Come for the books, stay for the classes. While you’re at it, maybe you can rent a necktie or borrow some camping gear.
It’s the 21st century, and libraries aren’t just bibliophile gathering centers anymore. Indeed, their staffers are always looking for new ways to connect with the broader community. Here’s a list of cool and unexpected things that you can check out — or participate in — at select libraries. They won’t be available everywhere, but you should head down to your local library and see what interesting things they offer.
Amateur astronomy is a wonderful, mind-expanding hobby — but the equipment can get pretty expensive. So in 2014, the St. Louis County Library started letting patrons borrow 4.5-inch telescopes. Newbies can learn how to operate the handy little devices by registering for an in-house “star party,” hosted by the local astronomical society.
Cardholders “in good standing” may be eligible to borrow a Coleman-brand camping tent from the Framingham Public Library in eastern Massachusetts. Over on the west coast, Washington’s Port Townsend Public Library loans out a two-person backpacking tent, along with some outdoor cooking equipment.
Dress for success with a little help from the New York Public Library system. The Riverside branch now offers neckties, bowties, handbags and briefcases. Those looking to improve their career prospects may also want to consult the job interview advice sheets which are available on-site.
4. Metal detectors
Long John Silver could’ve used one of these babies. A surprising number of libraries have made metal detectors available to their patrons. Be advised that some facilities will ask you to sign risk acknowledgement or liability waiver forms in advance — and you may be expected to cover repair or replacement costs if a detector gets damaged on your watch. That said, if you hunt for treasure responsibly, the beeping tools can be loads of fun.
5. Voter registration forms
Many libraries take great pride in helping citizens perform their democratic duty. Oftentimes, visitors can pick up voter registration forms or cards far in advance of the next election. Some places offer both English and Spanish-language editions.
The Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in northern Ohio invites patrons to check out bicycles for one-day rentals during select months. Likewise, the Kent District Library of western Michigan has been loaning out bikes — complete with locks and keys — for years now. Not only does this promote physical fitness, but it’s also a good way to help residents with limited transportation options access books and other materials.
7. Music Practice Rooms
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Jimi Hendrix didn’t master the guitar overnight. Whether you’re an aspiring musician who’s just starting out or a concert-ready professional, the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library will let you borrow a rehearsal space on a first-come, first-serve basis. Music stands and digital keyboards are included.
8. Board games
We’re not just talking about classics like Jenga and Monopoly here. Lesser-known—but super-fun—board games including Sushi Go, Pyramid Poker, and Exploding Kittens are also available at various libraries around the country. Family game nights will never be the same.
9. Wireless hotspot devices
It’s hard to overstate the internet’s role in contemporary life. Wireless hotspot devices are portable little boxes that’ll keep your laptops and smartphones connected to the world wide web. Several libraries, such as the Chicago Public Library, permit their visitors to check these out for limited periods.
10. All kinds of fun and interesting classes
Want to improve your cooking skills? The Free Library of Philadelphia has a class for that. Interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL)? Sign up for lessons at New York City’s Harlem Library. And if you’re looking to bust a move, plenty of libraries host dance workshops on the regular. So ask around and see what kinds of programs yours has to offer. It might well surprise you.