15 Things Your Library Card Can Get You for Free

If you think the public library is just a place to borrow books, you are dead wrong. These days, public libraries are community spaces that not only connect people to each other but also give them access to things that make their lives better—and in many cases, downright awesome. The best part? Public libraries provide all of this to everyone, for free. You might be surprised at what you can get with your library card. Just see what wonders await inside some of our country's libraries, then check with your local branch to find out what it has to offer.

  1. A Green Screen

    A Green Screen

    The Lewes Public Library in Delaware has a Teen Tech Suite that includes a green screen, Smart Board, digital cameras, a Mac computer with editing software, and a 3-D printer. Library Director Lea Rosell says, “We wanted this library to be a place where young people not only consumed content, but where they could create content.” While the space is reserved for teens only during after-school hours, the general public is welcome to use the space at other times of day.


  2. Tax Help

    Tax Help

    Many libraries across the country partner with organizations like AARP and the United Way to provide help with tax preparation. Patrons at the Seattle Public Library can schedule appointments on a first-come, first-served basis and be paired with someone to help them with a simple individual tax return.

    Related: 10 Rebates and Tax Credits More Homeowners Should Take Advantage Of


  3. Ancestry.com


    Many public libraries, including the Roswell Public Library in New Mexico, have the library edition of Ancestry.com available for patron use inside the library. So, if you’ve been itching to learn about your family’s roots, check to see if your local library has a subscription. While the library edition doesn't have all the functionality of the regular edition, it's a great place to get started on your research. 


  4. Telescope


    Don’t feel left out of the loop during the next lunar eclipse. Many libraries around the country, including the Fontana Regional Library in North Carolina, have telescopes that can be checked out for a week at a time. 


  5. Thermal Camera

    Thermal Camera

    Do you think you have leaky windows? If so, and if you live in Fairfax, Virginia, you can check out a thermal camera from the public library, point it at your drafty windows, and see where you need a little extra insulation. 


  6. Foreign Language Instruction

    Foreign Language Instruction

    Next time you pick up a book at the library, pick up a new language too! Many libraries offer free classes and conversation groups for learners of English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and other languages. Some, like the Portland Public Library in Maine, give patrons access to Mango Languages, an online language system that can be accessed right from your home computer.


  7. Sound Booth and Recording Equipment

    Sound Booth and Recording Equipment

    Two locations of the Edmonton Public Library in Alberta, Canada, offer a makerspace where cardholders can reserve a sound booth and make their own recordings. The booths are equipped with microphones and computers with recording software, and you can even borrow some instruments. 


  8. Test Prep

    Test Prep

    Preparing to take the GRE? Or, how about the GED? You can get ready for these and other tests with Learning Express Library, which is available through many public libraries, including Cecil County Public Library in Maryland. The site has hundreds of tests and tutorials to help you get ready for your next exam, whether you’re looking to get into college, the police force, or the plumbing industry.


  9. Video Games

    Video Games

    You probably already know that your library card will give you access to CDs and DVDs, but at many libraries, you can also check out video games for your home Nintendo or Wii game consoles. 


  10. Access to Museums

    Access to Museums

    The New York Public Library gives its patrons access to a wide variety of museums and cultural institutions with its Culture Pass. Library cardholders can borrow two to four passes for some of the city's most popular cultural institutions, such as MoMA, The Met, and The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

    Related: Yes, These 20 Weird and Wacky Museums Actually Exist


  11. Gardening Equipment

    Gardening Equipment

    The Arlington Public Library in Virginia has a special collection housed in The Shed. During the gardening season, library cardholders age 18 or older can borrow a shovel, rake, wheelbarrow, or any number of other gardening tools, for a week at a time. 

    Related: 10 Good Things Your Town May Give You for Free


  12. Streaming Movies

    Streaming Movies

    Lots of people are accustomed to checking out e-books and e-audiobooks from their local libraries. But did you know that many also let you stream videos? Services like OverDrive and Kanopy allow patrons from libraries like the Madison Public Library in Wisconsin and the Phoenix Public Library in Arizona to stream movies, TV series, documentaries, and more. Move over, Netflix!


  13. Cooking Equipment

    Cooking Equipment

    Several libraries around the country lend out cooking equipment. For instance, the Keokuk Public Library in Iowa has a collection of cake pans, any of which you can check out for a week at a time with your library card.

    Related: 10 Smart Ways to Snag Free Stuff for Your Home


  14. Digital Magazines

    Digital Magazines

    Sure, most people know that libraries have periodicals sections where you can read the latest issue of a magazine or newspaper. In many cases, you can even check out older copies the way you do books. But the Delaware Division of Libraries gives all library cardholders in the state access to Flipster, a digital magazine database that offers a large selection of magazine titles—for free—right from your digital devices. So, go ahead and get rid of your subscriptions, and save yourself some money.


  15. People


    Perhaps the most interesting "collection" you might get access to at the public library is a Human Library. The Human Library project was developed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2000. In essence, a Human Library is an event, hosted by an institution like a library, and the “books” are people with far-ranging life experiences, many of whom challenge typical stereotypes and social expectations. Many libraries, including the Chicago Library, regularly host Human Library events, where “real people are on loan to readers” and “difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered.” 


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