Don’t underestimate the money-saving might of a humble library card.
You don’t have to be a bookworm to benefit from your local library’s offerings. Some library systems allow you to reserve free or discounted passes to local museums, zoos, aquariums and other arts and culture organizations like theaters and orchestras.
Often, museum pass programs are offered in partnership with city level governance and are designed to allow free or reduced price entry to vital arts and cultural resources. Think of the programs as an extension of the mission of public libraries to provide public access to information.
Not only are free passes a terrific option for families with children, but also for people of all ages who love visual and performing arts and animals. Some pass programs, though, are only open to families with children.
We’ve highlighted a few programs below.
Check with your local library to see whether it operates something similar. Instead of free tickets, some library systems offer discounts on merchandise or parking.
Museum passes are just one unconventional thing that libraries lend. There’s a whole lot more. You could borrow everything from video games to science equipment.
New York City
Brooklyn, Queens and New York Public Libraries offer the Culture Pass museum program for access to a long list of cultural institutions. We lost count at 30.
The impressive list of museums includes the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Jewish Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Any regular card holder, ages 13 and up, can reserve passes, but Ecards and Educator card holders are not eligible. Passes are available on the first of each month for the following month and the amount of people admitted for each pass varies by institution.
Available at all locations of the Boston Public Library System are passes to six museums, plus the New England Aquarium. Passes to additional museums and attractions are available at select branches.
To reserve a pass, you must show proof of Massachusetts residency and have a physical library card, not an e-pass. Some passes are disposable and some need to be returned. Returnable passes include fines if not returned on time, so be sure to read the rules.
The Fulton County Library System offers a ticket to the city for card holders through the partnership pass program.
Participating Atlanta attractions include the Alliance Theatre, Center for Puppetry Arts, state parks, the Museum of Arts and Sciences and the Georgia Aquarium. Passes to the Atlanta zoo are available for a family of three after checking out the Zoo Atlanta DVD.
Tampa Bay Area
With over 30 museums in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the Tampa Bay Area public library systems support pass programs that can get you into some of the area’s most popular museums and venues. All you need is a library card.
Hillsborough County’s Discovery Pass offers access to 13 museums and attractions including the Glazer Children’s Museum, Stageworks Theatre and The Florida Orchestra. The number of admissions varies with each venue and some have waiting lists. You can check availability online, but passes must be picked up from a Hillsborough library branch.
Pinellas County Library System’s museum pass program features 11 museums including family favorite Great Explorations Children’s Museum, as well as the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art and the Museum of Fine Arts. Passes can be checked out in person on a first-come, first-served basis and are good for a seven-day loan period.
The Miami-Dade Public Library System’s museum pass program lets library card holders check out free passes to 18 local attractions, including the Coral Gables Museum, the Miami Children’s Museum and Pérez Art Museum Miami. Though not technically a museum, Zoo Miami is also part of the museum pass program.
Library patrons can check out one pass per seven-day period. Passes provide one day of free admission for a family of four, with age requirements for kids at Deering Estate, Fruit & Spice Park and Zoo Miami.
Patrons cannot renew the passes or reserve them for a specific date. Passes are first-come, first-served.
The Chicago Public Library has a Kids Museum Passport program that offers free museum passes for a dozen local attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. Library card holders can even get free admission at places that aren’t museums — like Brookfield Zoo and Shedd Aquarium.
Family passes are available for up to four people. Families must include at least one child under 18 and no more than two adults.
Families can check out one museum pass per week for a one-time visit per reservation. There is a 24-hour waiting period before library card holders are allowed to check out another pass to the museum they just visited.
But wait, there’s more. Your library card might also give you free access to streaming apps to help you save money on movies, music and more.
Those who have library cards with the Denver Public Library can get free admission at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the History Colorado Center, the Molly Brown House Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.
A party of seven can visit the nature and science museum with one museum pass. The History Colorado Center and Molly Brown House permit only groups of four per each museum pass. The pass for the Museum of Contemporary Artcovers admission for four adults.
Museum passes can be reserved up to 30 days in advance.
The public library system in Dallas partners with the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture to provide the Culture Pass Dallas program, allowing patrons with a library card access to museums, theaters and other arts venues. With a catalog of 34 cultural institutions, the Culture Pass Dallas program is one of the most robust on our list.
Library card holders can have up to five reservations at a time and as soon as a reservation date passes, another can be added. There is no limit to the amount of pass reservations you can make in a year.
The County of Los Angeles Public Library and the city’s public library system share Discover & Go, a museum pass program that gives library card holders free admission at 12 museums, including the Craft Contemporary museum, the Chinese American Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo.
Library patrons can make reservations up to three months ahead of time but can have only two active reservations at a time. Some passes will admit up to four museum visitors. However, the number of free tickets per pass varies by attraction.
The public library system in San Francisco also offers the Discover & Go museum pass program, which provides library patrons access to 29 museums and other attractions in the Bay Area.
Passes may include the Conservatory of Flowers, Exploratorium, Haas-Lilienthal House and the Museum of African Diaspora.
Online reservations are available and passes are valid for one use within a seven-day period. The passes are only available for families with children.
Seattle Public Library card holders can visit 11 local attractions, including the Museum of Flight, the Seattle Art Museum and the National Nordic Museum. The museum pass program even includes attractions that aren’t museums, like the Seattle Aquarium and the Woodland Park Zoo.
Library patrons can reserve one pass per week. However, they can’t reserve a pass to the same museum twice within 30 days. Passes can be reserved up to 30 days ahead of the scheduled date.
Museum passes offer free admission for at least two adults.
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.
Nicole Dow, a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder, also contributed.