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Lifestyle & Travel

Plan an Affordable Summer Escape, Courtesy of Your Local Library

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Behind their quiet facades, libraries are alluring, magical places. Not just because of the millions of books that serve as escapes to alternative worlds, but also for the many ways libraries serve the public.

Across the country, more than 116,000 libraries offer community hubs, where people of all ages and backgrounds can have their questions answered and expand their minds, at no cost. They may provide programming, classes, and events; social gathering spaces; access to non-book items to borrow, such as musical instruments, telescopes, and even fishing poles; and so much more. Here are some things you might find at your local library:

Many offer classes, and the topics can be incredibly diverse. A quick glimpse at the class schedule at New York City Public Libraries on any given day is enough to set your head spinning: jewelry-making for adults, meditation, LEGO building for adults, Chinese language classes. And it’s not just big-city libraries with extensive offerings. In small- and mid-size cities, the library is often the heart of the community. We did a quick skimming of randomly selected library event calendars in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and Massachusetts and found a remarkable array of classes on computer and technology skills, meditative coloring, genealogy, gardening, creative writing workshops, video editing, sewing machine basics, quilt making, aquaponics, financial fitness, poetry workshops, meditation, sign language, and so much more. What does your hometown library have to offer?

They can be hubs for social activities, group learning, and even exercise. Think libraries are all about quietly choosing a book and reading? Not anymore! Today, libraries invite people of all ages in to think, talk, debate, share ideas, learn new skills, and get moving. Around the country, libraries large and small are places where people can drop in for book clubs, coffee meet ups, game nights, dominos, knitting circles, chess, tai chi, yoga, and so many other mentally and physically energizing endeavors.

They don’t just loan out books. Yes, you can check a book out of the library. But there are so many more resources beyond the stacks. First, if you don’t have a computer at home, or your computer is on the fritz, you can almost always rely on your local library for computer and Internet access. You may be able to borrow some pretty unexpected items, too. We did a quick scan of a number of different libraries across the country and found these things that card-holders can check out: fishing poles, museum passes, musical instruments (like a banjo, ukulele, electric guitar, electric bass guitar, acoustic guitar, bongos and mandolin, for starters), telescopes, and DVDs. Riverside Library in New York even has neckties, bowties, briefcases, and handbags that patrons can borrow.

It’s a place where you can get some quiet — for free. You know those times when you want to get out of the house, but you don’t want to spend money on a latte? The library offers a change of scenery. Grab a table or a nook, read, or engage in some people watching. Write down a list of questions and search for the answers, like it’s your own, personal scavenger hunt.

They’re skilled in career assistance. If you’re considering what you want to do when you “grow up” or to take on your second, third, or fourth career, your local library is a good place to start. Check with your librarian about any types of career and job programs that they might offer. Many libraries host workshops to help patrons with interview skills, resume writing, computer skills, and even finding a job.

They may have an app. Today, you may be able to pay a visit to the library without even leaving your house! Many libraries have developed apps that allow you to access e-books and audio books on your tablet or phone, along with other helpful resources.

Take a walk down memory lane. Many libraries, including university libraries, are home to Special Collections, which may include an extensive array of artifacts from your town’s past. In Chicago, for example, Harold Washington Library is home to photos, manuscripts, and artifacts from world’s fairs, Chicago neighborhoods, the Civil War, and more. But you don’t need a Special Collection to peer into history. A lot of facilities give visitors access to microfilm or microfiche machines so that they can view newspapers and magazines from long ago.

Don’t forget about the Library of Congress.  While your local library may have a lot to offer, keep in mind the nation’s de facto library, the Library of Congress. You don’t have to live in Washington, D.C. to take advantage of the library’s offerings, you can simply go online to view its extensive digital collections related to different cities and towns, historic newspapers, Civil War maps, vintage travel photos, archival diaries, letters and speeches of influential people, and more. The Library of Congress also offers a National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which makes available braille and audio books to people with low vision, blindness, or a disability that prevents them from reading or holding a book. The books can be downloaded or mailed at no cost.

When’s the last time you visited your local library? Stop in one day soon, or visit it online and look at the calendar of events and/or classes. Prepare to be surprised.  

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