You probably think the most valuable cards in your wallet are credit and ATM cards. But remember your library card. These days, the nation’s 9,057 library systems let you check out a lot more than books.
Need a power tool, kayak, 3-D printer or Ninja Turtle-shaped cake pan? Your library might have one to lend you. What about crafting or studio space? It might have you covered there, too. Some libraries provide access to courses on computers or graphic design. Many will let you borrow passes to local attractions such as zoos and museums. Others provide seeds and cuttings to check out. You grow your own, then return seeds or cuttings to share.
Bottom line: If you don’t have a library card, get one. If you do, it might be time to dust it off.
“A library is no longer the ‘shushing’ place you come to only for the books,” says Oliver Sanidas, executive director at the Arapahoe County library system in metro Denver. “We’re moving from the written word to learning through experience. One can be empowered through hands-on learning, be it checking out a GoPro video camera or ... engraving a wine glass with a laser cutter.”
Says Manya Shorr, director of the library system in Fort Worth, Texas, “It’s all about figuring out what a community needs and providing it.” In July, her system launched a mobile WiFi hotspot checkout, a boon for those without in-home Internet service. The system started with 80 devices at four of its 16 branches. Demand was so great (the hotspots can be checked out for three weeks) that in October it expanded the service to 200 devices at eight branches.
The Pikes Peak Library District also offers hotspots for three-week checkouts, iPads and laptops for three hours and eReaders for three weeks.
In the recreation-oriented community of Payson, Utah, the library lends paddleboards and kayaks, including life jackets and car-attachment straps, as well as snowshoes. O’Fallon Public Library in Illinois has 41 fishing poles in its inventory.
New York Public Library’s Riverside Library lets patrons borrow fashion accessories including neckties, a Kenneth Cole briefcase or a Coach handbag for a networking event or job interview. Concord Free Public Library in Massachusetts lends an Orion StarBlast telescope kit with instructions, a constellation guide and headlamp.
Mid-Continent Public Library in Kansas City, Mo., offers educational programming for people who want to start a food truck business. To date, more than 400 would-be entrepreneurs have signed up for workshops in accounting, marketing and licensing, or scheduled one-on-one meetings with a small business specialist. Attendees even come from surrounding states.
Since 1979, California’s Berkeley Public Library has expanded its Tool Lending Library to 3,500 tools. Among the more requested items: weed eaters, extension cords, hedge trimmers and demolition hammers. Libraries in Finney County, Kan., have checked out cake pans of all shapes and sizes for decades.
For those interested in the ukulele, Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative in Tampa, Fla., has 17 of the stringed instruments to take home and strum. Jackson County (Oregon) Library has 30 ukuleles — and a long waiting list.
Hundreds of libraries, including PPLD, offer free access to Lynda.com classes, which normally cost $25 to $30 per month. The 3,000-plus courses include graphic design, 3-D animation, accounting and coding.
Systems nationwide offer passes to local cultural institutions. Look for names such as Museum Pass (Seattle), Culture Pass (New York City) or Discovery Pass (St. Joseph County, Ind.). In Miami, library patrons can check out a pass good for four people to any of 17 institutions, including the zoo, children’s museum and contemporary art museum.
In another trend, libraries are carving out “makerspaces” — creative areas where patrons are encouraged to make a mess — and noise. Colorado’s Arapahoe Libraries offer staffed labs filled with laser cutters, routers, vinyl cutters, band saws, sewing machines and 3-D printers. In a soundproof media lab, members can hook up an electric guitar and lay down some tracks, or create their own MTV sensation.
PPLD’s 21c and Sand Creek branches have offered makerspaces for years, where patrons can use button makers, jewel crafting tools, sewing machines, 3D printers and laser cutters. Both locations also offer studios with audiovisual resources, such as equipment, classes and recording space.
Creative services also are offered at PPLD’s 21c and Sand Creek branches. Folks can use MakerBot 3D printers, Taz 3D printers, Epilog Laser cutters and ShopBot tools, and get help with photography, video editing, sewing, calligraphy and robotics.
PPLD’s Repair Café travels among branches through the year and provides tools, materials and volunteers to help repair broken items.
“While we continue to offer all the traditional items, customization allows patrons to borrow items instead of buying them,” says Loida Garcia-Febo, president of the American Library Association. “That saves them money, especially if they only need to use the item once or twice.”
The Gazette’s Jennifer Mulson contributed to this story.