11 Most Surprising Items You Can Check Out of a Library

Your local library could be the ideal place to check out much more than great books, movies, and CDs, offering many more resources you may not even know about. Many libraries are becoming much more like community centers and in the process have accrued collections of more offbeat and sometimes even unexpected items. Based on the needs and demands of the local community, things like power tools, sewing machines, and musical instruments have become a part of library lending at a wide range of libraries all over the U.S. These amazing resources not only save patrons money but make it easier for them to learn, relax, be productive, help others, and get creative. Here are just a few of these amazing, though often surprising, items you may be able to find at your local library.

  1. Therapy dogs.

    Law students at Yale are undoubtedly under quite a bit of stress, so the school’s library offers the chance to check out Monty the therapy dog for 30-minute play sessions to help relieve some of that stress. Library officials say that therapy dogs like Monty can help increase happiness, calmness, and improve emotional well-being, all things that harried law students can use in spades during exam times. Monty isn’t the only therapy dog on duty, however. Emory University has Stanley and Hooch, Harvard Medical School has Cooper, and numerous other colleges have plans in the works to bring their own therapy dogs to campus.

  2. Tools.

    Need a saw? How about a shovel? You don’t have to run out to buy one. Some libraries offer patrons the chance to check out these home improvement tools. The Oakland Public Library is one example, with more than 3,500 different tools patrons can check out, as well as an assortment of how-to videos and DVDs and workshops on how to use the tools safely. Other notable tool libraries exist in West Seattle and Columbus, and examples of the practice go back 30 years.

  3. Hobby supplies.

    Whether you love to fish or can’t get enough of scrapbooking, you may be able to get more out of your hobby through resources offered at libraries around the nation. Cohoes Public Library and Grand Rapids Library are just a few who lend out fishing rods. Rochester Library lends out knitting needles and sewing machines, Central Mississippi Regional Library lends out scrapbooking kits with die cutter and dies, stencils, punches, scissors, instructional books, and videos, and Virginia Beach Public Library lends hikers and nature enthusiasts backpacks filled with a bug net, magnifying glass, binoculars, nature journal and sketchbook, viewing jar with tweezers, resource folder, pen, and fine point marker. These are just a handful of the amazing hobbyist tools that can be checked out from the library, and collections are growing and expanding at libraries all over the nation.

  4. Artwork.

    While you might not expect your local library to offer you home decorating resources outside of books and DVDs, many do just that through lending libraries of artwork and sculpture. There are numerous libraries all over the nation that let patrons check out artwork for months at a time, bringing one piece back to exchange it for another. Take Manluis Public Library for example. The institution maintains a rotating collection of art from more than 40 artists in a wide range of styles and media. Patrons can take art home for two months (there is a rental fee, however), and if they like it, they can buy it from the artist. Other cities, like Seattle, boast a separate Art Lending Library, which offers work to patrons for free, with installation and deinstallation included.

  5. Musical instruments.

    Ever wanted to try your hand at playing a musical instrument but don’t have the money or the access required to get your hands on it? Some libraries are making it easier for anyone to see if an instrument is a good match for them or to provide short-term access to accomplished players. Lopez Island Library in Washington is one such institution. Currently, patrons can check out a violin, keyboard, ukulele, or a guitar. Other examples of music lending libraries exist in Hamilton, Mass.; Ontario, Canada; and Champaign-Urbana, Ill., all helping bring music to the masses.

  6. Gadgets.

    Gadgets can be fun, but they can also be pretty pricey. Luckily, libraries offer locals a chance to check out a wide range of these tech tools for low or no cost, even gadgets you might not think a library would carry. DeForest Area Public Library is a great example, lending out dozens of different kinds of gadgets. Their lending collection currently includes multiple video and digital cameras as well as a slide scanner, karaoke machine, DVD/VHS player, Kindle, projector, GPS, Xbox 360, Kinect sensor, and a CD player. It’s not uncommon to find libraries that lend out iPads, laptops, Wiis, and other fun, high-tech gadgets, too.

  7. Cooking tools.

    Snacking may not be encouraged at the library, but in many libraries patrons can pick up the tools to make tasty treats once they get home. One of the most popular cooking tools library patrons can check out is novelty cake pans. These are offered at P.D. Brown Memorial Library in Waldorf, Md., as well as a number of classes on how to decorate cakes and cupcakes. Similar services are also offered at a number of Iowa libraries. If patrons are looking to branch out from cakes, there are other libraries that can oblige them. Portland, Ore. is home to the Southeast Portland Community Kitchen Tool Library, which offers access to everything from canning supplies to a food dehydrator.

  8. Toys.

    Kids can get tired of toys easily, but when they can check them out from the library, that sense of novelty will stick around a bit longer. But it’s not all about having fun. Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Public Library has one of the largest toy-lending collections (700 toys and counting) but selects items that are geared toward improving motor skills and early-childhood learning. Another toy-lending library, Pasco County Library System in Hudson, Fla. has a collection designed especially for physically-challenged children.

  9. Land.

    Many families who would love to grow their own vegetables can’t do so because they don’t have enough outdoor space. Amazingly, libraries in some parts of the country offer a solution. One such example is Northern Onondaga Public Library’s LibraryFarm. The project transformed land owned by the library into a community garden, where anyone can “check out” a plot of land for free or work on a shared plot. Novices and experienced gardeners alike can take advantage of classes on composting, pest control, and garden-fresh cooking to help them get the most out of their gardening experience.

  10. Telescopes.

    Patrons young and old can explore the mysteries of the night sky with a little help from local libraries. Many libraries are now making it possible to check out telescopes that they can take home and use to view the night sky. In Maine, a number of libraries have partnered with local astronomy clubs to teach patrons how to use the telescopes and to get them interested in astronomy and other scientific topics. A nonprofit organization, aptly named Telescopes for Libraries, has the mission of bringing lending telescopes to all libraries in the nation, so if you don’t already have access to telescopes at your local library, you could soon.

  11. A person.

    While you can “check out” a person just about anywhere, at some libraries literally checking out a person can be a true learning experience. Sound strange? It’s actually not as uncommon as you’d think. It’s all part of a project called the Living Library, which began in Denmark in 2000 and has since spread to 22 countries. So far, several U.S. libraries have participated, notably Santa Monica Public Library and Bainbridge Island Library. The idea is to expand patrons’ horizons by exposing them to the point of view or experiences of someone from a different background. For instance, at Bainbridge, the program featured a quadriplegic, a female police officer, a young gay man, and an atheist, each presenting unique viewpoints that can help foster understanding and build bridges between people from all walks of life.