Written by contributor Tiffany Larson

I remember visiting the library regularly until the day I graduated from college and then my feet didn”t go inside one until I carried my little girl in for story time one day.  And now I”m a weekly visitor.

I”ve discovered the library offers so many more opportunities for learning and discovery than just checking out books, and most are them are free.   Here are some of my favorites to share with you:

1.  Movie Rentals

Our library has a healthy selection of adult and child movies for check out and if they don”t currently have the one I want, I just reserve it for the future.  They also have movies you can download to your computer.  I often don”t get to watch a movie the day I pick it up so I love that you can check out videos for a lengthy period of time, one or two weeks.  It”s also helpful if we are going out of town for a few days, we don”t have to worry about returning it late.

2.  Downloadable eBooks, Audio books and Videos

You don”t need a Nook or Kindle to download books to read.  Some of them can be downloaded to your computer or mobile device.  Just like checking out books, you can check out and download the eBooks, audio book or video you want.  If they are already checked out, you can reserve them for the future and you generally have one to three weeks to read them, depending on your library rules.

When I was a preteen, my parents found that putting in a family friendly audio book saved long road trips.  I remember a particularly good one,  The Jungle Book, kept my “hands to myself” for a couple days.

I love reading books, paper in my hand, books.  I take notes, flag pages and often refer back to previous chapters so I”m trying to decide whether getting an ereader is a good option for me. Readers, I would love to hear your input on whether or not to get one and what ereader to get.

Photo by ESwift

3.  Music Exploration

One of the newest ways I”m using the library is to check out music.  Some CDs are those I want to expose my children to, different forms of music genres and eras.  Some are new artists that I want to spend time listening to before I commit to ten dollars for their newest album.

4.  Programs for Kids and Teens

When I was a new mama, I would tote my one little bundle of joy to the library each week for a music and story program for babies.  I”d find other new moms to sympathize with and come home with a few new books.  Books for Babies turned into Toddler Time and as my oldest grows, there are more programs for art exploration, Lego building and mad science experiments.  Many libraries even have a program for children to practice their skills reading to dogs.

Library programs for teens might include college prep workshops, computer skills, clubs for readers or gamers, or weekend movie screenings.  Some libraries offer after school study sessions, SAT prep or free tutoring.

5.  Programs for Adults and Seniors

The library is not just for your kids, they offer workshops and classes for adults and seniors, too. If you”ve always wanted to polish your writing skills, the library has a class for you. If you need computer skills or speak a different language, the library has resources for you.

Free concerts and musicals, author readings, film festivals and other community events, the library is a resource for the entire family.

Photo by Lindsay_NYC

6.  Book Clubs

If you like to read and have never been part of a book club, consider joining one.  Some of my most favorite books were book club choices, many of which I would have never read if I hadn”t been part of a book club.  The library is a great place to find existing book clubs to join or the place to start a new one.  Libraries often host author readings and book signings, another great place to meet like-minded readers.

7.  Materials for Teachers, Homeschoolers and Daycare Providers

Libraries are a great resource for learning materials for the teaching environment.  Whenever my oldest asks about a topic I don”t know much about, we head to the library for a book or video about the subject.  Sometimes we pick up bags (our library calls them Theme Bags) of books, props and teaching resources on specific topics like bugs, the history of St. Patrick”s Day or green living.   They also offer puppets and over sized books for story telling.

8. Free Passes to Local Destinations

One of the neatest programs our library has is the Cultural Pass to Adventure which allows families to go to any of seven different local destinations including our Children”s Museum, Japanese Garden, and Museum of Rocks and Minerals. Passes are only good for one day and cannot be checked out regularly but they give families the opportunity to go to educational destinations, for free.

Photo by Enoch Pratt Free Library

9.  Early Literacy Programs

I think the reading is one of the best gifts we can introduce to our children.  There are many things you can do with your kids during their infant, toddler and preschooler years to prepare them to read.  The library has recommended reading lists for each skill level from early talkers to pre-readers.

The summer reading programs are a great way to introduce your kids (and yourself) to books you”ve never read.  My daughter”s list had ten Caldecott Medal Winners on it that we had never read and we added a few of them to our favorite books list.

Our library has several computers with reading and math skills games and they give access to an  for kid”s to read and listen to at home.   My four-year old loves to choose a book and have the computer read it to her while she follows along, looking at the illustrations and seeing each word highlighted as it is spoken.  It”s a great pre-reading activity while I”m busy with her brother or household tasks.

10.  Magazine Check Out

Any other magazine junkies out there?  I”m a really visual person so magazines fulfill my need for lots of pictures.  I have a few too many subscriptions so instead of subscribing to any more, I pick up copies at the library, flip through them and give them back a few days later.   I often do this right before an airplane or road trip, loading up on the latest issues and scanning them while traveling.   I love the cost savings and reusing resources.

If you haven”t already, subscribe to your local library newsletter or read their blog.  You will be surprised at the wonderful opportunities for your entire family, and often at no cost.

Do you find the library to be a hidden gem, like me?   How do you use the library?   Do you have an ereader – is it a must have?