The world’s first tax-supported public library was founded in 1833, and libraries both public and private existed long before that. Libraries have a long and hallowed history as places of sanctuary, education, and empowerment. Many people have fond childhood memories of hauling armfuls of books home to read. But as more and more people turn toward digital sources of information, people are questioning whether we need libraries anymore at all.
The truth is that libraries play a much more important role than just lending books (although of course, that will always be part of what makes them special). Libraries are an important source of social cohesion and community for people of all generations, including young people. Many libraries loan far more than books — unique libraries around the world offer patrons the chance to check out everything from baking pans to robotics kits.
We have gathered 15 of the coolest things you can check out from the library. This is not an exclusive list. Let us know what we missed in the comments below:
1. Museum tickets
Many libraries around the US and the world, including most libraries in the Bay Area and the public library in Denver, check out passes for museums, zoos, cultural centers and more. So check out at new art exhibit — for free.
2. Baking pans
The public library in Neenah, Wisconsin checks out cake pans in fun shapes like princesses, Mickey Mouse, and Sesame Street characters so patrons can make a treat for special special occasions.
3. Gardening seeds
The public library in Seaside, Oregon has a seed exchange program for patrons to plant their own gardens. Other libraries in the country, like the Pima County Library in Tucson, Arizona have seed sharing libraries.
4. Robotics and circuitry kits
The Nevada City, California library has a technology lending library where teachers and youth group leaders can check out tools to teach kids STEM skills, including circuitry and robotics kits.
During the year, many children receive free or reduced lunch at school. In the summer, to avoid children going hungry, many local library branches offer lunch along with a craft or activity through the Lunch at the Library program.
6. Anatomical models
The Sacramento State library checks out anatomical models for students studying physiology and the human form to study with (no real bodies included).
7. Language classes
Many libraries offer free access to the language learning software Mango with a library card.
All over the US and beyond there are technology lending libraries where patrons can check out tools like saws, hammers and wrenches for whatever they might need. There is an index of global tool library locations available here.
9. Wi-Fi hotspots
For patrons without internet at home (or people traveling) a wifi hotspot is a lifesaver. Public libraries around the country have partnered with cell phone companies like Verizon to provide Wi-Fi hotspots for check out, a service that helps close the digital divide and keep patrons connected to services they need.
10. Fitness equipment
The Broward County library in Florida loans out fitness trackers, jump ropes, pedometers and frisbees for patrons.
11. Camping gear
The Union Parish library in Louisiana lends out tents, sleeping bags and fishing poles to patrons to help them get outside and be active.
12. State Park passes
The New Hampshire Astronomical Society has partnered with libraries to provide telescopes to be checked out like books, giving library visitors their first chance to see the night sky in brilliant detail.
14. Video and board games
Many libraries have game collections for patrons to check out, including both classic board games and video games.
15. Kitchen appliances
In Toronto, Canada, citizens can check out kitchen appliances like juicers, crockpots, food dehydrators and other gadgets from the Kitchen Library, a nonprofit operation that accepts donations. These tools are often used rarely and can be very expensive, so many people don’t think it makes sense for them to buy them; the Kitchen Library solves that problem.
There will always be people who want to check out books from the library, but as the sharing economy continues to grow, libraries are also filling an important role as resource hubs for all sorts of things. They’re changing, not being left behind. We could all use a visit to the library!