7 unexpected things that libraries offer besides books

Local libraries are often thought of as places to check out books or engage in some silent reading. But libraries offer so much more than just what can be found on their shelves or done in hushed tones.

And, in some instances, libraries have become places to make some noise.

From laptops and 3D laser printers, libraries today are providing the public with access to new technologies and education. In our research project on public libraries in smart communities, in which I serve as the principal investigator, we found that a public library serves as an anchor institution for these communities. It is a role libraries can be expected to fullfil even more in the future as technology continues to evolve in new and fascinating ways.

Here are seven examples from throughout the country of libraries offering more than books.

Robots

The Westport Free Library in Westport, Connecticut – population of roughly 28,000 – has a Robot Open Lab where the public can learn how to program robots to respond to simple commands, catch and kick a small soccer ball and even dance. The library’s two robots, Vincent and Nancy, autonomous, programmable humanoid robots, arrived in September 2014. Since then, more than 2,000 people have learned how to program them.

Some libraries offer patrons the chance to program robots. AP photo

Wi-Fi for your home

For those who may lack the financial resources to buy Wi-Fi, libraries such as the Chicago Public Library offer Wi-Fi hotspot lending programs that allow patrons to access the internet from home. Some have collections of laptops, e-readers and MP3 players available for check out.

Creation tools

Along similar technical lines, public libraries offer free access to maker spaces, which are laboratories filled with advanced technical equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters.

For instance, the 4th Floor in the Chattanooga Public Library in Tennessee is a 12,000-square-foot public laboratory and educational facility with a focus on information, design, technology and the applied arts. The library also has classes to teach citizens how to use the equipment.

The goal isn’t for every citizen to start their own new tech company, but to expose people to the technology as a matter of education and empowerment.

Recording studios

Chattanooga also has a fully functional music studio.

Members of a band record music at a Chattanooga public library. Author provided, Author provided
With a valid library card, a patron can reserve a three-hour session in the studio – which is filled with state-of-the-art recording studio equipment – to work on projects and learn the art of recording. A studio instructor is available to help inspire, educate and spark creativity.

For those who want to build and fix things, Chattanooga also has an extensive hand- and power-tool collection filled with hammers, wrench sets, drills and saws among many other tools. Cardholders who are 18 or older can check out up to three tools at a time for one week.