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11 Library Freebies Beyond Books

From power tools to museum passes, there are lots of ways to save at your library


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America’s 123,627 libraries offer more than free books. They provide a bevy of activities and services that won’t cost you a dime. 

“The public library is an essential lifeline for older adults,” says Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, president of the American Library Association. “There’s access to computers, digital literacy and opportunities for connections.”​

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The nation’s libraries operate independently, offering their own services beyond books. At one library, you can check out Wi-Fi hot spots and tablets and at another power tools. Some programs are popular across the nation while others are found only in a few regions or communities. Across the board, one thing is true: You get a lot more than books when you whip out your library card, including the following:  ​

1. Free internet

More than 21 million people 65 and older lack broadband internet in their homes, according to a report published by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP’s Aging Connected initiative. Almost all libraries (98 percent) provide free public Wi-Fi access, according to the American Library Association.

2. Take-home Wi-Fi hot spots and tablets

Libraries extend Wi-Fi outside their walls by providing hot spots and devices. About 23 percent of libraries have a take-home Wi-Fi hot spot program. Devices vary based on the library’s budget, size and service area but can include tablets, laptops and mobile hot spots. “Many libraries have tablets designed for older adults that they can check out for six to eight weeks,” Pelayo-Lozada says. “They also come with one-on-one support, Zoom and different apps they can utilize with a mobile hot spot.” 

3. Museum passes

Visiting a museum, aquarium or other cultural establishment often isn’t cheap. To defray some of the cost, many libraries offer free museum passes. The places covered vary by library, but art, history and children’s museums are often on the list. Being flexible is key with this money-saving hack. Availability may be limited, especially if there’s a popular event, so you may not get the exact date or the number of passes you covet. 

4. Memory Cafés

To provide support for the nearly one-third of Americans 65 and older suffering from cognitive impairment, a growing number of libraries operate Memory Cafés. These are free programs for individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other brain disorders. “Some have professionals come in and guide groups through remembering things from their past with music, writing or telling stories, and also increase cognitive awareness through exercise,” Pelayo-Lozada says. “Memory Cafés are becoming much more popular, especially since we are seeing an increase in older adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia.” 

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5. Free streaming services

You may not get Netflix or Disney+ with a library card, but you can access other streaming services for free. Hoopla Digital and Kanopy are two examples of library services that give community members access to TV shows, movies, e-books, documentaries and music. Though the programs may vary, most libraries offer free digital streaming platforms. 

6. Seed libraries

A focus on healthy eating and high food costs has resulted in a growing number of seed swap programs at our nation’s public libraries. Here’s how they work: Community members check out seeds to plant in their gardens. When they harvest their plants, they keep the seeds to return to the library for others to use the following year. Hundreds of libraries offer free access to seeds, according to the American Library Association. 

7. Out-of-the-box borrowing

Power tools, cookware, art, stargazing gadgets and bocce ball sets are only a few examples of the things you can borrow from libraries as they aim to provide everything their communities need. “Lots of libraries have different types of lending libraries where you can check out power tools, sewing machines and baking tins,” Pelayo-Lozada says. “Some have food pantries for those who are experiencing hardships.”

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8. Free Ancestry.com access

If you wonder about your family’s lineage but don’t want to pay $24.99 to $59.99 a month to access Ancestry.com, you may be in luck. Many libraries offer free access to the library version of Ancestry.com. The service is limited and doesn’t include family trees, Ancestry Message Boards, member directories, certain record collections or AncestryDNA. Often the service is only available for in-person users on a library computer or device connected to the library Wi-Fi.

9. Conference room space

Need a conference room for your next book club meeting or want to host a seminar on healthy eating? You can do that and more at the library, and it won’t cost you anything. Many libraries provide meeting rooms and other spaces for public use. 

10. State park passes

Along with museum passes, libraries from New York to California offer patrons free passes to state parks. You can check out the daily park passes like a book, and once you’ve enjoyed your day sightseeing, hiking or simply taking in nature, you return the passes to the library. 

11. Classes and workshops

From seminars on brain health to demonstrations on how to use technology, many library classes and workshops are created with older adults in mind. These can include movies, exercise sessions and mind and wellness programs for free or a nominal fee. “Libraries provide a safe, comfortable, inviting place for all generations to come together,” Pelayo-Lozada says. 

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