7 Little-Known Perks of Your Library Membership

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  • Libraries aren't just paperbacks and DVDs. They offer tons of digital media and online resources.
  • A library membership is completely free.

A library card is a key that can unlock a great many doors.

To a population used to everything being digitally on-demand, a building full of paper-bound books and physical media can seem outdated. And, in fairness -- it is.

But your local library isn't the ancient repository of historical obsolescence that many people may picture these days. Library systems have done a lot to keep up with the changing times, and they offer a huge variety of digital media and online resources perfect for the modern lifestyle.

What's more, they're entirely free. All you need is to sign up for a library card -- or, in some cases, provide your phone number -- and you can unlock tons of value, all without touching your bank account. Here are just a few of the perks offered by a library membership:

1. Download ebooks to your Kindle

While there are certainly still some of us who like the feel of a physical book in hand, there's no denying that reading on a digital device has its upsides. Library systems use a mobile app -- called Libby (formerly OverDrive) -- to offer digital copies of books for members to check out.

You can check out an ebook for 7 days or longer (depending on the copy, you can even get extensions). You can either read via the app on any device. Or, if you're a Kindle user, you can connect your account with your Amazon account and send a copy of the book to your Kindle device. Yes, this includes Paperwhite devices!

One of the best things about Libby is that you don't necessarily need to go to the library to get a library card. Depending on your location, you may be able to use your mobile phone number to get a "digital" library card.

2. Browse magazines and newspapers

Another awesome aspect of the Libby app is that it’s not strictly limited to books. You can also browse and download more than 3,000 digital magazines. Alternatively, magazines can also be checked out through the app Flipster. It allows limited offline viewing and may have titles you can't get through Libby.

For the newspaper lovers, you can go online through America's News and access both local and regional news outlets. You can view archived and current news stories from your area. You'll need a traditional library card (not a phone-number based digital card) for access.

3. Listen to audiobooks

While we're singing Libby's praises, let's not forget about audiobooks. Many titles available as an ebook in the Libby app also come as an audiobook, making it easy to "read" while commuting, exercising, or whatever else you like.

You'll check out audiobooks the same as you would ebooks, and listen on any device right from the app. You can even bookmark your spot, set a sleep timer, and change the playback speed.

4. Stream movies and TV

For many years, the library has been a great resource for catching up on your favorite shows and movies by borrowing DVDs for free. Now, you can do the same thing, digitally, through the Hoopla and Kanopy apps (access may vary by region).

Once you create an account -- you'll need a traditional library card number, you can't use your phone number -- you can "borrow" and stream popular television shows, movies, and even music. It's not a massive catalog of content -- you won't find the latest Marvel movie, for example -- but it's all free with your library card making it an affordable streaming service alternative (or addition).

5. Read comic books and graphic novels

While you're checking out the Hoopla app, be sure to browse their digital library of comic books and graphic novels. And this collection, unlike the film and TV options, does include a lot of recent and popular series.

For instance, you can borrow and read Marvel and DC comics issued just this week. Plus you can check out more indie publications from Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and more.

6. Take online classes

Online classes can be a great way to learn new skills, be it for career growth or just for fun. Your library membership comes with access to thousands of online educational resources, covering everything from learning a new language to learning to repair your car.

You can use your library card to access LinkedIn Learning, for software and technology skills, or Transparent Language to pick up a new language. The Chilton Library has car manuals going back decades. And library patron access to Creativebug includes arts and crafts classes of all types.

7. Get homework help

Online classes are great, but what if you're already in school? The library has you covered here, too. You can access tons of educational resources to help students of any age. Your library card can unlock access to Tutor.com to get homework help for grade school or college. Ask questions, find self-study tools, or even get a one-on-one session from a live tutor.

Stop into a library for even more resources

While this list focused on digital resources, your local library may have even more to offer. For example, most libraries have computers that members can use. Some library computers even come with useful software like Adobe Creative Cloud programs.

Beyond computers, you can find a lot of information that simply hasn't been digitized yet, including local genealogical data or archived newspapers. Some libraries may even offer more unconventional resources like a free seed library or STEM learning kits filled with educational toys.

You never know what you'll find at your local library -- so take a look!

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