It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the library for the books they provide. But even I didn’t realize all the free resources and activities they have until I spent a week actively seeking out all they had to offer. I was surprised at how much I found and had to pinch myself often to remind myself that it was all free or extremely low cost. Of course I pay taxes to get these benefits, but since I have to pay taxes regardless, I’m happy to get something in return.
I live in a large metropolitan area, not a major metropolis, but a good sized city. If you live in a smaller area, your library may not have as many offerings but they probably have many things that would be of interest to you. Your best friend is the library’s calendar of events if they publish one. Pick one up and see what interests you. Below is a list of what I found at my library.
This is the primary reason for the library’s existence. Most libraries offer free check out privileges for local residents or there may be a small charge to obtain a card. If you live outside of the area served by the library you may have to a fee pay for a card, but it’s likely to be far less than the cost of books.
Our library now offers audio books on tape and CD, in addition to printed books. Great for long car trips or the visually impaired.
Many libraries offer DVD’s for check out. They may not be the newest releases and you may have to get on a waiting list for popular titles, but it can be a great way to get some free entertainment.
Just like the DVD’s mentioned above, many libraries offer audio CD’s. It can be a great way to listen to some new and different music that you wouldn’t ordinarily try.
When the library cleans out it’s old materials and unneeded donations, they sell those books to the public to raise funds for new materials. Prices vary, but it’s not uncommon to find hardbacks for under $5 and paperbacks for under $1. Some sales even have clearance days when you pay a flat fee for a bag or box of books.
Our library offers free internet access, either on their own terminals or over a WiFi network that you can use with your own laptop. Some sites are, necessarily, blocked, but the vast majority of sites are accessible. Great if you don’t want to pay for Internet access at home.
Beyond Internet access, the library offers computers loaded with Microsoft Office applications and other utilities. They are free to use and you only pay per page if you need to print something. If you don’t use a computer that often and don’t want to own one, this is a great resource.
The library dumps their old magazines into a bin where anyone can take them. They also allow patrons to bring in their old magazines for others to take. This can be a great way to stock up on some reading material for free.
You can find a book club for almost any interest, from fiction to non-fiction. Some are narrowly focused such as those dedicated to certain authors, genres, or non-fiction subjects. At my library, patrons are encouraged to request a book club or offer to start one if one doesn’t exist that suits their interest.
Our library hosts free exhibitions of the art works, collections, and other talents of local residents. Fun to look at and a great way to gain exposure for your own work if you have something to exhibit.
Our library gives away free bookmarks. They change seasonally or are printed with upcoming special events.
Coupons to local attractions and businesses
Many businesses leave coupons and coupon books at the check out counter or with the “local interest” materials in the lobby. These are free for patrons to take and are often high dollar coupons.
There are all kinds of classes offered including language courses, writing classes, how-to courses, business and finance classes, and computer classes. There are also other, more specialized classes throughout the year offering varying levels of instruction.
Games, puppet shows, arts and crafts, story times, scavenger hunts and other entertainment are available for children. Some things, such as arts and crafts, may require a small fee for materials, but almost everything is free.
If you or your child need help learning to read and write, the library has a staff of volunteers trained in literacy education that are willing to help.
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Most reference librarians are very good at helping you track down obscure works, facts, or statistics. At some libraries you don’t even have to leave your house as they offer online access to a reference librarian. Their help is free.
Many libraries have partnerships with other libraries and can request books from other systems for their patrons to use. At our library, we can get books from almost any university or library system in the country. Depending on the library, there may be a small fee for this service, but it is much less than the cost of the book.
Free access to popular databases
As a library patron, I’m allowed to use online databases such as LexisNexis, EBSCO, and PsychInfo and search the archives of major newspapers and encyclopedias for free. The library pays the subscription fee for these services. If not for the library, I would have to pay.
Sometimes the library brings in various experts to help with problems. During tax season, accountants and tax preparers volunteer their time to help out. Sometimes medical professionals and lawyers come in to answer questions or offer free advice. Other subject matter experts are available during other times of year.
Lectures, storytelling festivals and speaker series’
Authors, important citizens, professors, artists, storytellers, and other notable people are often invited to speak on topics of interest or to promote their endeavors. These may be one time appearances or ongoing series’ covering a variety of topics.
No, they’re not first run movies, but the library frequently offers free screenings. Most of the offerings are movies based on books, but sometimes they offer other movies just for entertainment.
Local bands and musicians sometimes play at library hosted concerts. The music may have a theme, such as music from a literary time period or the selections may be holiday based.
Summer reading programs and contests
In the summer, the library offers reading programs for both adults and kids. Readers are entered into weekly prize drawings and a drawing for an end of summer grand prize. Kids also get other incentives like stickers and gift certificates to local book stores.
Tutoring and homework help
Kids can get free help with their homework or receive additional tutoring. The library keeps a volunteer staff of subject experts with teaching experience to help kids navigate their schoolwork.
This free service brings books to those who cannot get out on their own.
When I don’t know what to read next or I’m looking for additional books on a a subject, nothing beats a ready-made reading list to spark my interest. Some lists are “staff picks” and others are “If you liked X, try Y,” suggestion lists. There are also lists for every fiction genre and non-fiction topic.
Many libraries offer social activities just for teens such as book clubs, classes, pizza nights, karaoke, and games. It’s a safe environment for teens to meet other teens.
No matter the size of your library system, you’re likely to find many free or low cost resources that will interest you. A library is one of the best benefits you have as a citizen of a particular community and I encourage you to take advantage of whatever they may offer. If you’re able, consider giving back donations of money, time, or books you no longer want. Your gifts will enable your library to expand their offerings and reach more people.
Image courtesy of svenwerk