Several years ago, we wrote a lengthy post explaining what libraries do, and advocating for their funding. Wth this being National Library Week, at a time that there is an inarguable war on public libraries in the U.S. I thought I’d share that list with some 2024 updates.

Every time we recommend a book on our site, we include online links for purchase at the big stores, as well as a suggestion to support your local indie bookseller or check your local library. I mean, I’m both an Amazon shopper and an indie bookstore shopper, but I also love libraries. Still, libraries do so much more than lend books!

Be sure to take advantage of these free activities, workshops, events, and incredible opportunities for adults and kids of all ages.

What do libraries do? This list is incredible. 

Things you can do a public libraries for free -- besides take out books | cool mom picks | National Library Week

Bet there are a whole lot of things that libraries can do for us that you haven’t even considered. I’m still grateful that when my own daughter’s public Brooklyn Middle School did not have printer access for students, we learned that our local library would let us use their printers for homework assignments.

But I bet there’s a lot more than that you didn’t know.

For starters, public libraries…

  1. Recommend books with no economic incentive whatsoever
  2. Host baby-and-me classes including playgroups, singalongs, and postpartum/lactation support for new moms
  3. Run coding clubs and teach computer literacy
  4. Offer free Internet and computer access
  5. Lend free e-books and audiobooks through mobile apps
  6. Provide printer access to students without them at school
  7. Provide free classes to support adults in earning their high school diploma or GED
  8. Create reading ambassador internship programs for teens
  9. Offer book match lists, with recommendations compiled by an independent library tailored to your interests
  10. Offer free academic tutoring to kids at all levels
  11. Give free access to their collection to students in communities with more limited (or banned) selections.
  12. Serve free lunch to kids in need when school is out of session
  13. Host cooking classes
  14. Host animé conventions like aniTOMO including cosplay contests, film screenings, drawing classes, and Japanese language lessons
  15. Offer maker spaces including 3D printing labs and design workshops
  16. Provide access to audio booths including free recording studio equipment and editing software
  17. Provide free online research guides to help you explore topics from local history to genealogy
  18. Host story time for kids outside the library, in local parks, and community spaces
  19. Provide social opportunities for homeschooled teens
  20. Offer free English classes to ESOL learners
  21. Offer free music and dance performances and classes
  22. Create a safe space for students after school while parents are still at work
  23. Provide free passes to museums, historic landmarks, and other cultural destinations in the community
  24. Provide free access to out-of-print books or those in limited production that would otherwise be very expensive
  25. Offer free meeting spaces, often the only location in a community
  26. Provide recent veterans with free live and online academic classes plus job assistance
  27. Offer access to streaming video services, free
  28. Expand broadband access and advocate for digital readiness in low-income households.
  29. Provide in-person support, study materials, and resources for new immigrants, including free on-site immigration and naturalization services.
  30. Display the work of community artists to provide more exposure
  31. Provide free courses in resume writing, interview prep, and job-seeking
  32. Provide healthcare workshops on issues from fitness and weight loss to Alzheimers, Cancer and AIDS
  33. Provide free fitness classes from yoga to zumba to martial arts.
  34. Host family events for children on the autism spectrum
  35. Host pet adoptions
  36. Feature immersive exhibits and installations celebrating the work of cultural icons
  37. Teach gaming workshops to kids
  38. Teach chess, jewelry making, ceramics, bookbinding, knitting…
  39. Offer board game hours or LEGO building time for families and teens
  40. Set up free memory labs, with equipment for digitizing and preserving your most precious documents, slides, vinyl records, VCR tapes
  41. Provide rich support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, including courses on writing business plans, market research, customer service and more
  42. Teach investing, financial literacy, and money management
  43. Provide housing help for those experiencing homelessness or a temporary housing crisis
  44. Provide free SAT prep classes to high school students
  45. Print and distribute children’s magazines created by teen volunteers
  46. Work with teachers to provide a safe ad hoc school during times of public safety concerns
  47. Host screenings of audio-described films for the visually impaired
  48. Offer free income tax prep and filing
  49. Create learning opportunities through monthly cultural celebrations
  50. Offfer volunteer opportunities, particularly for teens and seniors
  51. Host free movie screenings with after-film discussions and writing workshops
  52. Host free reading events for babies, toddlers, and kids
  53. Provide free after-school drop-in programs to help kids with homework
  54. Offer bookplate memorial tributes
  55. Host affordable used book sales
  56. Support the visually impaired with magnifiers to enlarge print materials
  57. Offer free public architectural tours to explore notable public library buildings
  58. Promote and host local blood drives
  59. Host literary festivals including author readings and signings
  60. Host bookmaking competitions for public school students
  61. Guide young readers through comics and graphic novels to spark more reading interest
  62. Recommend the very best children’s books each year
  63. Exhibit original artwork from children’s beloved picture book artists
  64. Provide book lending and other services to homebound and elderly neighbors
  65. Assist authors, journalists, and other writers with sourcing
  66. Create summer reading challenges to keep students’ minds sharp over vacation
  67. Offer free teen-only clubs around topics like robotics, manga and anime, crafting, gaming, and of course, books
  68. Host writer’s conferences with publishing industry insiders
  69. Provide affordable wedding space rentals
  70. Loan out American Girl dolls. Sniff.

Does your local library do something incredible that I missed here? Please give them a shout-out in comments!


Top image: NY Public Library by Raphael Isla, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Collage image: Claudio Schwartz via Unsplash