While libraries started as a place to borrow books, they’ve evolved into much more. And all the offerings from your local library, used correctly, can add up to some serious savings back in your pocket.
Interested? See if your local library carries some of these twenty-eight items:
Obviously, you can pick up books at your local library, which means that you don’t need to spend money on books ever again. But don’t just think of the library as a place to check out chapter books for the kids and romance novels for your reading pleasure. At the library, you’ll also find books on everything from history to home repair, from parenting to plant-based dieting.
The library is also a fabulous place to save money on books for school. High school and college students alike can find many of the books they need at the local library for free, especially books for literature classes. (Just reserve your book ahead of time to make sure you get it when you need it!)
2. Audio books
What better way to regain some otherwise-wasted time than to “read” a book on your commute or while you work out? Most public libraries now carry a collection of audio books on CD. And many libraries nationwide now use services like Overdrive, which lets you check out audiobooks on your phone or another device.
Before you spend money on a new book for your Kindle, see if your local library carries a copy. Many libraries have access to large, shared collections of audiobooks and ebooks, which can run on a variety of reading devices. Again, many libraries now use the Overdrive app, which gives you access to tons of ebooks, as well. You can read them on your phone or even kick them over to your Kindle device.
Redbox has almost doubled its prices recently, and Netflix is getting more expensive, too. Save your $2.50 on Friday night by renting a movie from the local library. Most libraries are excellent at stocking Blockbusters and new releases, so you don’t have to wait long to see that flick you’ve been dying to check out. Again, this can work best if you reserve your movies ahead of time. Most libraries make this simple with an online interface.
Don’t pay for a pricey magazine subscription before you check out your library’s archives. Many public libraries offer a wide range of magazines–from popular glossies to hobby-specific mags. Sometimes you can’t take the magazines home. But libraries also tend to offer quiet, comfortable places to relax and read a few articles.
Again, most public libraries keep a collection of up-to-date local, regional, and national newspapers. To stay on top of the latest stories, just check out your local library’s newspapers once or twice a week.
Considering downloading a new album, but not sure you’ll love it? Check your local library for the CD. Most libraries offer a large collection of music of all sorts, and you can rent CDs for a set amount of time. This is also a great way to expose yourself to new sounds–without paying a hefty price.
Some libraries also offer services like Freegal Music, which lets you download a certain number of songs per week–all for free.
If you only need internet occasionally, consider nixing the internet bill altogether in favor of your library. Today’s high-tech libraries usually offer Wi-Fi service for card holders. So you can take your laptop to access the web, or use one of the library’s computers.
Don’t have a computer of your own? No problem! Your library has you covered. Instead of buying a computer for work, school, or personal web browsing, sign up for computer time at the library. It’s free and easy, and library computers are bound to have all the basic programs you need. At some libraries, you can even print off documents for a small fee.
10. Job hunting resources
Looking for a job or a new job? Public libraries often offer free job hunting and career resources. Librarians may help you boost your marketable skills with typing and computing courses, or they can help you research specific jobs and educational programs. Many libraries also offer free career resources, including long lists of great employment websites.
11. Research help
Need help researching local businesses to market your freelance services to? Looking for information on your family tree? Want to write a stellar paper for a college course? Look no further than your local library!
Research librarians specialize in finding the information you need to succeed. And most libraries also have access to special databases that give you information on everything from local businesses to decades-old news stories to peer-reviewed scientific studies.
12. Special events
Local libraries help you connect with your community and your family through (usually free!) special events. Many libraries host cultural events like Christmas carol sing-a-longs, Easter egg hunts, and Kwanzaa celebrations.
Your library may also offer kid-centered events. These are a great way to while away family time on the weekends without dropping a fortune. Our own downtown library, the biggest branch in Indianapolis, has a great kids’ play area. We love spending rainy Sunday afternoons there. (Bonus: The kids aren’t home wrecking the house!)
13. Toddler time
Stay-at-home parents, in particular, tend to love toddler and preschooler story times at the local library. These story times help kids socialize and get used to the classroom-like activity of reading in a large group. But they often include play time, so parents can relax and chat while kids enjoy some time away from home.
14. Museum admission
Many libraries partner with other local attractions–museums, theaters, and the like–to reduce admission prices for library card holders. Ask your library if a library card can get you a reduced (or free!) price at attractions like these. If so, this is a great way to save money on family entertainment you might otherwise be unable to afford.
15. Performing arts
Plenty of libraries host free or very affordable performing arts programs for kids. These programs are a great way for kids to experience the stage while building self-confidence.
Other libraries offer free-admission adult performing arts events. These are a fantastic way to experience live theater without the high costs.
16. Personal development workshops
Looking to brush up on your Microsoft Excel skills, get better at public speaking, or take control of your health? Check out your library’s workshop offerings. These workshops are often put on by local experts, businesses, and non-profit organizations, or by knowledgeable librarians themselves. My local library system recently launched a new series of classes on coding. It’s a fantastic way to be introduced to highly marketable skills.
17. Fun classes
Don’t just look to the library to brush up on professional skills or health knowledge. Check out your library’s offerings for fun hobby classes, too. Many libraries host writers’ guilds, offer craft and hobby classes, or even offer art classes for kids and adults, alike.
18. Book discussion groups
For a fun way to meet new people and strike up some interesting conversations, check out your library’s book discussion groups. Many libraries will host a discussion once a month, focusing on one or more books, in particular. Discussion groups are a free, fun way to get out of the house and enjoy yourself.
19. Celebrity events
Local libraries are always on the lookout for local celebrities–from published authors and poets to well-known speakers and entertainers–to give speeches and workshops. Check your library calendar for admission to these interesting events.
