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Sunday, April 14, 2024

All the Free Resources You Can Find at Your Library

If libraries didn't already exist, our current political system would never allow us to build them. The concept it too revolutionary: All of the knowledge and entertainment of humanity made available, to everyone, at no direct financial cost to patrons.

If you haven't visited your local library in a while, I recommend you do. It represents the best of democracy, as a concept, and that goes so far beyond books. Most libraries also have music, movies, and TV show collections as well. And then there are the digital offerings. Services like Overdrive offer ebooks and audiobooks, while Tumblebook offers narrated and animated children's stories.

Most people know about this, but at this point the digital offerings of many libraries go well beyond that. Many offer free digital access to magazines and newspapers that are otherwise behind paywalls, for example, or free access to online classes, music, and streaming movies. Here's a breakdown.

Please note that not every library offers these services, but yours might. Check out the website for your local library or stop by and ask a librarian. They want to help you.

Read Newspapers and Magazines

Overdrive, which provides access to ebooks, also offers magazines and newspapers in some libraries. Other libraries might offer Press Reader or Zinio for this feature. The general concept is the same for all services: You can read entire magazines on your computer and even download entire magazines to your phone or tablet for offline reading. It's a great way to stay informed without scrolling through the hellscape that is your Twitter timeline, not to mention the benefits of reading in a format that's run by human editors instead of algorithmic curation.

Some libraries have deals worked out with specific publications. For example, my local library offers free three-day passes for The New York Times, which is perfect on those occasions when I bump up against the 10-article monthly limit, or when I have a free morning and feel like reading an entire paper.

Failing this, of course, you could always head into the physical library. Most have recent issues of many different magazines and newspapers on hand, which you can read on-site.

Access Learning Resources

If you're trying to learn a new skill and are considering paying for online classes, check with your local library first. Many libraries offer access to LinkedIn Learning (formerly known as Lynda), which offers video courses for all sorts of digital skills. Some libraries offer free access to Masterclass, for example.

The specific services offered vary a lot, depending on where you live. It's also worth noting that many libraries offer in-person educational programming, meaning you could learn skills with other people free of charge.

Stream Movies, TV Shows, and Music

An increasing number of libraries offer access to Kanopy, which is a streaming service with a lot of great documentaries, in addition to a surprising variety of TV shows and movies. Other libraries offer access to Hoopla, which offers TV shows, movies, and even music—you can typically stream entire albums.

Don't expect to binge-watch shows—such services limit the number of things you can watch or listen to each month. Still, there's a lot of great stuff on these services, and it's all free of charge.

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It's also worth noting that most libraries have DVD, Blu-Ray, and CD collections you can borrow from. It's a great way to watch things without paying to own them, which is essentially what you do with a streaming subscription anyway.

There’s No Law Against Collecting Library Cards

It's possible, particularly if you live in a rural area, that your local library doesn't offer access to these digital resources. That doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck: Many library systems offer free library cards to residents of nearby counties, meaning you could be able to get a card in a nearby city in order to access their digital resources.

For example, I live in Washington County, which is near Portland. The library system in that city allows residents of my county and others nearby to sign up for library cards, free of charge, meaning I can access digital resources that my library doesn't have access to. Many libraries actually encourage people to do this, but be sure to ask a librarian about it if you're unsure. There's nothing illegal about this, however, and most libraries actively encourage it.

Libraries exist to serve you. Not to sell you something, just to offer you something. I think that's beautiful, online or off, and I encourage you to participate—and maybe donate to your local library foundation, if you're able.

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