I don’t want to come across sounding braggy, but I live within walking distance of two libraries. My family spends a lot of time at the library. Each trip ends with me struggling to carry a ridiculously heavy, gigantic canvas bag of books to the car. (Or, in nicer weather, with me trying to push a stroller that weighs a significant amount more than it did on the walk to the library.)
Libraries are more than just books and book clubs. They offer so much to the community. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few perks you should check out (pun intended!):
1. Story time (sign language, activities, etc.)
Librarians are fiercely dedicated to offering early literacy programs and encouraging kids to get excited about reading. Story time, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, and Raising a Reader (offered through Albany Public Library) are just a few examples. Many offer specialized story time (targeted to specific ages, at various times of day, or with fun themes). The new Phyllis Bornt Branch & Literacy Center in Schenectady offers wonderful programming, including Books Rock!, a drop-in program for elementary children.
I love taking my kids to family story time every month (pjs welcome!), though I’m pretty sure they have pushed our exceedingly patient librarian to retirement.
2. Read to a therapy dog
It is beyond adorable to see children excitedly trying out their reading skills with a dog. We stumbled on the PAWS for Reading program at the Schenectady County Public Library Central Branch one day and my kids loved it. The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library hosts Wagging Their Tails for Tales: Reading Therapy Dogs, and many other libraries offer similar programs. It’s a great way for new or struggling readers to practice without any pressure.
3. Legos /Megablocks
Picture this: giant tubs FILLED with Lego bricks. Delighted children. Amazing creations. So. Much. Fun.
4. Tons of family activities
Parties, nutrition events, game days, scavenger hunts, MiSci Presents events, Teddy Bear Sleepover, services for families who homeschool, STEM/STEAM programs, Comic Con … these are just a few examples of fun programming around our community. The list goes on and on. These events promote literacy, educate, and foster a sense of community.
5. Answers to your health insurance questions
Libraries often partner with health care professionals and insurers like CDPHP® to offer information sessions about health-related matters. Some libraries, like the Guilderland Public Library, have a consumer health reference librarian on staff to guide patrons through the web of available information and help them obtain reliable, and often peer-reviewed, resources.
If you’re a CDPHP Medicaid member who has renewal questions, you can meet with a CDPHP representative at a couple of area libraries.
6. Piano recitals and concert series
Many branches offer concerts throughout the year. Altamont Free Library is hosting The SongTeller Sessions, a monthly concert series, throughout the year.
7. Learn a foreign language
If you want to learn a foreign language, look into Mángo Languages. It’s a fun, intuitive, self-paced program that includes courses in more than 70 languages. Setting up an account is easy. You just need your library card and email address. You can take courses on a computer or an Apple or Android mobile device using free apps.
Guilderland Public Library offers Muzzy as well, which is geared toward children. And these programs are free!
8. Genealogy and local history
Look into what your library offers. Some (including the Albany Public Library) provide access to the library edition of Ancestry.com. It’s available on-site only but offers the same benefits as a personal subscription. You also get access to the global records subscription for free!
9. Download eBooks and digital audiobooks
Prefer to read on a Nook, Kindle, or other electronic device? You can borrow eBooks for free!
10. Book sales!
Friends of SCPL holds several huge book sales throughout the year. East Greenbush Community Library also organizes a sizeable sale, as do many other branches. They’re a great way to expand your own library for very little money.
11. Download magazines
With Zinio or Flipster and a library card, you can download magazines for free to your digital device. My library offers 50 different publications, but the selection may vary.
12. Consumer Reports
With your library card, many branches allow you full access to the Consumer Reports site – even from home. Keep this in mind next time you’re thinking about making a big purchase. The Consumer Reports Buying Guide is also available as a digital magazine at certain libraries.
13. Catch a movie
You may already know that you can borrow movies from the library, but many also show movies for free. Schenectady County Public Library features kids’ movies during school breaks, holiday movies, and mid-day showings. Round Lake Library shows new releases, and some libraries have foreign film series.
14. Adult coloring
Adult coloring is growing in popularity and is a wonderful way to unwind. Curious? See if your library offers it. Or, download the coloring pages at the end of our blog post to give it a whirl from home. Some branches even regularly provide new coloring pages for patrons to take home.
15. Classes and adult continuing education
Learn about social media or computer programs, take a finance class, study English as a second language, and more. The Bornt Branch in Schenectady offers many basic computer classes. Colonie Town Library has a variety of offerings, including classes on using computers, e-readers, social media, etc., that are designed for seniors.
16. Parenting support classes
Some libraries offer support and educational programming geared toward parents.
17. Visit museums for free!
Many libraries, including the Central Library of the Schenectady County Public Library and Albany Public Library, lend museum passes for free. To take advantage of the Museum Pass Program, all you need is a library card! This generous program allows access to the Albany Institute of History & Art, Empire State Aerosciences Museum, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, miSci, National Museum of Dance, USS Slater: Destroyer Escort Historical Museum, and more!
