Beyond Books: 7 Things Libraries Will Let You Do for Free

Where can you rent movies, take classes, discover music, and meet new people without spending a cent? Your local library, of course. Like other government-funded enterprises, many public libraries have cut back in recent years. But plenty remain treasure troves of freebies -- and we’re talking about a lot more than books.

Set aside an hour this weekend, grab a thermos of your favorite cheap coffee, and check out the free library programs at your local branch. Get a membership card if you don't already have one and make friends with the librarian; you'll be seeing him or her often once you realize how much free stuff is at your fingertips. Below are seven things members can do at most libraries at no cost.

1. Go online.

Instead of doing research or work at home, where distractions abound, use a library computer station. Want to start blogging? Clean out your inbox? Work on an idea that suddenly strikes you? Do it at the library. You may face a 60- or 90-minute time constraint (they don’t want people hogging the machines), but let that deadline prod you to finish sooner.

2. Borrow an ebook.

With so many readers embracing ebooks, free library programs now include ebook lending. Libraries curate selections of titles their members can borrow just like regular books. If you’ve recently picked up a cheap ereader, check your library’s website to see which ebooks you can add to it. (If it’s your first time borrowing an ebook, make sure to ask for help getting started. You don’t want to be caught by surprise when the due date arrives and the book has suddenly vanished.

3. Rent free movies.

Even in a world of Hulu and Spotify, libraries maintain some of the most interesting collections of movies and music. There are often new releases to choose from, but the fun is in picking something completely random and giving it a whirl -- you’ve got nothing to lose.

4. Join a book club.

Looking to meet people outside of your regular crowd? The library is full of passionate readers with an interest in literature -- or at least the latest chick lit atop the bestseller list -- and chances are your local branch’s free library programs include a book club worth joining. If not, talk to the librarians about starting one (they’ll appreciate it).

5. Participate in classes and events.

If you’re curious about the world or want to acquire a certain skill, check the library’s free programming before you pay for lessons. Whether it’s computer help, understanding tax forms, or learning how to live the high life on a dime, a variety of classes and events bring practical value to library members at little or no cost.

6. Keep the kids occupied.

Summer reading programs cater to children who suddenly have a lot of time to kill now that school is out. Lest your kids go two months before they crack a book again, visit the children’s section and introduce them to Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and other characters known to engross restless kids for hours. Many libraries offer prizes to add incentive.

7. Find a quiet, productive space.

Do you have something you're working on but can't get anything done at home? Set aside an hour or two of quiet time at the library, sit down at a table, and kickstart the project you’ve been putting off. The library is free of distractions, and all the resources you need are right there.