Unlocking Library Coolness: Many, Many Awesome Things

Your local library might be doing some really, really cool things that you don’t know about. Here are a few incredibly awesome programs at libraries around the country, along with pictures of cats because why not?

COVID Tests and Masks

Recently we went to visit Freebird at college, and I brought a stack of COVID tests because…dorm, and because the only CVS within walking distance of campus was always sold out.

But I can get free COVID tests at our library, and brought him several. Freebird’s roommate seemed shocked that I could get free COVID tests anywhere, but our library system has offered them every day, two per patron, and free packs of face masks, one box per patron.

There’s even a website where each branch can update whether they’re out of masks or test kits each day so you don’t drive all over without finding any. This program is funded by a bunch of county partners, and it’s wonderful. A few library systems in my area have similar programs, including Carroll County in Maryland, Alexandria Library in Virginia, and Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

Katie, aka Lady Katherine Megatron, Princess of Tails

Books Unbanned: ebook access for teens in the US

The Brooklyn Public Library is offering free cards to anyone in the nation ages 13-21 a free library card to access their free eBook collection. The Brooklyn Public Library has always offered free library cards to teenagers in New York State, but this program expands access to anyone in the US to combat book bans and book challenges in different parts of the country.

The Boston Public Library, the LA County Public Library, and the Seattle Public Library have also launched their own Books Unbanned programs.

I had an out-of-state Brooklyn library card for which I’d paid a small fee until earlier this year, when it expired. Brooklyn is no longer offering out-of-state cards as of July 2022, and to be a cardholder you just have to live, work, pay property taxes or attend school in all of New York State. Alas, that isn’t me, and I was a little bummed about it, until I realized I’d be happy to give up my BPL card (amazing collection, not going to lie) so teenagers all over the country could read books. (I do miss my BPL card, though.)

According to their latest press release, more than 100,000 books have been checked out by teens across the US in the past year. That’s awesome.

I asked the team here at SBTB HQ about what cool things their libraries were doing, and…wow.

My cat Dewey sits with is paw on the cover of the book, closing it on me

Kiki: My library system, the Minuteman Library Network (Massachusetts) has a “library of things” where you can take out anything from games to ice cream makers or a sewing machine.

The little branch closest to me has a “take a puzzle, leave a puzzle” which I adore and has saved my puzzle budget many, many times, and it has a little seed library! You can donate seeds that you aren’t going to use so that someone else in the community can use them.

Sarah: I just searched “public library puzzle swap” and my gosh there are so many. I LOVE THIS.

Amanda's cat Linus. He's a white and tan Maine Coon mix and is very fluffy. He's lying on his back, holding his catnip beaver in his paws and up to his mouth.
Linus, and his catnip beaver.

Tara: I’m not sure if it’s different enough, but for me, it’s the apps they have!

Calgary Public Library has Libby and Overdrive, but Libby is the very best for getting audiobooks and ebooks. I rarely don’t have an audiobook out from there.

I also love their video service, called Kanopy. I’ve seen some excellent documentaries and am currently making my way through the first 6 seasons of Alone.

They also have a drag storytime series called Reading with Royalty, which includes drag queens, kings, and monarchs. Thankfully our city introduced a bylaw to prohibit protesting within 100 metres, after a pastor scared some kids at one in February.

Maya: Kanopy is so great! Kanopy has a deal with A24, so you can watch a lot of their films for free!

Also, my library (and I think this is available for the whole state of California) has LinkedIn Learning and Coursera for free. If you can learn through video lectures, there’s a lot to be found on those sites!

Fisher, a brown, grey and white longhair, looks dirty and very put out
A dirty, grumpy kitten.

Shana: I love that the Sacramento Library has a cake pan collection.

Sarah: I love this a LOT.

Shana: They also let you access NYT Cooking for 24 hours at a time, and Craftsy.

You could have a whole baking business through my library. You can check out a kitchen aid stand mixer too.

Sarah: Yes! Craftsy! Also, I taught myself some sewing techniques by following tutorials on Creativebug through my library. My first projects were cloth napkins and pajama pants with elastic waists with video tutorials from the library access catalogs.

For good napkins, I recommend buying flannel when it’s on sale at a place like Joann’s or Michaels, and sewing sets of four or six. They get softer as you wash them, and it’s a good opportunity to practice consistent seams and to use the fun decorative stitches that might come with the machine!

Toast, a light tan fluffy cat, sits in a doorway with big eyes while Linus, a cream and tan massive fluff ball, lounges in the doorway
Toast (L) and Linus (R)

Also: many libraries have “makerspaces” where you can use all sorts of different technology to make things. The DC Library has The Labs, which offers digital preservation equipment, machinery and other tools, and a dance and audiovisual studio.

Tara: Whoa, I just checked the Calgary Public Library and found out they have a TON of stuff I didn’t know about. You can check out board games, take a laptop home for 3 weeks, view Indigenous art installations, access mental health supports, and build a whole bunch of skills. I’m actually pretty blown away and need to do some more exploring.

Claudia: We have a lot of the stuff already mentioned and also a ton of one-on-one coaching and small-group learning: career, financial literacy, resume building… their English as second language groups attract people from all over the world. The library also offers free tickets to area museums, the zoo, and state parks.

Sarah: I saved SO MUCH MONEY using museum passes from the Montclair Public Library when we lived in New Jersey. Getting into the Children’s Museum with their free admission pass was pretty exhilarating, especially when the kids got bored and it was no big deal to leave.

Chips the butthole bandit

Sneezy: This sort of falls under cool service, but isn’t what I’d typically think of as a library service. The library I usually go to in Taiwan has really good security. There are security cameras absolutely everywhere around their reading and studying spaces, and people just leave ALL their stuff there. Not just workbooks and pencils, also all their electronics. Laptops, tablets, chargers, mouse, all of it. It makes more sense to them to save their spot if they pop out for a drink or some food than to worry about their stuff being stolen. Part of it is definitely a general sense of trust and security within the community, but it still feels weird and amazing that the library would take on the responsibility for catching or at least preventing theft.

Susan: Manchester Central Library (UK) has instruments that you can book sessions with! So if you want to practice the drums or something, you can plug yourself in and go.

And when Universal Credit rolled out in the UK, Derbyshire libraries had a programme where library staff would sit with people and walk them through the process – setting up an email address, signing up for benefits, the whole thing.

What about you? Brag to us about your library! Do they have cool programs? Conversation groups? Makers labs or a fulsome collection of baking equipment? Tell us about it!

And if you’re not sure what your library is up to, I bet it’s something really nifty.

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