Libraries: The goldmine down the street

Guestpost by Coral Sheldon-Hess on Apr 16th

Libraries: More than just books and whispers. Photo by EnoksonCC BY 2.0

You may not know this, but there are more library branches in the US than McDonalds. True fact. Wait! Before you sigh and move on to the next article, hear me out! I'm not going to tell you about books. Well, not much, anyway. It turns out, there's far more to today's libraries than books, and I'm pretty sure there are a bunch of Homies out there who could totally use some of their local library's services, but have no idea what kind of riches they're missing.

I'm an academic librarian, and I'd like to give you this little heads up on some examples of what you might find.

Technology training

Everything from using a mouse to MS Office to e-readers. Example: Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Computers and wifi

Kind of follows from the technology training, I guess. Unlike a coffee shop, the library won't ask you to buy a latte every couple of hours, though.

Career training

Obviously, you'd expect to see books on various career-related skills, but it goes much further. Many libraries offer classes on finding a job, and some even have full-time staffed Job and Career Centers. Most (90% of) libraries offer online employment resources, in addition to books and programs.

Tax help

All libraries have tax forms, or can point you in the right direction to print them up. But some offer a lot more help than that.

Crafty goodness

Some libraries host knitting circles, some teach art and craft classes, and some will let you borrow craft supplies.

Maker spaces

If your DIY spirit goes beyond crafting and into hacking, your local library may be able to help you. Example: Westport Public Library's maker space


Not all libraries offer maker spaces, but many lend tools, along the whole spectrum from power tools to cake pans. Here's a pretty good (international!) list of libraries that lend tools.


No, seriously, people get seeds for their gardens from their library.

Public meeting spaces

Most public libraries have rooms that community members can reserve, generally for no fee. There may be a requirement that the activity has some kind of cultural value, or is open to the public, or they may be totally free for all; it varies by library.

Ebooks and music

Free ones, which you can download to read on your own device (computer, iPad, Kindle, etc). Check and see if your library has something called "Overdrive," "Freading," or "OneClickDigital," and don't be afraid to ask your librarian, if you don't see any of those listed.

Some libraries even subscribe to online services, so you can download MP3s from home. Look for "Overdrive" and "Freegal," and if you don't see either, ask your librarian.

Stuff for your kids

Offering everything from storytime for the little ones to teen zones and creative outlets for the less-little ones. Libraries are safe, welcoming spaces for young people. Many libraries offer free homework help, test prep (think SATs), and tutoring.

Any fact in the whole wide world

Librarians have a number of different jobs within the library, but one of the most common and best liked is "reference," which just means "sitting at a desk answering the questions of anybody who asks." Where else in the modern world can you go, ask any question, and expect to get an answer, quickly, for free? (One caveat: Librarians can't give legal or health advice. But they can still look up laws and medical facts for you.) So make a librarian happy. Go ask him/her a question!

Your particular branch may have most of these services, or it may have none (besides reference; I'm pretty sure every library does that) but libraries tend to be very responsive to community requests. If there's something on this list that you want, but your library doesn't offer it, ask! There's a good chance some energetic librarian really wants to offer cool new services, but needs a good excuse… like a patron request! There may or may not be funding or staff time available for it, because times are tough. But even if your local library can't swing it (or can't swing it right now), nobody will get upset with you for asking. And the librarian will know where else in your community you could go to get the same kind of service, if it exists.

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About Coral Sheldon-Hess

Coral is an engineer-turned-librarian living in Alaska. In her spare time she crochets, does geeky tech things, bicycles (poorly), teaches people about owls, and defends the Oxford comma. You can find her online at her blog and on Twitter, among other places.