Use Your Local (and Not-so-Local) Libraries

Libraries are treasure troves of materials, resources, and entertainment. And they’re free!

It’s probably no surprise that I’m a big fan of libraries. I do work in two of them, after all! But it can be easy to forget all they have to offer, especially if you don’t visit them often (or at all). So consider this a reminder! If your local library is small or has limited resources, however, don’t despair. You can take advantage of libraries all over Connecticut and can even check out materials once you have a library card from your own town’s library. I encourage you to explore as many libraries as you can and see what you can discover!

Don’t want to spend time seeing what each library has available? The simplest, most time-efficient method I’ve found is to follow them on Facebook. Libraries will often highlight when they have something new or interesting to offer, and you can scope out their features without hours perusing websites!

BOOKS, MAGAZINES, CDS, DVDS…

Perhaps what libraries are best known for are their many shelves full of books. And, yes, books can be great entertainment for all ages. Board books for babies and toddlers, picture books for just about everyone, leveled readers for those learning to read, fiction and non-fiction for anyone looking to learn, escape, and explore. Some libraries will offer a “1000 books before Kindergarten” program that encourages parents to read to their children from a young age. Access to reading materials at home can help children not only learn to read, but succeed in many areas of life. (For some reading statistics that may surprise you, check out this article from Literacy Project.)

In addition to books, however, libraries also offer other media that is usually available to check out and enjoy: magazines, CDs, and DVDs. (And if you’re really old school, I know at least one library – the South Windsor Public Library – that still has some VHS and cassette resources!) With these resources you can add more entertainment options to your repertoire: check out Highlights for Children or Ranger Rick magazines for fun and educational stories and games to share, pick up a couple of CDs and have an impromptu dance party or sing-along, and snag some DVDs for a family movie night or binge session.

Some libraries will also offer video games that you can borrow. If you have a game console but are looking for a little variety, see what games libraries in your area have available by doing a quick search in their catalog. A few libraries will even let you borrow a game console! For younger children, some libraries will offer Launchpads, which are tablets pre-loaded with educational games on them. These are usually geared toward the preschool or early elementary crowd.

Don’t forget digital resources, too! Ebooks, audiobooks, and sometimes even movies and music, are available digitally through services your library subscribes to. Keep in mind, however, that for these services you can only utilize your own town’s library, as they are only available to that library’s cardholders. See what services your library offers by heading to their website. Some popular options are Hoopla, Overdrive/Libby, Freading, and more. Libraries may also link to other free resources that are available to everyone online.

TOYS, GAMES, AND PUZZLES

Though limited due to the pandemic, many libraries usually offer toys and puzzles in the library for little patrons to play with and use. More libraries, however, are starting to expand to items that families can use outside the library. From puzzle and board game swaps to backpacks filled with books and activities, many libraries are letting people bring even more fun home. Some, such as the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill and the Portland Library, even have oversized yard games like Jenga that you can borrow!

MUSEUM PASSES

If you’re looking for free or reduced admission to local museums, check out your local library first. Many will offer museum passes for assorted venues around the state, and some even offer print on demand passes, so you don’t need to go to the library to pick up a pass! If your library doesn’t have a pass for a museum you’re interested in, look around at other libraries in the area. Many will let you take advantage of their passes even if you’re not a resident.

PROGRAMS

From story times to STEM to crafts and beyond, libraries are known for offering fun, educational, and unique programs. And you don’t usually need to be a resident to participate! Check out all the libraries in your area to see what they offer. Some popular offerings many libraries will feature: story times (often for babies through preschoolers), take and make kits (for projects your child can complete on his own), magic shows, cook-along programs, arts and crafts, science or STEM-based projects, Skype-a-Scientist, book clubs, author talks, music and movement, and more! Check out libraries’ events calendars or follow them on Facebook to stay up-to-date on everything they have to offer. With the pandemic, many libraries are offering a mix of virtual and in-person programs, so you can find something that best suits your family.

COMPUTERS

If you don’t have your own computer, most libraries offer several for the public to use. Some will also have special computers designed for young children to use, loaded with educational games and activities. Libraries will also have printers available if you need to print something but don’t have a printer, though there’s usually a cost per page to print. Have your own computer but lacking internet? Some libraries will let you borrow a hot spot to get internet wherever you are! And that just opens a world of possibilities…

UNIQUE OFFERINGS

In addition to the more standard fare noted above, some libraries have expended their offerings to include more unusual options. These can include everything from power tools to telescopes. In the spring you may be interested in checking seed libraries. These mini libraries-within-libraries give you the ability to “check out” a variety of seeds (no need to return!), so you can plant a garden without that added expense.

Another feature that some libraries offer, though this, too, is limited to your own town’s library, is special online subscriptions. Some popular offerings are Ancestry, CreativeBug, language learning software, and historical resources. Head to your town library’s website to see what they offer.

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