In honor of National Library Week (April 4th – April 10th), I thought I’d review one of my favorite free things to do: go to the library. When I began my frugal journey a few years ago, I also began frequenting the library because I couldn’t buy every book I wanted to read. The library isn’t just for books, it’s so much more and can open a whole world of experiences and information for free, and I’m going to discuss that today.
Table of Contents
12. Computer Lessons
15. Museum Passes
1. Get a Library Card
To unlock the power of your local library, the first thing you’ll need to do is apply for a library card. This process is relatively simple. All you’ll need is a form of picture identification like your license or passport and a piece of mail to prove you live within the area of that library. You’ll fill out a short form, and then you’ll receive your library card. You can also get your children a library card.
2. Check Out Books
The first time you use your library card, there may be a limit on how many books you can check out. This limit is so the library can ensure you’ll bring back their books as promised. After the first time, you’ll be able to borrow a lot of books (some libraries even allow up to 75!). Books are a fantastic gateway to information and just about any fictional land you can imagine. Books are a great way to start down the DIY path to expand your frugal tool belt. Naturally, I checked out just about the entire personal finance section when I set foot in my library again as an adult.
Books aren’t the only print materials libraries have to offer though, you can also check out magazines and keep up with your favorites for free. The offerings will vary by each library.
4. Library by Mail
Can’t make it to the library but want physical books? Some libraries also offer “library by mail” services to send readers books directly to your home for free. The number of books is limited, but this allows you to access books. They will mail the books in a reusable envelope, and you simply ship them back by the due date.
5. Inter-Library Loans
There will be times when you want to read a particular book, and your home library doesn’t carry it; an inter-library loan can solve this. The library can locate your desired book within a network of libraries in the area and request the book for you. You may have to wait a little longer or go to another library to get the book, but it’s like multiplying the books available to you.
6. Request New Books
If your library is still unable to locate the book (this can be common when the book is newer), you can request them to buy a copy and add it to their collection. The library is interested in carrying books people want so don’t be afraid to ask.
7. Check Out e-Books
Libraries don’t just offer physical books; many are beginning to offer e-books. The e-book selection can be a little limited but using e-books is a great way to get your hands on a book without waiting until the library is open. (I can vouch for this, I’ve been able to check out cookbooks in the wee hours of the morning.)
The three leading apps I use for e-books are Overdrive, Libby, and Hoopla. It may vary which app your library uses, but you should be able to find that out on your library’s web page. Download whichever app your library recommends, add your library card number, find the book(s) you’d like to check out, check out the book(s) or get on the waiting list for the next copy. (Unfortunately, even though the books are digital, most libraries only have so many licenses to each book, so you may have to wait up to two weeks.)
Libraries also have audiobooks you can borrow through the apps mentioned above. Audiobooks are a fantastic way to make the most out of a long commute, and some people prefer/swear by them over physical books.
9. Rent Movies & TV Shows
The first time I perused the movie shelves at my local library, I was shocked at the number of movies and tv shows available. (This is how my wife and I watched almost all of Game of Thrones!) You may not find the hottest movies at your local Redbox or on Netflix, but the library’s collection is often pretty impressive. Renting DVDs from the library is a great way to break up boring winter months by watching a new show you haven’t seen yet.
10. Streaming Service
Before you get all annoyed about the limit on DVD borrowing, I also want you to know that you can check out this content DIGITALLY too! That’s right; your library may also have its own streaming rights. My library has some movies on Hoopla, but they also have them on Kanopy. The selections may vary by the library but again, a great way to get your hands on content when the library isn’t open.
11. Access to Computers
Even in the twenty-first century, not everyone owns a computer. The library helps close that gap by having a bank of computers you can sign up to use. Computers are a great way to access even more information. Many libraries subscribe to additional resources like online encyclopedias (previously those large, heavy books mom and dad would buy a set of for the kids).
12. Computer Lessons
Not sure how to use the computer? Your library may offer lessons for that too! My local library allows you to schedule one-hour sessions to learn computer skills.
The library also has an incredible collection of music CDs and various formats of books on tape. So if you’re not a big reader, perhaps you can try listening to a book instead? My stepson loves the books on tape for kids, they look like little video game cartridges, and you just plug headphones into them and start listening.
14. Book a Conference Room
Need a place to hold an important meeting without paying for a hotel conference space? Your local library often has a few conference rooms in various sizes you can book.
15. Museum Passes
Check if your library offers free museum passes, the selection will vary. You simply borrow the museum pass like you would a book and take your family to your desired museum free of charge.
Other Library Services
It’s often surprising to people that the library offers more than books and DVDs. The library often provides free lunch to kids in the summer, various reading programs to children (like storytimes), special guest speakers, free things like seeds for your garden, and mine even has a 3D printer! Excellent, and all for my favorite price of FREE.