18. Pick up a Birthday-in-a-Backpack
Guilderland Library offers themed birthday kits packed with a cool cake pan, books (of course!), music and/or a movie, and activities. Rainbows, dinosaurs, and princesses are just three of the themes available.
19. Local produce delivered
Field Goods delivers fresh, local produce grown on small farms to many libraries throughout the Capital Region (and beyond!) through their weekly produce subscription service.
20. Tax-filing assistance
During tax season, taxpayers with incomes below $54,000 can take advantage of free assistance programs, including IRS Volunteer Tax Assistance (VITA) and AARP Tax-Aide.
21. Legal consultation, credit repair, and homebuyer assistance
22. Book recommendations
Not only do many libraries have a display with staff recommendations, but some also offer NoveList Plus, which provides book recommendations for all ages.
23. Get social
The Schenectady County Public Library posts regularly on social media about upcoming events that I might otherwise miss. They also hold fun and engaging contests. My kids both won Villa Italia gift cards for sporting their #bookface. I submitted some book spine poetry but sadly didn’t win.
24. No really, get social (like, with real people)
Of course, you could join a book club. But many libraries also have other clubs – Global eBook Club, knitting, crafting, stitching, cookbook, digital photography, creative writing, math clubs, etc., for adults, teens, and kids. Many offer drop-in groups as well, such as Knit & Stitch (Guilderland, Round Lake), Open Art Sessions (Galway Public Library), and cookbook clubs (Road Lake Library). Some libraries organize bus trips and other outings.
25. Enjoy art galleries
Many libraries showcase local artists on their walls, either as permanent or rotating exhibits. The Albany Public Library hosts Art at APL, a juried exhibition, at the Pine Hills Branch. Niskayuna and Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library regularly change out their displays, and Colonie Town Library has several exhibits around their space.
26. Access e-printers, 3-D printers, and more!
Don’t have a printer at home? Some libraries will allow you to email an attachment and they’ll print the pages for a nominal fee. Faxing and copies are also available in certain locations. Albany Made Creative Lab at the Washington Avenue Branch provides access to a wide variety of tools, including 3-D printers, a scanner, screen-printing, sewing machines, digital cameras, and hand tools.
27. Download music
Freegal (available at many libraries, including Round Lake Library), enables users to access free music! There’s a weekly download limit, but it makes more than 11 million songs available.
28. Borrow iPads, tablets, or e-readers
Some branches have pre-loaded tablets you can use at the library. Others, including Albany Public Library, lend them for home use.
29. Borrow other stuff, too!
Albany Public Libraries lend fishing poles, digital cameras, kitchen tools, and devices to measure energy use to patrons.
30. Play areas
The Central Branch in Schenectady has a cool, spacious area with interesting architecture. I love that the space in Niskayuna is small, making it much easier to keep an eye on my kids. The space in Clifton Park-Halfmoon is large and fully enclosed (huge selling point for me!). It has a massive play mat that’s perfect for little children, awesome chairs, and interesting details throughout. Bornt is just lovely – an intimate space with a beautiful mosaic wall and artwork. The books surround the play area, allowing me to fill up my canvas bag while my kids play. (Looking for some book recommendations? Read our post about healthy children’s books.)
Many libraries have wonderful children’s play areas filled with puzzles, computers with games, books, toys, Magna-Tiles (my kids’ personal favorite!), blocks, and more. They’re a great way to occupy kids for free on cold or rainy days and get them out of the house.
31. Enjoy nature
Behind the Niskayuna Library, there’s a little bridge/path with placards highlighting the vegetation and birds. I’m not into gardening or birdwatching myself, but my kids love it. They beg to walk around the bridge a time or two (or three!) whenever we’re there. The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library has a beautiful area out back with benches, whimsical statues, and gardens.
32. HEAP forms
Need assistance heating your home? The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) helps those with a low income.
33. Get help with your résumé
The library is a great resource if you’re looking for a job. Many offer one-on-one assistance or classes that help with résumé writing, setting up a LinkedIn account, applying for jobs, or entrepreneurship.
34. Use a computer
35. Or use your own computer and take advantage of their Wi-Fi
36. Reserve a room for your non-profit or association
Possibly even borrow audio/visual equipment.
37. Repair your bike
38. Enjoy peace and quiet!
Clifton Park even lets you bring coffee in a closed container.
What are you waiting for?
Want to find the library closest to you? Or other libraries in your community that you may not know about? Check out the New York State Library site. Visit your library, connect with it on social media, look up its calendar online. You won’t be disappointed!
P.S. This entire post is an elaborate ploy to capture the attention of the librarians near me. Librarians: How about a library organized by illustrators! Come on, how cool would that be? All David Roberts’ picture books together in one place (and Peter Reynolds, Adam Rex, Tom Lichtenheld, Oliver Jeffers, etc.) Utopia!