Sure, everyone knows you can borrow books from a library; that’s pretty much the textbook definition (ahaha). But you may not realize the wide range of helpful services, free programs, and other resources that your local library also offers. This is especially great for students, the unemployed/underemployed, or anyone who’s watching their budget, which is basically everyone these days.

(These services are available at the admittedly superior Seattle Public Library, but your library may have even more freebies and events — check them out!)

1. Ask a librarian: You can chat online or even text them a question. Librarians are online 24/7/365 to help you. They are very smart and know everything.

2. Go mobile: The Seattle Library’s mobile app is not exceptionally pretty, but it’s incredibly convenient. Say I’m reading a magazine with a book review; I can search for the title, place a hold, or just note it down in my “for later” list. Never lose a book recommendation again just because you thought you’d remember! Keep track of books coming due and find out which holds are waiting for you at your branch. Also works great at bookstores, and is less obvious than pulling out a notebook and scribbling down titles, as I used to do.

3. Download a travel guide — or some beach reading — for your e-reader: I’m thrilled to see that as of September 2011, the Seattle library is finally offering e-book loans on the Kindle. As you may recall, I previously agonized over whether a Kindle was worth the financial and environmental costs, but this has tipped the scales! Now you can instantly download a travel guide, use it on vacation, and let it vanish into the ether when you’re done. Plus, you can load it up with enough trashy romances and thrillers to get you through a long flight. On a Kindle, nobody can see the telltale cover with the metallic-foil dagger or the scattering of gems on satin.

4. Attend a free concert, lecture, or reading: You’d be surprised at the wide range of activities for all ages offered by the library. For children, there’s story time, sing-alongs, or summer reading programs with prizes. For teens, there are pizza parties, book clubs, performances by local teen musicians, poetry slams, anime clubs, and Wii game nights. Adults can take in author readings, ballet, opera, and theater performances, book groups, lectures, films, continuing education classes, and, yes, story time. It’s all free – but you might have to RSVP for these popular events, so keep an eye on the library’s event calendar.

5. Get customized book recommendations: I love this service! Your Next 5 Books suggests new reading material just for you, based on what you tell them about your reading preferences, favorite authors or genres, and even the books you hate. Who better than a librarian to give you suggestions on your next book?

6. Get help with your homework: Struggling with math, science, English, or social studies? English- and Spanish-language tutors are available online, 7 days a week, to help you (or your kid) figure out that tough assignment. Many branches also offer drop-in homework help centers staffed by volunteers. And online resources like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and newspaper archives are always available for those inevitable “I have a 3-page report on dinosaurs due tomorrow” moments.

7. Stock up on the cheap – and support your library: Yes, it’s the book sale! Seattle’s biggest sale, in September, features over 250,000 items, including hardcovers and paperbacks, DVDs, CDs, art prints, gift items, sheet music, rare editions, and more. Smaller sales happen in November (a great time to pick up holiday gifts, as this one features more collectibles and like-new books) and spring. I like to volunteer at these, but you’re helping a great cause just by buying books at bargain prices.

Stephanie Perry
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