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10 Things That Are Free at Public Libraries

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The libraries of today are so much more than dusty shelves and librarians who shush you.

Dee Culbertson, director of the Madison Public Library in Madison, Ohio, points out that libraries are rapidly becoming cultural centers with access to everything imaginable — even if you don’t actually visit the library:

“We love that our patrons can check out everything from a character-shaped cake pan to driving cones from our library. They can use the same library card to access free online resources — including LinkedIn Learning, the Sony music catalog, streaming video and more. The library’s not just about books anymore.”

So, before you spend money on a subscription or a one-time purchase, call your local library.

Following are examples of the varied items you can check out and the services you can access for free through libraries.

1. Streaming music

woman sitting on a yoga mat
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Before you pay (or continue paying) for a subscription to a music service like Spotify or Amazon Music Unlimited, find out if your local library offers free access to such a service.

Freegal Music, for example, is a music streaming service available through participating libraries. Its catalog includes 15 million songs from more than 40,000 music labels across more than 100 countries.

Hoopla, a service that offers access to various types of free media through participating institutions, also has a music collection.

2. Streaming video

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For years, it’s been possible to check out DVDs and Blu-ray discs from your local library. But you might even get free access to streaming services courtesy of your library membership.

For example, if your library partners with the streaming service Kanopy, you can access thousands of commercial-free films from the comfort of your home. Visit Kanopy’s website to find out if your library participates, or ask your library if it offers access to any streaming video services.

Hoopla is another option for movies and TV shows.

3. Electronic publications

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Looking for a magazine, newspaper or a book to read on your mobile device? Your library card might give you access.

Find out if your library offers access to apps such as Flipster, which is for digital magazines; OverDrive, which is for e-books and audiobooks; or Hoopla, which also offers audiobooks and comics. As long as you have the right login credentials for such an app, you generally can download or otherwise read various publications for a set period of time, free of charge.

Many libraries also now have digital newspaper subscriptions. So, if you’re looking for online access, ask your local library which newspapers it subscribes to and if library cardholders can access them online.

4. Online courses

Female manager using laptop
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LinkedIn Learning offers its catalog of online courses free to patrons of participating libraries. So, ask your library if it partners with LinkedIn Learning or similar services.

5. Self-improvement classes

Senior Student
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Check to see what types of self-improvement classes and seminars are offered through your local library. You might be surprised to discover that you can learn about budgeting, take foreign language lessons and practice using technology at the library for free.

6. Attraction passes

Penguins at the New England Aquarium
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Nancy Selig of Milton, Massachusetts, was thrilled to discover that the Milton Public Library in that Boston suburb offers free passes to museums and other attractions in Boston. The current options range from the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art to the New England Aquarium and Zoo New England.

It’s also possible to find free passes to museums and other local attractions at other public libraries around the country. Check your library’s website or ask a librarian.

7. 3-D printing

Child using a 3D printer
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Dee Culbertson, of the Madison, Ohio, library, points out that some libraries are becoming makers’ laboratories. The Madison Public Library offers 3-D printing and even laser engraving.

Many libraries have 3-D printers, which can allow you to try out this technology — or even print out simple household items, like a spoon or a phone case, at a discount.

If you want access to cutting-edge technology but are not ready to buy it yet, call your local library. See what is available there.

8. Party supplies

chocolate fountain
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Throwing a party and need supplies? “Our library has those things available for loan,” says Culbertson, the library director in Madison, Ohio.

Some libraries offer access to bakeware, fondue pots, pasta makers, chocolate fountains and even large coffee makers, says Culbertson.

These items are often too pricey to buy for a one-off event, but your library might have a stash of nontraditional items you can borrow.

9. Co-working space

Boston Public Libraries
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Free Wi-Fi in libraries, along with quiet spaces, can provide you with a place to do your homework or even work on your business in peace — without the price tag that comes with renting a desk at a shared workspace.

10. Meeting rooms

Group Meeting
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Looking for a place to hold meetings? Some libraries will let you reserve meeting rooms for free, especially if you are part of a nonprofit or similar type of group. Check with your library if you’re hard-pressed to find a meeting place for your organization.

11. Babysitting

Children reading at a library
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Maybe you shouldn’t actually view your public library as a babysitter. However, if you’re looking for something for your toddler or elementary-age child to do — and you’re looking for a little sanity — the library might just be a gift.

Check to see if your library offers after-school programming or clubs that can keep the kids occupied.

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