8 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Find at the Public Library

Have you thanked a librarian recently? If not, National Library Week — this year from April 8 to 14 — is a great time to do so, and to find out more about what a great resource your public library can be. This year’s theme is “Libraries Lead.”

In 1958, the American Library Association and libraries across the U.S. sponsored the first National Library Week to encourage people to read more and to use the library’s resources to the fullest. Now celebrating its 60th anniversary, National Library Week is a celebration of the library as a community leader and a supporter of democracy and equality that provides transformative opportunities through education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment, and engagement.

Though we still immediately associate libraries with shelf after shelf of books, they have become much more than publicly accessible repositories of ink and paper. Libraries now offer community rooms, DVDs and Blu-Rays, public internet access, online databases, and much more — probably more than you think.

Below are some of the lesser-known resources that might be available at your local library, both online and off. Not all libraries will offer all these things, of course, and yours might have something even more unexpected.

A More Complete Education

To a lifelong learner, a good library can be as good as a university. Libraries offer free access to books on practically any subject you might want to learn — but they go beyond books as well. Your library’s online databases can open up new worlds for you in geography, history, literature, art, health, and business on local, state, national, and international levels.

Looking for a more guided education? Your library may offer the audio classes from The Great Courses or Universal Class. How about learning a new language? Some libraries give their patrons free access to the first level of Rosetta Stone, the leading popular language software, for more than two dozen languages. Also look for full online language courses from Mango Language and other programs.


Besides being a resource for information, the public library is also a safe place for families and young people to gather, meet, and have fun without spending any money. Many libraries are now offering video game nights for teens and tweens to get together and have some fun. But it’s not all about the technology: Your library might have some old-school board games that you can check out and either take home or just play there in the building. Check the library’s schedule for family game nights, too.

Park Passes

Some libraries let you check out passes that get you in to state and national parks, historic sites, and memorials free of charge. These passes are a great way to give cash-strapped families the opportunity to fully enjoy the history and natural beauty of their communities.

Engine Repair Help

Search through your library’s online databases and you might discover that you can access ALLDATA Online or EBSCOhost’s AutoMate, both of which give you easy access to engine repair diagrams, diagnostics, and instructions for most vehicles. Working on something smaller? Look for EBSCO’s Small Engine Repair Reference Center for information about fixing engines on motorcycles, snowmobiles, and even lawn mowers.

Legal Advice

Don’t go asking your librarian to help you write your will, but do check the library’s events calendar. You might find a free, first-come-first-served “Ask a Lawyer” session coming up. Can’t wait until then? Check your library’s online offerings for a database of legal forms. You can find templates and instructions for wills, business contracts, name changes, liens, and more.

Are you an inventor? Many libraries also offer free access to the WEST Patent Database. Your local librarian can help you use it to search patents and then connect you with the resources to file your own.

People to Read With

Libraries are a natural hub for book clubs. Check the library’s events calendar for an opportunity to meet and gab with other people who love the same literary genres you do.

Practice Tests and Testing Help

Whether you’re preparing for an AP exam, the SAT, the GMAT, or just the written exam to get your driver’s license, your library likely has some online test prep help available, including review materials and practice tests. If you’re out of school, you can find help and practice questions for professional certification exams and even the U.S. citizenship test.

Cake Pans

How often does one family need to bake a cake shaped like a dinosaur or an airplane? Probably not often enough to invest in the pan. The librarians in Woodbine, Iowa, recognizing a resource that would otherwise spend most of its life sitting unused on a shelf, offers a collection of about two dozen cake pans in different shapes and sizes to its patrons.

Every library is unique. If you don’t live in Woodbine, you might not find cake pans in your public library’s card catalogue, but chances are you will find something surprising. Talk to your librarian to find out what you don’t know about what’s available to you.

And while you’re there, thank them for keeping this important public service alive.