When Crystal Lee visited her neighborhood public library in Boston about a year ago, she noticed there were a lot more items on offer than books and other media. The long list of things she could take home included a pasta roller, an Instant Pot, and a soccer ball that made ice cream. As Lee recalls, the so-called the Library of Things contained gear she was "not sure [she] wanted to buy, or would maybe use once or twice."
Lee's library, part of the Minuteman Public Library System, isn't unique. Libraries around the country are letting card-holding members borrow useful kitchenware, tools, toys, and other nontraditional items.
By familiarizing yourself with your library's collection, you can save money on items you don't expect to use frequently or that you want to test out before purchasing. This service is typically free, though depending on the library and item, you may need to put down a security deposit or handle related costs, like a local fishing license, so you can use your borrowed rod.
Here are nine unusual items loaned out by libraries today:
Almost half, 43%, of libraries offer free museum passes, according to 2017 data from library service company EBSCO.
For example, members of the Chicago Public Library can check out passes that admit a family of four to multiple institutions. (To use the library's family passes, there's a limit of two adults per group and one attendee must be under 18.) Passes include the Adler Planetarium, where admission is regularly $19 for adults and $8 for kids ages 8 to 11, and the Shedd Aquarium, where admission is $20 for adults and $15 for kids ages 8 to 11.
If you're a member of the Brooklyn Public Library, you can get free passes to many institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, where admission is $23 for adults and $13 for kids ages 2 to 12.
There are more than 660 seed programs at public libraries, according to Seed Library Social Network. Instead of spending money on plants, see if your local library has a seed collection that will let you test your green thumb.
"We have a seed library to grow fruits and flowers and plants," says Fritzi Bodenheimer, press officer of the Brooklyn Public Library. "The only difference is we don't expect you to return the seeds. If you just send us a picture on social, we'd be happy with that."
Other libraries that offer seeds include the Maricopa County Library District in Arizona, the Fairfield Woods Branch Library in Connecticut, and the West Custer County Library.
If your home internet is down, head to the library: Ninety-nine percent of them have Wi-Fi, according to the American Library Association. And if you'd like to work outside the library, see if your branch loans out mobile Wi-Fi hot spots.
"We have a hot spot lending program, and that is extremely popular," says Paty Bustamante, chief of Central Public Library in Houston. "People can check out hot spots for three weeks at a time."
The Chicago Public Library, Seattle Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, St. Louis Public Library, and many more lend out mobile hot spots.
Fishing rods have been "something people are really into borrowing," says Olivia Kuncio, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Library. Considering a budget-friendly one can still set you back $35, it's easy to see why.
Many fishing pole lending programs are made possible by government conservation departments. For example, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources partnered with Maryland public libraries to lend out fishing poles and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation partnered with public libraries around New York state to do the same.
If you're not an avid fisher but want the experience once in a while, see if a similar program exists in your city.
Instrument lending libraries are great if you want to learn to play a new musical instrument, but don't want to incur the cost of a hobby you're not yet committed to. Libraries in cities including Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Phoenix loan instruments.
The Brooklyn Public Library loans out a variety of instruments, including violins, guitars, ukuleles, and drum pads. "When we initially launched the musical instrument lending library we had long wait list, so we knew we had hit on something that was important to people," Bodenheimer says.
If you're undertaking some DIY home projects and what's in your garage won't suffice, your library may have the tools you're looking for. "I have my own screwdrivers for sure, but big-size tools like Allen wrenches are good, solid recurring renewals," Lee says.
For example, an edger for your lawn can set you back $84 at Home Depot, but at the Sacramento Public Library you can borrow it for free. And at the Oakland public library, you can borrow a close quarter drill that would otherwise cost $124 at Home Depot.
Hosting a board game night is a great way to stay in and save money that you might otherwise spend on drinks and food. And although many board games sold at Walmart are under $20, buying a variety of games over time can add up. That's why it's worth checking if your local library has one you'd like to play, as 1 in 5 libraries lend out board games, according to 2017 EBSCO data.
The Brookline Public Library in Boston has games like Uno and Bananagrams available. This spring, the Brooklyn Public Library will begin to lend out games, many geared toward children. "Board games are a lot of fun but they also can teach you lots of skills, like probability, math, and teamwork," Bodenheimer says.
Your library may offer a telescope you can check out ahead of a camping trip or a cool celestial event like a meteor shower or supermoon. Many public libraries in Boston, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Vermont, among others, have telescopes in their Library of Things.
Seeing what your library loans out can save you money, and it can also expose you to new experiences. "I wish people used libraries and considered them a community space as opposed to a place you have to go to work," Lee says. "It's also nice to think of these objects as part of the community."
This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Olivia Kuncio's name.
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