free resume clinic, sign up for a class to learn new computer skills, access online resources to help you prep for certification exams, or print copies of your resume.
10. Art for your home
You don’t need a ton of cash to make your home look like a million bucks. Residents of Ann Arbor can check out framed original and reproduction artwork from the public library for eight weeks at a time. In Aurora, Illinois, the public library has sculptures available for people to borrow. Whether you’re staging your home for sale or just want to try out a new look, nothing looks better than free.
Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS
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