18 Weird Things You Can Borrow From Your Local Library

Rioters, libraries are magical places. Not only are they a completely free public resource where you can just hang out and relax, but they give you access to tons of great stuff. Obviously, you can check out books, movies, magazines, and ebooks, but did you know that many libraries have expanded their collections to include some truly weird and wonderful things? Like skulls. Or people. Or prom dresses. It’s awesome.

You see, public libraries have been undergoing a metamorphosis in the last couple decades, transforming themselves from public spaces to public places. Libraries are no longer defined by the physical space they occupy or the physical items they carry. Instead, they are defined by how they present themselves as a community place—a place for early literacy story times, a place for digital literacy courses, a place for the community to gather outside of their work and home. Accordingly, libraries have been expanding the items they offer for check-out and not limiting themselves to just literacy-based articles. Because people also need things cake pans. And artwork. And dogs.

Intrigued? Then read on to learn about 18 Weird Things You Can Borrow from Your Local Library.

ANIMAL SKELETONS

At the Alaska Resources Library and Information Services, you can check out animal skeletons, pelts, and skulls—along with over 250,000 books, educational science kits, and environmental education materials. It’s actually a really cool library and well worth the browse (or, if you’re lucky enough, an in-person visit).

PEOPLE, INCLUDING NURSES AND SOCIAL WORKERS 

The “Living Library” is one of the newest and most exciting offerings libraries now have. Essentially, people “check out” an individual who’s willing to talk to them about their personal experience on a specific topic. It’s a great way to learn about different cultures, experiences, and time periods as well as foster greater community interaction. Additionally, some libraries, such as the San Francisco Public Library, offer on-site nurses and social workers, which can be especially helpful for homeless or ill patrons.

SNOW SHOES, SNOW SHOVELS, AND SLEDS

While this might not help you if you’re trying to get to the library, at some libraries you can leave with the winter gear you need to traverse icy sidewalks and snowy lanes safely. Both the Yale Lillian Goldman Law Library and the Readfield Community Library in Maine offer snowshoes, snow shovels, and sleds on loan.

SANTA SUITS

For years, Bolivar County Library in Mississippi has offered Santa suits to its patrons. According to library officials, they’re in high demand. Makes you wonder what other things they have available…

PROM DRESSES

Need a prom dress? Don’t want to buy one? Then see if your local library is checking out or giving one away. The Dallas Public Library, Gilbert Public Library, and the Elmwood Park Public Library in Illinois have all done this, making teens and cash-strapped parents very happy.

HOME IMPROVEMENT AND MAINTENANCE TOOLS

We all want to DIY, but tools can be expensive (and difficult to store)! Fortunately, there are tons of libraries all across the US that lend out thousands of tools. The Oakland Public Library in California has a dedicated Tool Lending Library of up to 5,000 items while the HandsOn New Orleans Tool Lending Library has 3,000 (though you do have to pay a fee). To discover if you have a tool lending library near you, click here.

CAKE PANS AND OTHER COOKING TOOLS

If you’re like me, you love trying out weird new recipes. Unfortunately, some of those funky recipes can involve equally funky tools that you may never use again. Fortunately, there are now libraries that lend out cooking supplies. Several libraries offer cake pans, including the Keokuk Public Library in Iowa and the Coventry Public Library in Rhode Island. For other kitchen-related items, you can try Kitchen Share in Oregon or scan a tool lending library like the Maine Tool Library.

TOYS, INCLUDING AMERICAN GIRL DOLLS

Several libraries are willing to check out toys to children, such as plastic figurines (Oakland Public Library in California) and educational kits (Omaha Public Library in Nebraska) but only one, the Arlington Public Library in Virginia, loans out American Girl dolls. Had I, as a child, known there was an American Girl lending program in Virginia, I likely would have made my parents move there.

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

With all the clothes, toys, and tools available for check-out, it shouldn’t surprise you that some libraries loan out Halloween costumes too. The Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan, Saline Public Library in Arkansas, and Lisbon Public Library in Iowa all offer hundreds of different costumes to choose from—and they’re not the only ones!

