Wouldn’t it be great to go somewhere and have access to endless hours of entertainment? To also have, in that same place, cool information about your town, important archives, and occasionally artifacts and exhibits?
What if it’s a place that has the ability to answer any question you’ve ever had about anything? Where you can look up answers yourself, or talk to any of the amazing staff working there and get the information faster?
This magical place exists, my friends—it’s your local library. With just a photo ID and a proof of address, you can give yourself access to all the information you could ever need, and other resources you would never guess you could get for free.
That’s right: for free. Your local library is chock full of things to do and check out at zero cost, so yes, you have to get out of the house to access a few of them, but all you have to worry about is the cost of getting there!
Need some convincing still, or just more details? Here are some of the great free things you can get at your local library right now:
This one is a bit of a given—it is a library after all. But in addition to huge numbers of print books, which can come in normal or large font, and can even be requested from other libraries if your local one doesn’t have a book on hand, libraries today also boast an impressive number of eBooks and audiobooks, all for free with a library card.
All you need is an eReader, and/or an audiobook app that supports your library’s file types (such as Overdrive), and you can be binging books the way you binge TV shows.
Just keep in mind eBooks and audiobooks from the library come with due dates, just like the print books do—you’ll be able to keep your copy for generally about two weeks, then you’ll have to renew your reading material, or let it be available again to other library card holders.
So yes, eBooks and audiobooks might not always be available either. But you can place hold requests, just like with print books, and get the link to download your copy as soon as it’s available, so it’s still an incredibly useful and available service.
DVDs and CDs
Long before streaming, libraries made a go of competing with video and music stores with one big exception—the tapes, DVDs and CDs would be free to check out with a library card.
Sure, the selection might be somewhat more limited and new releases wouldn’t get there as quickly, and sometimes the DVDs or CDs would be scratched and difficult to play. But the movies would be free, and still are free at your local library right now.
Still can’t find that superhero movie you want on Netflix anymore, or want to watch a romantic comedy that’s disappeared from Hulu? Try your local library’s catalog, and go and grab it before your next movie date!
Wi-Fi and places to work
Cafes and coffee shops get all the love when it comes to writers hanging out and working on their novels and screenplays. Your local library also has free Wi-Fi and desks that’ll allow you all the same benefits without baristas glaring at you for only ordering water two hours ago and taking up table space.
The library, instead, is wonderfully quiet, full of tables and desks (which also have outlets available to you), totally surrounds you with reference material, and in the summer, offers free A/C as well.
Libraries also often have spaces you can reserve to work away from other people, or where you can meet with a group and collaborate on a project. Just make sure you reserve rooms in advance if you want them (they go quickly, particularly when students have finals and midterms to worry about during the school year).
Need a computer too? Virtually all libraries have desktops available, and some even have laptops you can rent on site. These devices come with time limits on their use, but they’re still handy for a lot of situations, and they often have printers available for use as well. So libraries make excellent work locations.
Need great stock images that are more historic or natural, or just need to look at famous works of art, or some local maps? Libraries can help with all of that.
The New York Public Library has 200,000 free images you can use for any purpose, and you can download them from your home right now. It also has a collection of 180,000 works of art, literature and performance, many of which are in the public domain, as well as 672,000 items in its digital collection in general.
Peruse any of the items in your home right now, and use the public domain ones for any purposes you can think of. Then perhaps enjoy a collection of coloring pages from world-class libraries and museums, which you can print out and use whenever, also made available through the digitizing efforts of libraries.
And don’t forget to see what similar services your local library has—you may get to see some great old maps of your town, or portraits done by local artists of yore.
Unbelievably, libraries manage to teach classes on various subjects for free to the general public. These classes might be on technology, and how to use it, or how to research family history.
In the case of the D.C. library system, there might even be a class on how to avoid NSA spying. Classes are often divided by age, offering courses to teens and adults to better account for their relative learning levels, and some libraries even offer courses aimed at young children to encourage literacy and basic math skills.
Libraries also frequently offer ESL programs to help those less familiar with English gain fluency. Since these classes are free, they’re aimed at a large audience, so typically they’re designed for serious beginners. If you already know a bit about Excel, taking a class on it at your local library will likely cover what you already know.
But if you’re truly new to a topic like data analytics, or are looking to improve your language skills, libraries are a good resource to get some base knowledge, as the librarians teaching it are trained to help you. Education is why libraries exist, after all. Take advantage of the free, educational experiences you can get.
Activities for children
Encouraging early literacy is good for kids, and great for society at large, as it means a more intelligent generation will come from it. Sending children to free library programs can be great for that, and it can also just be entertaining and fun.
Every library system in the world offers some story time sessions, where librarians or volunteers read aloud to kids of various ages, and encourage them to check out books after, but even more activities can exist.
Some libraries offer programs for families to explore and discover topics like science together, making slime or talking about the water cycle. Some libraries offer arts and crafts sessions once a week.
There are even, occasionally, workshops on local nature, or singing and music (the music happens in a non-reading room, of course!). Check out your local library’s events calendar for some of their offerings, or just ask to meet the children’s librarian.
They’ll be happy to tell you everything they offer for your little ones, at any time of the year (a hint though: summer at libraries can be especially active and fun for kids in your life!).
As mentioned, libraries offer free classes that can give you skills to put on a resume. On top of that, many local libraries have job listings on their website, particularly with local companies that hire often, and some libraries offer programs to provide some basic resume and cover letter critique to those seeking it out.
If you’re looking for work, your local library can be an amazing resource for you. Check out your local library’s site, and ask about it next time you go in for any of its other amazing services and resources.
Some of the most tech-savvy libraries, including college libraries, offer 3-D printers for use. It's all part of what's called the Maker Culture, offering spaces for people to create things that they use or sell.
Check with your library for availability, any associated costs (some libraries offer printing for free but charge for the plastic that is used) and policies. You don't want to get caught printing something that could get you in trouble.
While Wi-Fi is almost always available in libraries, more are offering hotspots for checkout. This gives internet access to people that otherwise don't have it, ensuring that libraries are doing their part to close the digital divide.
Schools sometimes borrow the hotspots for their students, or families will get the devices so the kids can get some homework done. Check with your library before you go get a hotspot, as the devices can have long waiting lists.
A great source of free audiobooks
There are now countless audiobooks online, many of them free. You can listen to classic books, educational books, business books, and many others. We’ve come across a great tool for listening.