The Secret to the Library of Things

The Secret to the Library of Things

Has marveling about how cool it is that the library lets you check out books for free ever led you to wonder if there was a place where you could borrow other things for no charge too? Well, wonder no more, because indeed there is! In fact, it’s actually not a different place — it’s just the same ol’ library again. Surprise!

Calling these fascinating collections of non-traditional items the “Library of Things,” many libraries have begun to offer all kinds of stuff for check out in recent years in addition to the books, DVDs, and CDs that we’re all used to. Want some fresh toys for your child to play with this week? — go to the library! Can’t quite afford the newest instrument for your band yet? — go to the library! Super clear night on the forecast and need a telescope? — library again!

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Libraries of Things are popping up within libraries all over the country and even the world. So, wait — libraries offering stuff other than books and movies? But, like, what stuff?

Each library hosting a Library of Things offers different items according to their resources, their organizational objectives, and sometimes — the community’s requests. According to the Guardian, these are “collection[s] of extremely, but only occasionally, useful items.” Maybe there’s a tool, game, or gadget that you really need for a specific project, but buying or even renting it is too expensive to justify the one-time use. Your local library just might have the item for check out, and you can use this handy object a single time for free, instead of breaking the bank or having to create some questionable workaround.

The list of items at libraries around the country is seemingly endless, but here are a few of the coolest items I have found at Libraries of Things so far:

● State Parks Passes ● Bikes ● Settlers of Catan Game ● Movie Projector ● Mochi Maker ● Fog Machine ● Metal Detector ● Bocce Ball Set ● Theater Tickets ● Seeds ● Neckties ● Banjo ● Digital Microscope ● Lap Loom ● GoPro Camera ● Dash & Dot Coding Robots ● Commercial-grade Popcorn Maker ● Pikachu Cake Pan ● American Girl Dolls ● Air Quality Meters ● Fishing Rods

Impressive, right? You could throw the most unforgettable party, go on an amazing adventure, or encounter new experiences in your own home, all with complimentary use of some seriously cool specialized equipment.

Now you can see why it’s hard to give a simple answer to “what does a Library of Things have?” — depending on the library, you might spend all day! However, most libraries with a collection have the items cataloged somewhere, just like in Denver, CO, Hillsboro, OR, or Lexington, MA, so browse around to see what’s on offer.

In order to actually check something out, it’s usually as simple as placing a hold on the item and going in-person to pick it up when it becomes available. There are often helpful instructions included for technical equipment or kits. To maintain the quality of their collections, some libraries charge a cleaning or replacement fee for items that come back dirty or broken. However, assuming they come back in the condition they left in, you have access to a world of costly and convenient “things” for free!

For some, it might be hard to wrap one’s mind around the library venturing into territories apart from books. Libraries equal books, right? True, and yet — most libraries have a mission statement stating their dedication to broader concepts such as those from Madison Public Library:

“[To] provide free and equitable access to cultural and educational experiences… [to] celebrate ideas, promote creativity, connect people and enrich lives.”

Books are a cornerstone of such ideas, but any way in which libraries can help to intellectually and recreationally enhance patrons’ lives, they are game to try. It comes to seem quite natural that the library would leverage its position as a place within the community in which people can already find information and resources in order to offer expanded services such as a wacky collection of learning, entertainment, and general fun equipment. Most libraries include items in their collection which reinforce these mission statement goals, or as Washington County Library in Oregon says about their Library of Things, “support lifelong learning and creativity by providing the physical tools necessary to explore new areas of interest and learn new skills.”

So, now that you’re in on the secret of the library’s hottest new service, don’t you think it’s time that you tackled that awesome project that you’ve been putting off because you didn’t have the proper tools? Get started on it by visiting your local library where the staff can tell you all about the non-traditional items they have available or, at the least, point you in the direction of another nearby library or organization who might offer what you need.

Libraries of Things are changing the face of libraries, but at the end of the day, just like all library services, they are helping communities to learn, grow, and savor life.