What comes to mind when you think of the library? Maybe you get a nostalgic feeling for the smell of lots and lots of books. Or maybe you remember going to story time with your kids. Maybe you even think of signing up for summer reading programs. You can still find all of those things at libraries. But most have also adapted for a digital world and may now offer everything from homework help, to career services, to author events, and musical programs. Some even let you use 3D printers. Your library doesn’t have to be large to offer expanded services, as small libraries often have access to bigger collections and online services that extend what they provide in branches.
Here are 12 ways you and your kids can use your library card to learn new skills, be entertained, and best of all, save money:
1. Get help with homework. No time to sit down with your child and help with homework? Realize you’ve gotten rusty at solving algebra equations or can’t quite remember the details of historical events? Before you ask for the name of a private instructor, check out online tutoring at your library, which may also provide access to subscription research databases for free.
2. Use professional-grade equipment to create media. Want to create your own videos or podcasts? You may be able to check out the same types of microphones and audio and video recorders that professionals use.
3. Find a job. Looking to land a new job? The library may be able to help you brush up on job search, resume writing, or interview skills. You’ll probably find guidebooks in the stacks on these subjects, but you may also be able to sign up for a workshop or get the help of an individual librarian.
4. Use computers. It’s everyone’s nightmare: Your computer or printer dies and you have a big project due in a couple of days. What do you do? At the library, you can go online, work on documents, and print out needed information. You may also find free classes on common software programs and other computer support.
5. Test-drive technology. Want to see the difference between a Kindle and an iPad so you can decide which one you like best? Libraries often have these kinds of devices available to check out. They may also have specialized software installed on some of their computers, like Photoshop or other design programs. You can do all of your work on library computers, or try before you buy.
6. Read magazines and newspapers online for free. Ever grabbed a magazine while checking out at the grocery store only to put it back when you see the price of a single edition? Or maybe you want to read your local newspaper, but the subscription cost is too high. Through your library’s subscription, you can often use your library card to access online issues and read at your convenience.
7. Be entertained. Going on vacation? Check out audiobooks and listen to a story while on a car trip. Look for DVDs that range from popular movies and television series to documentaries, how-to lessons, and more. You may even be able to legally download music and add it to your permanent collection for free through a library subscription.
8. Find your roots. Services that allow you access to census information, military records, and lists of births, marriages, and deaths often require expensive yearly subscriptions. Instead, find the ancestors you are looking for by using library subscriptions, which are available to use as often or as little as you have time for.
9. Get books from anywhere. Through interlibrary loan, you can request books your own library doesn’t own. That can come in handy when you’re looking up information that may not be widely available in your area, such as old or rare books, reference books, local histories outside of your community, and more.
10. Attend a program. Most everyone knows about library story times for babies and toddlers. But many libraries these days go beyond those standards and schedule programs that appeal to older kids, teens, and adults. You may find movie screenings, poetry readings, art contests, storytelling shows, tax-return workshops, coding workshops, author readings, and other events.
11. Avoid overdue charges. Are due dates a problem for you? Check out your library’s paperback exchange, where you can take several books at once with no obligation to return them at a certain time. Borrow eBooks, which automatically disappear from your Kindle or iPad on the due date. Also, your library may sell books at bargain prices to raise money and make room on its shelves for new titles.
Best hack of all? Helpful librarians are often eager to introduce you to everything they have to offer. Find one that’s an expert with materials for children, teens, or adults. Ask the librarian how to put a hold on materials, request titles from other libraries, tap into research databases, point you to books similar to the types you like to read, and so much more.
Cindy writes about family life, books, and reading at motherdaughterbookclub.com.
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