Public libraries not only provide essential access to information through the written word, they also offer programs that can save you money.
In a world where mostly everything has a price tag, your humble local library can be a cost saving alternative for access to sought after resources like specialized technology and helpful services like job search and tax prep.
The library is certainly a whole lot more than just a place to read.
If you search online for any of the services or resources listed below, the first hits will usually be for-profit companies trying to sell you something. You may not see your local library’s website in the results at all.
But we’ve done the research so you can discover how to use your library as a free resource for everything from internet access, to robotics to college prep. And more!
Depending on budgets and community demand, libraries will offer varied programming, so check with your local branch to see what programs they offer.
1. Books, Obviously
If you purchase all the books your family reads, the cost adds up.
Interlibrary loan programs make it possible to reserve even brand-new releases for pickup. Sure, you’ll have to wait awhile to read the bestsellers, but your piggy bank will thank you.
Don’t overlook the library for e-books and audiobooks, not to mention databases and subscriptions. Save money by canceling that pricey magazine subscription and check out your favorites digitally, with a library card.
If you’re conducting research, but don’t have access to a university library, you can retrieve academic journals through your local library’s database.
Many libraries have a used book collection you can take home to keep, for free. Often, these free book sections are set up as a swap, so you have the option to clean out your old books and choose something new.
Used book sales are frequently held at libraries and are a great way to score previously loved books for less.
2. Movies and Television Shows
Opting out of cable, satellite and Netflix could easily save you at least $50 per month, depending on your current entertainment solution.
Streaming services cost anywhere from $5 to $35 per month. To cut the price and still give everyone something fun to watch, you can check out your library’s free-to-borrow DVDs or try a free streaming service available through your library card.
The DVD section at your local library likely stocks your favorite action and romance movies, and it will often carry full volumes of television series and popular documentaries.
3. Internet and Computer Access
If you’re looking to reduce your monthly internet bill (who isn’t), the library has computers and free internet available for use. You typically need to be a member of the library and have to sign up for an allotted time to use a computer or tablet.
Library computers usually pack otherwise expensive programs like Microsoft Word that can help you build your resume or complete school projects.
Wi-Fi hotspots and tablet computers are often available for loan. Expect a wait list, so plan ahead.
4. College Prep
Whether you’re considering college or you have a teenager setting their sights on higher education, you know the price of test prep books and courses is, well, … high.
Most libraries offer resources to help you choose the right college and navigate financial aid, but some even offer free workshops, test prep courses and online test prep activities. With some libraries providing access to top college test prep agencies such as The Princeton Review, you’ll want to take advantage of this undeniably helpful resource.
Who knew a library card could help you get into college?
5. Job Search
When you’re looking for a job, resources like internet and computer access, printing and scanning can be crucial. Libraries offer all that and more.
Most job applications start online and if you’re unfamiliar with the technology required to complete one, your knowledgeable librarian can help.
Libraries also offer various career path guides and may provide other resources for job seekers, such as searchable databases and online courses.
Ever wanted to learn how to sew or record a podcast? Did you look into it only to find out about the pricey technology and supplies needed? Your local library can help with that.
Makerspaces vary by branch, but often include design technology such as 3D printers, robotics, wood carving and soldering irons.
Expensive audio visual equipment and digital creation software are available in many makerspaces. For instance, some libraries provide digital preservation technology that converts old film reels or video tapes to DVD or other formats.
If you have a project that requires high-priced technology and creative tools, check with your local library first. You could complete it for free!
7. Events for the Whole Family
Libraries aren’t just great for young kids. Your local branch might offer teen programming and activities open to the whole family like music nights and theatrical performances in the stacks.
Skip the pricey pizza play place or the movies and go to the library’s free storytime instead. Not only will the kids be engaged for free, the programming is usually sneakily educational. Bonus!.
If you’re looking for something interactive, many libraries — like Cincinnati — offer building and craft clubs as well as music and movement events, where participants can play musical instruments and dance to the tunes.
Your library may also offer writing groups, book clubs and presentations on a variety of topics including finance, gardening, parenting and retirement planning.
8. Tax Prep
Are you prepared for the next tax season? Assistance with filing your taxes can be costly, but many libraries offer free programs through partnerships with the IRS and other interest groups like AARP or VITA.
Tax aides will meet with you at the library branch to help organize and file your taxes. Appointments are usually required and they can go fast, so get on the list early. Meetings can be set up with a follow-up so you have time to gather any necessary documentation before you file.
9. Language Development
Libraries can be an ideal place to learn a new language without buying language learning software.
In-person instruction in sign language is available at some libraries and most branches offer free access to instructor led online programs. Software and online options are available for both adults and kids.
More and more libraries also offer bilingual storytimes and other activities for English learners like vocabulary worksheets and summer reading challenges.
Tutoring can be a high-price to pay to help your kids to excel in school. Check out the options from your local library instead of spending money on costly sessions.
Most tutoring is available only through online resources, but sessions are one-on-one with a knowledgeable tutor.
There are a wide range of subjects from which to choose and some tutoring programs feature homework help complete with text-chat or interactive whiteboard and graphing experiences.
Contributor Veronica Leone Matthews is a North Carolina-based freelance writer with 11 years of experience writing for non-profits and higher education. She covers lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder.