12 Awesome Things You Didn't Know You Could Get at the Library


Did you know there are more public libraries in the U.S. than there are McDonald's locations? At last count, over 16,766. And what's more, the library system is getting used more and more by the general public these days. That's hardly surprising, considering the economic climate and less disposable income available for books. (See also: Free Books: Little Libraries That Build Community and Save You Money)

But that word, books, is something of a misnomer. To equate a library with only books is like saying you can only get a cheeseburger at the aforementioned fast food chain. The fact is, our public libraries have been doing an incredible job of keeping up with the times, and they have way more to offer than simply books and reference materials.

1. Streaming Music and Movies

You think Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu are cool? Well, your library has its own version, only you don't pay one cent to stream the titles. You just need to install the apps, and have a current library card. The most popular one right now is called Hoopla, and it's awesome. All genres are covered, and there are several new releases. You can borrow up to five titles at one time, and stream them straight to your tablet, smart phone, or computer. Isn't technology awesome?!

2. Tax Forms

As well as the post office and some larger grocery stores, libraries have a full stock of the most popular tax forms in the runup to the April deadline. They also have the tax instructions booklets at hand as well. And while librarians are not qualified tax accountants, some will offer you basic advice.

3. Instant Audio Books

You are most likely aware of the massive array of books on CD, tape, and MP3 players at your library. They have both fiction and nonfiction titles. But did you know you can know stream audio books over your smartphone? You don't even have to go into the library. Simply request the title and when it's available (often, there's no wait at all), you will be given a download link. You will have to use an official piece of third-party software, such as Overdrive, but that's all there is to it. The book plays through your phone, and you have access to it for at least two weeks.

4. The Latest Movies on DVD and Blu-ray

As well as a having thousands of older movies, libraries stock the latest releases on both DVD and Blu-ray. Of course, there are some savvy library users who know this, and reserve them months ahead of time. So if you want to get hold of a copy as soon as it's available, become one of the smart users who signs up early. Every public library has a website that enables you to reserve or "hold" the latest titles. Get your name in the system early, or you will be number 432 in line.

5. Coffee, Snacks, and Milkshakes

These days, libraries know that people will want to sit and read a lot of the information they have (and quite a lot of it cannot leave the library). So, they have started to provide beverages and snacks at reasonable cost. You can't just start swigging coffee in the middle of the fiction section; they usually have designated dining areas. But, you can definitely bring your reference book or magazine to that section and enjoy it whilst sipping on a latte and eating a muffin.

6. Museum Passes

The next time you want to take the family (or just yourself) to the local museum, take a trip to your local library first. Many libraries around the country are now participating in the museum pass program, which pairs them up with local museums. The libraries have a limited number of passes every month, so they're given out on a first come, first served basis. Ask your local library for details. Remember, different libraries have different passes and different lending rules, so if one library doesn't have what you're looking for, try another.

7. Vintage Photographs

Many libraries have old and rare photographs in their archives, and you are more than welcome to look through them. Usually, they will be related to the state you're in, but as this is the digital world, many libraries have the information available online. For starters, here is the New York Public Library's photo database. It contains over 800,000 images for you to search through!

8. Family Tree Archives

Are you interested in tracing your lineage? Well, make your first port of call your local library. It can be expensive to sign up to genealogy websites, but many libraries have access to them, and will in turn give you access to the massive searchable databases. If you find out you're related to royalty, make sure you still come back and visit us, ok?

9. The Latest Magazines

A single issue of a magazine can run you anywhere from $3 to $10 (sometimes more if you are interested in international periodicals). Buying a few of these every month can get expensive. Your local library will have copies of dozens of the latest magazines for you to read. Everything from consumer reports to home and garden and fishing, all free and waiting to be read.

10. Meeting Rooms

Do you have a group of friends or colleagues that require a weekly place to meet and chat? If your home isn't available, try the local library. They have several meeting rooms available that can be booked by the hour. Sometimes book clubs meet there, on other occasions it's chess clubs, study groups, or even War Hammer societies. They don't have to be related to books or reading; it's a community service, and you're part of the community.

11. Tools

Really? Well, not every library has its own Home Depot section, but it's starting to catch on. Library members can check out tools the same way they would check out books or DVDs. The list of rules and regulations is a little more rigid (see this one from Berkeley) but the basic idea is the same; free tools for members, for a week or two.

12. Musical Instruments

Interested in learning the violin or playing the piano? Your local library could be a great place to begin. As well as having a lot of musical instruction books and videos on the shelves, they could also have a supply of instruments to check out. From keyboards and drums to stringed instruments, you'd be amazed. AADL even has guitar pedals.

Does your local library offer more cool stuff? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

Last time it checked, my local library had copies of the Rosetta Stone language program. Don't know how the check out policy, but they do have I available.

Guest's picture

My library doesn't have Rosetta Stone, but it has another language thing called Mango Languages. I'm learning Russian with it!

Guest's picture

You left out ZINIO that lets you borrow magazines, current and back issues.

Guest's picture

Many libraries today have digital media labs where you can make videos, record music, shoot photography, and more. They also offer access to high-quality computers running the latest media creation software. They hold classes to teach media creation usually free.

Guest's picture

I live in St Paul MN and all of the surrounding libraries have the 3M Cloud Library nearly 92,000 ebooks that I can checkout from my phone or tablet. Haven't had to buy a book in years and don't even have to go to the library.