Libraries have always been a paradise for bookworms. But as public life emerges once again, it’s important to remember that reading material is far from the only free resource your local branch has to offer. “Libraries are truly a treasure trove,” explains Kate Patterson, Director of Communications at the San Francisco Public Library. “No matter what one is interested in, we have it.” Here are some of the services you won’t want to miss out on, and they won’t cost you a penny.
If you’ve been meaning to pick up a new skill, look no further than your local library. There, you can find an array of in-person and online classes. For example, at the San Diego Public Library, you can learn how to crochet, play chess, or even repair your bicycle. While course offerings differ depending on the branch, many libraries across the country also provide yoga classes, music lessons, and writers’ workshops. Subjects can range from practical to whimsical, so whether you want to learn to code or learn to salsa dance, check your library’s programming schedule before you pay for classes elsewhere.
Musical concerts, theatrical performances, author talks, film screenings—if you haven’t taken advantage of the events at your local library yet, it’s time to start. The New York Public Library hosts over 93,000 free events annually all over the city. In addition to on-site events, some libraries offer passes to local museums, theaters, or other cultural destinations. And many libraries themselves host exhibits of art, rare books, local historical artifacts, and more.
Books aren’t the only items available for check out at the library. In Burlington, Vermont, you can borrow everything from a garment steamer to a fake human skull. Their extensive “Library of Things” also includes a power drill, a telescope, and a set of bongo drums. The Keokuk Library in Iowa has a considerable collection of cake pans available, and Texas’ Dallas Library offers fishing poles you can take to the nearby lake. If you’ve always wanted to grow your own food, many libraries across the nation also participate in seed-lending, and staff can teach you how to plant and cultivate your garden.
Have you been putting off filing your taxes or renewing your passport? The library can help with that, too. Whether you need legal aid, a health screening, or a social worker, libraries often partner with organizations that can provide these resources free of charge. If you are job hunting, your library will be able to help you with your resume and interview skills. In addition to assisting with individual services, libraries are community centers that often adapt to fit the needs of the places they serve—in Baltimore, the library has responded to the opioid epidemic by offering classes on how to administer Narcan in case of an overdose.
Podcasting equipment, genealogy databases, sewing machines—the resources are countless. Libraries both rural and urban have started lending out mobile wi-fi hotspots, as well as offering streaming services for movies, music, audiobooks, and eBooks. Additionally, many libraries in the U.S. are going “Fine Free,” to eliminate charges for overdue materials and ensure the library remains accessible to all. Whether you’re a long-time patron or applying for your first library card, your local branch probably offers more than you realize. Stop by and discover all that’s waiting for you. –Cora Womble-Miesner
This article originally appeared in BUST's Winter 2021/2022 print edition. Subscribe today!