DOGS

As fellow contributor Lucas Maxwell has written, more and more libraries are developing child-to-dog reading programs. But did you know that some of them also offer dogs for you to check out? The Law Library of the University of Victoria in Canada, Yale’s Lillian Goldman Law Library, and the New Orleans Loyola University offer therapy dogs for check-out. They’re meant to help stressed-out students center themselves, and they sound awesome. I’m extremely jealous.

ARTWORK, INCLUDING PRINTS AND SCULPTURES

If you’ve ever wanted to brighten up your walls with some art but either didn’t have the money or just weren’t going to stay in your current home long enough, you might want to check out some artwork from your local library. Several libraries across the country, including the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan, the Minneapolis Art Lending Library, the Iowa City Public Library, the Aurora Public Library in Illinois, and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pennsylvania offer prints, originals, and sculptures for loan (or, if you’re lucky, even to own).

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

If you or your loved one has ever thought about picking up a musical instrument but don’t want to spend the hundreds of dollars upfront, why not see if your library will loan you one? The Forbes Library in Massachusetts offers several different kinds, including the banjo and dulcimer; the Ann Arbor District Library of Michigan offers some unusual instruments and equipment like the otamatone digit and the Bass Station II; and the Seattle Public Library rents out practice rooms.

MUSEUM AND PARK PASSES

While some of you may know that libraries sometimes give out museum or zoo passes as summer reading prizes, you may not know that your library could potentially loan you a museum or park pass any day of the week. The Chicago Public Library gives out passes to 17 different museums, and the Fairfield Public Library in Connecticut has passes for over 40 different ones!

FISHING POLES AND TACKLE BOXES

At one point, both the Chicago Public Library and the Erie County Public Library of Pennsylvania had fishing pole and tackle box check-out policies. I’ve been unable to confirm if these are still in place, but if these are your local libraries, why not give them a call? Bare minimum, you should check out the ECPL’s super cool, nautical-themed facilities.

BOARD GAMES

One of the newest, fastest-growing collections in libraries right now is board games. From Yale’s Lillian Goldman Law Library to Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Library System to Nebraska’s Gretna Public Library (and beyond!), libraries are stocking up on board games. After all, board games can teach you valuable skills such as teamwork, creative thinking, math, and problem-solving. Why not distribute them to the public?

SEEDS, GARDENING TOOLS, AND EVEN GARDENING PLOTS

Another fast-growing collection is seed libraries, which are collections of seeds that patrons can “check out” (take) and bring back additional seeds when the growing season is over. To learn more, check out the Seed Library Social Network or learn more from the Pima County Public Library in Arizona.

HIKING GEAR AND OTHER SPORTS’ EQUIPMENTS

Some libraries around the country are even checking out hiking and sports equipment. Examples include the Fontana Regional Library in North Carolina and the Washington Trails Association’s Gear Lending Library. Even if the libraries don’t actually check out the gear themselves, some of them will give basic Hiking 101 overviews, such as the Franklin-Springboro Public Library in Ohio. Get your fit on, y’all!

AIR MATTRESSES

So far, only one library (as far as I could tell) checks out air mattresses to its patrons, and that is Yale’s Lillian Goldman Law Library. But doesn’t that make sense for a university library to have? After all, some students spend so much time in the library that it might be more efficient for them to sleep there, which is what one Texas State student did.

At this point, you might be saying, “Oh, come on, my tiny library will never have any of these things!” Well, think again. Some of the smallest or most rural public libraries have the coolest options and programs. For example, Perry County Public Library, located in the infamous Hazard County (Kentucky), has an annual comic con, state-of-the-art resources, Lego programs, and a makerspace. Public libraries are only as good as you, the public, make them.

So, first, go to your local library’s web site or call them up and see what great things they already have to offer. Then, start suggesting programs or materials that you want to see. Vote to increase their funding. Volunteer or donate. Visit your local library. Everyone is capable of having a cool library with tons of weird things to check out, but it does take effort (and, if you’re still unsure of how to help or take advantage of your local library, check out the articles written by fellow contributors Katie McClain and Kelly Jensen below).

So what do you think, Rioters? Will you give your local library a call? Which one of these items would you like to check out? What items do you wish your library loaned? Comment below!

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