Libraries: The goldmine down the street

Guest post by Coral Sheldon-Hess

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.

Comments on Libraries: The goldmine down the street

  1. I am lucky enough to live in city with banging libraries, both public and academic. Thank you for writing this article, it is important to celebrate libraries! They provide so many services to the public. I will have to see if my library can get a seed bank going!

  2. I would like to give a shout out to something not listed: librarians and library staff! Those people are the best resource ever! My mom was a librarian and raised me to consider the people working in a library to be the best part of the reference collection. 🙂 After working with a bunch of librarians for many years, this has been cemented. They can often help with all sorts of “information literacy” issues, whether it’s tips for better searching, local information, archived materials or making changes to your library.

    Also, check out your library on social media because many of them are headed that direction too. My university is using Pinterest to share new books!

    Admittedly, I don’t use my libraries for reading as much as I probably should or as much as I used to, but I still have major respect for librarians and library staff. Many of the people working in libraries are not actually “librarians” as that usually requires at least a Masters of Library Science (or any of the related degrees). The staff are often the front line and work hard.

  3. My friend’s local library gives free yoga classes every Tuesday, pretty cool. Libraries also make the best day shelter! A few years ago, my family was homeless and our boss kept screwing us over. Libraries don’t care if you spend ALL day there, as long as you’re respectful and keep your voice low. We would stay there until nightfall on our days off because it was safe and it was warm. I also found some of my favorite manga from that library, so pretty fond memories. 😀 We don’t have any nice libraries around here, or I’d still go to one just because it’s a good place to go to unwind. A library is also one of the only places you can use a printer at. Some charge a small ink fee but completely worth it.

    I love libraries!

  4. I’m so glad for this facebook repost! I’ve re-discovered my local library this year and it’s been amazing. I went (mostly) internet and cable free this summer and it’s been great to go to the library and get everything to entertain myself indoors. I’ve gotten movies and entire series of shows one season at a time. Even the occasional video game. I’ve even been able to request things that I’m looking for that are checked out and get a nifty little phone call when it comes back in and they put it on hold for me! Plus I get to interact with all kinds of neat people I never would have normally.

  5. In addition to cake pans, our library checks out free 7-day family passes to cultural attractions. Do yourself a favor and talk to your local librarian about some of the services that your library offers. You might be surprised.

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