It’s true! Some libraries actually rent out tools–from basic wrenches and hammers to complicated power tools. Before you head off to the hardware store to drop a couple hundred bucks on a tool set you’ll only use twice, see if your library offers free tool rental.
Libraries are great places to expose yourself (and your kids!) to art of all sorts. Many offer rotating displays by local artists and children, which are fun to check out on a regular basis. Some libraries even keep a lendable collection of artwork that you can check out for a couple of months at a time. Redecorate away!
So your middle schooler is interested in playing the trumpet, but isn’t sure she’ll like it? Ask if your library has an instrument lending service. More libraries are starting services like these, which let you experience an instrument for a while before dropping the money to buy one or rent one longer-term from a music store.
23. Hobby supplies
Non-perishable hobby supplies are one more interesting thing you can rent from a library. Some libraries rent out fishing poles, while others offer scrapbooking stamps and Cricut cartridges. Before you buy new supplies for your hobby (or a hobby you’d like to try for the first time) check with your local library.
24. Cooking tools
Recently, some innovative libraries have begun checking out special baking pans and other cooking supplies. So if you want to make your kid a Dora the Explorer or Winnie the Pooh birthday cake for one year only, see if your library offers cake pans before you spend $25 on that one from Wilton that you’ll use exactly once.
25. iPads, Xboxes, and more
As libraries focus more on technology, many are offering free rentals of gadgets like Xboxes, iPads, and even karaoke machines. These are great for trying out a gadget you’ve been considering buying, or for getting a gadget for free that you only need for a short period of time. (Like when you need a karoake machine for your next party!)
Kids tire of new toys relatively quickly, so what better way to keep your kids engaged than by renting toys from the library? As a bonus, many libraries that do allow patrons to check out toys carry a large supply of educational, motor-skill-building toys for tots.
27. Community gardening
Community gardens are popping up everywhere as the “eat local” movement really takes root. You might be able to get in on a community garden through your local library! Some libraries with extra-large plots of unused land are offering their extra space for families who want to garden but don’t have a large enough yard.
One more unusual green option from local libraries: seeds. Some libraries are beginning to offer seed “rental” programs. Families check out a packet of seeds, and then commit to harvesting some seeds from the fruit or vegetables they grow to bring back to the library. It’s a self-sustaining way to bring more green into all our lives.
29. Health trackers
Do you want to see how healthy your habits are? See if your local library rents out health trackers like FitBits or even blood pressure monitors. These days, more and more libraries are helping their patrons become healthier with equipment like this. Sometimes you just have to sign an agreement to release the data from the monitors for scientific study purposes.
30. Science kits
Some libraries have weird scientific collections you can borrow to study. For instance, you might get access to rocks for geological studies or even to animal skeletons. Some also lend scientific equipment or science experiment kits for kids.
31. Board games
Our local library has a huge board game collection. You can’t take the games home with you, but they host a weekly game night where you can try them out. As a board game playing family, it’s great to be able to see if we like a game before we drop money on it.
32. Maker spaces
With the craze surrounding 3D printers and everything they can do, more libraries are offering access to maker spaces. They might help kids learn how to use these high-tech tools to make new things. Or they may just set you loose in the library’s tech area to make whatever suits your fancy.
33. Tax services
We’ve talked elsewhere about how to get free tax help. But libraries are a fabulous resource in this area. Many have their own programs or play host to the existing programs through the federal government or the AARP.
34. Meeting spaces
If you’re a freelancer, small business owner, or student, you know how important it can be to find a place to collaborate with others. Libraries often offer this type of space for free. Even our tiny neighborhood branch has a couple of quiet rooms. They’re great for studying solo or for scheduling meetings with small groups of people. And as libraries have modernized, more are allowing patrons to have drinks and snacks in the library. Because clearly I am not going to any meetings without my coffee in hand.
35. Individual with advice
Public libraries in larger metro areas have always been a hub for the homeless and housing insecure. These days, more libraries are serving these populations as part of their mission. Your local library may have a social worker on staff who can connect you to resources during tough times. Libraries are also increasingly offering times for people to talk with others who have valuable advice and experience to offer. This may include nurses, entrepreneurs, or local individuals who just know where to go for help in your area.
Make the Most of Your Library
While most libraries won’t offer all 35 of these items for free, most will offer at least a good selection of free items, events, and classes for library patrons. Here are a few quick tips to take full advantage of your library’s money-saving offerings:
- Get a library card. The first step, obviously, is to get a library card. They’re nearly always free, but you usually have to bring your drivers’ license and proof of address–just so they know you’re paying taxes in their county or city.
- Ask a librarian. If you aren’t sure what your local library does or does not offer, don’t hesitate to ask. And if the library doesn’t offer a program that you’d like to see, suggest it! You might even head up a committee to start that particular program to benefit your whole community.
- Use inter-library loan. If you live in a larger city or county, chances are that you can actually check out items and visit programs from a range of inter-connected county or city libraries. In systems like these, you can often use an inter-library loan system for free. So if your small, outlying library building doesn’t have the book, CD, or movie you’re looking for, you may be able to get it shipped straight to your library from the larger library downtown.
- Check the calendar. Most libraries have an online calendar that will give you great insight into upcoming events and ongoing programs. Check the calendar frequently to be sure you’re making the most of your library!
- Schedule library days. Going to the library two or three times a month is the best way to take advantage of its rotating resources–like newspapers and magazines–and to remember to always take book back on time!
The bottom line is that local libraries have a whole host of offerings beyond just books. Too many people spend money on things they could get from the library for free. So be sure you check out your local library before spending a dime on any of these things!