It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the library for the books they provide. But even I didn’t realize all the free resources and activities they have until I spent a week actively seeking out all they had to offer. I was surprised at how much I found and had to pinch myself often to remind myself that it was all free or extremely low cost. Of course, I pay taxes to get these benefits, but since I have to pay taxes regardless, I’m happy to get something in return.
27 Free Things at the Library
I live in a large metropolitan area, not a major metropolis, but a good-sized city. If you live in a smaller area, your library may not have as many offerings, but they probably have many things that would be of interest to you. Your best friend is the library’s calendar of events if they publish one. Pick one up and see what interests you. Below is a list of 27 free things I found at my library.
1. Free Books
This is the primary reason for the library’s existence. Most libraries offer free checkout privileges for residents or there may be a small charge to obtain a card. If you live outside of the area the library serves, you may have to pay a small fee for a card, but it’s likely to be far less than the cost of books.
Our library now offers audiobooks on tape and CD, in addition to printed books. Great for long car trips or the visually impaired.
Many libraries offer DVDs for check out. They may not be the newest releases, and you may have to get on a waiting list for popular titles, but it can be a great way to get some free entertainment.
Just like DVDs, many libraries offer audio CDs. It can be a great way to listen to some new and different music that you wouldn’t ordinarily try.
5. Book Sales
When the library cleans out its old materials and unneeded donations, they sell those books to the public to raise funds for new materials. Prices vary, but it’s not uncommon to find hardbacks for under $5 and paperbacks for under $1. Some sales even have clearance days when you pay a flat fee for a bag or box of books.
6. Internet Access
Our library offers free internet access, either on their terminals or over a WiFi network that you can use with your own laptop. Some sites are, necessarily, blocked, but the vast majority of sites are accessible. Great if you don’t want to pay for Internet access at home.
7. Computer Access
Beyond Internet access, the library offers computers loaded with Microsoft Office applications and other utilities. They are free to use, and you only pay per page if you need to print something. If you don’t use a computer that often and don’t want to own one, this is a great resource.
8. Free Magazines
The library dumps their old magazines into a bin where anyone can take them. They also allow patrons to bring in their old magazines for others to take. This can be a great way to stock up on some reading material for free.
9. Book Clubs
You can find a book club for almost any interest, from fiction to non-fiction. Some are narrowly focused such as those dedicated to certain authors, genres, or non-fiction subjects. At my library, patrons are encouraged to request a book club or offer to start one if one doesn’t exist that suits their interest.
10. Art Exhibitions
Our library hosts free exhibitions of art, collections, and other talents of residents. This is fun to look at and a great way to gain exposure for your work if you have something to exhibit.
11. Free Bookmarks
Our library gives away free bookmarks. They change seasonally or are printed with upcoming special events.
12. Coupons to Local Attractions and Businesses
Many businesses leave coupons and coupon books at the checkout counter or with the “local interest” materials in the lobby. These are free for patrons to take and are often high dollar coupons.
13. Free Classes
There are all kinds of classes at the library, including language courses, writing classes, how-to courses, business and finance classes, and computer classes. There are also other, more specialized classes, throughout the year offering varying levels of instruction.
14. Children’s Entertainment
Games, puppet shows, arts and crafts, story times, scavenger hunts and other entertainment are available for children. Some things, such as arts and crafts, may require a small fee for materials, but almost everything is free.
15. Literacy Classes
If you or your child need help learning to read and write, the library has a staff of volunteers trained in literacy education that are willing to help.
16. Reference Assistance
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Most reference librarians are very good at helping you track down obscure works, facts, or statistics. At some libraries, you don’t even have to leave your house as they offer online access to a reference librarian. Their help is free.
17. Interlibrary Loan
Many libraries have partnerships with other libraries and can request books from other systems for their patrons to use. At our library, we can get books from almost any university or library system in the country. Depending on the library, there may be a small fee for this service, but it is much less than the cost of the book.
18. Free Access to Popular Databases
As a library patron, I’m can use online databases such as LexisNexis, EBSCO, and PsychInfo and search the archives of major newspapers and encyclopedias for free. The library pays the subscription fee for these services. If not for the library, I would have to pay.
19. Expert Assistance
Sometimes the library brings in various experts to help with problems. During tax season, accountants and tax preparers volunteer their time to help out. Sometimes medical professionals and lawyers come in to answer questions or offer free advice. Other subject matter experts are available during other times of the year.
20. Lectures, Storytelling Festivals, and Speaker Series’
Authors, important citizens, professors, artists, storytellers, and other notable people are often invited to speak on topics of interest or to promote their endeavors. These may be one time appearances or ongoing series’ covering a variety of topics.
21. Free Movies
No, they’re not first run movies, but the library frequently offers free screenings. Most of the offerings are movies based on books, but sometimes they offer other movies just for entertainment.
22. Free Concerts
Local bands and musicians sometimes play at library hosted concerts. The music may have a theme, such as music from a literary period or the selections may be holiday based.
23. Summer Reading Programs and Contests
In the summer, the library offers reading programs for both adults and kids. Readers enter weekly prize drawings and a drawing for an end of summer grand prize. Kids also get other incentives like stickers and gift certificates to local book stores.
24. Tutoring and Homework Help
Students can get free help with their homework or receive additional tutoring. The library keeps a volunteer staff of subject experts with teaching experience to help kids navigate their schoolwork.
This free service brings books to those who cannot get out on their own.
26. Reading Lists
When I don’t know what to read next, or I’m looking for additional books on a subject, nothing beats a ready-made reading list to spark my interest. Some lists are “staff picks,” and others are “If you liked X, try Y,” suggestion lists. There are also lists for every fiction genre and non-fiction topic.
27. Teen Activities
Many libraries offer social activities just for teens such as book clubs, classes, pizza nights, karaoke, and games. It’s a safe environment for teens to meet other teens.
No matter the size of your library system, you’re likely to find many free or low-cost resources that will interest you. A library is one of the best benefits you have as a citizen of a particular community, and I encourage you to take advantage of whatever they may offer. If you’re able, consider giving back donations of money, time, or books you no longer want. Your gifts will enable your library to expand its offerings and reach more people.
Does your library offer any other free things? Share with us in the comments below!