If you think of your library as just a depot for books and DVDs, you might be vastly underestimating its potential. Beyond the book shelves, your local library has a lot more to offer on both the educational and entertainment fronts, and in ways that can save you money.
One woman, Melissa Uhles, estimates she saved $2,000 in a year thanks to her local library. She shared her story with The Penny Hoarder recently.
We did a little research of our own and found that the library is chock-full of freebies, events, programs and benefits that can help your family save some money.
Here are 10 things you might be surprised to learn you can get from the library for free:
1. Books (Of Course)
This one is super obvious but it’s worth mentioning: If you’re constantly adding new books to your Amazon shopping cart, you’re likely spending a lot of money on reading material. You don’t have to!
Most libraries today offer ebooks and audiobooks in addition to traditional paperbacks. If you’ve got an eReader, there’s almost no reason why you should pay for a book ever again.
Plus, there’s this amazing browser extension that will automatically find the book you want to buy at your local library.
2. Ancestry Data
Want to build out your family tree, but not keen on paying to access the genealogy websites? Check with your librarian, as many libraries have access to popular sites, and share that access with card holders who want to do ancestral research. In fact, some libraries, like the Palatine Library in Illinois, offer free classes to teach you how to use sites like Ancestry.com. Libraries oftentimes can link you with a genealogist, too.
Whether you’re an aspiring astronomer or a stargazing hobbyist, you might be able to rent a telescope from your library. The Aldrich Astronomical Society, for example, has placed telescopes at 80-some libraries throughout Massachusetts. Libraries in St. Louis, New Hampshire and Longmont, Colo. have similar programs.
4. American Girl Dolls
Not sure you want to shell out $115 for an American Girl Doll? Some libraries are allowing patrons to rent the dolls. This actually makes quite a bit of sense; it was a book series that inspired the American Girl Doll line after all. The Arlington Public Library in Virginia has dolls available for rent in addition to the books, plus the library has a special history exhibit dedicated to the American Girl collection.
5. Board Games
Check in with the children’s or young adult section of your library to see if board games are available to check out. While many libraries host game days, some will actually let you borrow the games. The West Slope Community Library in Portland began experimenting with this a few years back and found that patrons loved checking out the board games as a way to reboot family traditions or game nights.
6. Museum Passes
The library is already a fun and free way to spend an afternoon with your family. But did you know you can get free or discounted museum passes through some libraries? For example, the Boston Public Library’s museum pass program can get patrons free access to the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science and the USS Constitution Museum, plus deeply discounted passes to several more museums and attractions. The Seattle Public Library has a similar program.
Tickets to these attractions can range from $10 to $75 per visit, so the savings you’ll see thanks to your local library are legit!
7. Movies And TV Shows
Forget that pricey cable or Netflix subscription.When you’re not reading all the books you’ve checked out, consider watching some of the movies and TV shows available for rent through your library for free. If you’re willing to cut the cord, you can save more than $600 a year not paying for cable.
Get this: the walls of your home could be turned into rotating art exhibits thanks to libraries’ art rental programs. The Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan actually has an information page on the “unusual” things you can borrow from the library. Included on this list is are art prints, which the library suggests checking out if you’re on a budget but still want to liven up your living space.
9. Home Tools
Before you spend money on tools you might only need for a single weekend project, check to see if your local library has any available to check out. Ann Arbor’s library, for example, will rent you everything from an LED projector to an indoor air quality meter. The library in Oakland has a wide range of tools, including those you need for carpentry, electric, gardening and plumbing projects. If your library doesn’t have tools for checkout, it’s worth taking a look at Local Tools to see what’s available for borrowing in or around your city.
10. Arts And Crafts Kits
If your kids love doing art projects, visit with your local library to see if they have craft kits that can be checked out. The Topeka and Shawnee County Library in Kansas, for example, has pre-arranged kits with rubber stamps, cross-stitch tutorials and embroidery lessons bundled up inside them. This can be a great way to gauge your child’s interest in a new hobby before buying expensive supplies that might only be used once or twice.
11. Events And Workshops
Check your local library’s events calendar. Chances are, there’s something to do nearly every day this month. From lectures to workshops to storytime, the library can be your source of free entertainment all summer.
12. Meeting And Work Space
Save the $5 you’d spend on a cup of coffee and a snack at a coffee shop and head to the library instead (the parking is likely free there too!) You can get your work done in an air conditioned, comfy spot at the library without paying a dime.
Plus, if you’re a freelancer and you ever need to hold a meeting with clients or your fellow employees, reserve a room in the library rather than paying for a meeting room at a coworking space.
[h/t: The Penny Hoarder]