What Could be Better Than Books? Find Out What Other Cool Stuff Your Local Library Has to Lend!

Rows of books on shelves in a library

Libraries need better PR. In addition to being bastions of books for learning and pleasure, libraries are comfortable, safe and resource-rich spaces that are welcoming to all members of the public. They are incredible community resources, yet it’s easy to just, kind of… forget they exist sometimes, and then feel very silly for doing so. Now we’ve reminded you it’s time to dig out the old library card, here’s another helpful hint: Your local library probably lends out a lot more than just books. 

Many Californians enjoy access to both county and city library systems, and you don’t even need to visit a physical branch to take advantage of their services. Libraries’ digital catalogs give cardholders free access to audiobooks, e-books, newspapers, magazines, music, movies and shows to stream or download. Many offer free access to online learning portals such as LinkedIn Learning, Gale Courses and ABC Mouse. And if you need a way to access those digital assets, stop in at a branch and ask about borrowing a laptop or tablet and WiFi hotspot. 

But there’s more! Many libraries also offer a “Library of Things.” These are diverse collections of handy items that cardholders are welcome to borrow – free of charge – in the exact same way you borrow books. Maybe you want to play with a new electronic gadget or appliance, or need an obscure tool for just one specific job. Perhaps your kid doesn’t know what instrument they’d like to learn and wants to try them all. Maybe the grandkids are visiting and you don’t have enough toys to keep them entertained. Before spending any money, try your local library. 

Here are just a few examples of California libraries with intriguing Libraries of Things. Why not find out what yours has to offer? 

Berkeley’s Tool Lending Library

The Berkeley Public Library has hosted an extremely comprehensive tool lending library since 1979. The collection includes all the essential indoor and outdoor, manual and power tools, plus all kinds of uncommon gadgets as well. Need a carpet seam roller? A 30-pound electric demolition hammer? Leaf blower, lawn mower, ladder? The tool lending library has all of those and more, available to borrow for up to seven days. They only ask that you don’t return these items in the book drop. 

Black text and images of tools on a yellow background reading DIY with BPL, Discover Berkeley's Tool Lending Library

The library has kitchen tools, too. This is ideal for items you’d only ever use once, such as cake pans in the shape of a dinosaur, pony or elephant. Berkeley locals get to try out kitchen appliances that pique curiosity but are of questionable need, such as pasta machines, ice cream makers and air fryers. You can borrow them to help decide if it’s worth buying your own. (Our prediction: Air fryer – yes. Pasta machine – no.) 

Hayward’s Seed Lending Library

In Alameda County, the city of Hayward Public Library has a seed lending library for local gardeners, complemented by its own rooftop vegetable garden. Naturally, you can’t return the same fruit, vegetable and flower seeds you borrow, so the seed lending library works as a community seed exchange. 

Tiny green sprouts above the dark, wet soil representing Hayward, California's Seed Lending Library
Image by Hans from Pixabay 

According to the Hayward Library, “The goal of the Seed Lending Library is to increase the capacity of Hayward community members to feed themselves and their families wholesome food with education and resources that foster community resilience, self-reliance, and a culture of sharing.”

The library hosts free seed-saving and gardening workshops to help you put those seeds to good use and optionally return your own harvest of seeds to the exchange.  

Contra Costa County Library’s Discover & Go Program

Contra Costa County operates the wonderful Discover & Go museum pass program, which provides free and low-cost passes to museums, science centers, zoos and cultural destinations. The county library also has a partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District. Cardholders can score a temporary parking pass and temporary family membership card for any East Bay Regional Park facility. Further, they can borrow an Outdoor Explorer Backpack from the library’s Library of Things. Inside the backpack are binoculars and local nature guides covering birds, trees and wildflowers. And you thought those librarians just wanted you to stay inside and read books! 

Sacramento Public Library’s Library of Things

The Sacramento Public Library has quite the diverse Library of Things. It includes some coveted and curious arts and crafts supplies such as a Cricut Maker, laminator, sewing machine and button makers in different sizes. You can borrow a DSLR camera or bird-watching kit. They’ll lend you a croquet set or beanbag toss game for backyard play. Need to shape up that backyard? Borrow a cordless leaf blower and hedge trimmer. The library will lend you a turntable for your old Motown records, and a Super NES Classic edition for retro fun times.  Make some noise with a Fender telecaster, drum set or keyboard. These are just a few of the varied items available from the Sacramento Public Library. 

Oakland’s Toy Lending Library (and More)

The Oakland Public Library’s lending collection includes a huge range of toys for ages 0 to 6. Library cardholders may borrow two toys at a time, and rest assured they’re all thoroughly sanitized upon return. Options include a giant dinosaur set, Magnatiles, trains, musical instruments, play food, vehicles, and much more.

A screenshot of Oakland's toy lending library system with thumbnails of toys to save or borrow

The library also has video games available to borrow. The toy library is in addition to Oakland’s Tool Lending Library with a collection of over 5,000 tools. 

Santa Barbara Public Library’s Caregiver Kits and More

The Library of Things at the Santa Barbara Public Library specializes in kits – small collections of items designed around themes of early literacy, learning through play and leveled reading. They also offer seven different Alzheimer’s and dementia kits for caregivers. These include easy-to-use games and activities to promote memory recall during various stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Santa Barbara Public Library’s Library of Things also includes science and technology items, crafts and cooking supplies, and musical instruments. Some highlights include an Oculus Go VR, a telescope and soprano ukulele. They’re all available to borrow, as long as you have a library card. 

Napa County Library’s Puzzles and Board Games

Napa County Library’s Library of Things has an impressive collection of board games and puzzles. Dozens of each are available, and the puzzles collection showcases the local landscape and agricultural heritage. Further, the library offers arts and crafts supplies including sewing machines, Nook e-readers for children and adults, and a litter cleanup kit with buckets, pickers and gloves. This library clearly cares for its local community! 

California State Parks Pass

Want to visit a state park for free? There’s an excellent chance that your local library, be it a city, county or mobile library, has joined in a partnership with California State Parks, the First Partner’s Office and the California State Library, to offer free State Parks vehicle day-use passes.

The logo for the California State Library Parks Pass program featuring a book, bear, sunshine and trees

Library cardholders can borrow a pass for up to four weeks to visit one of more than 200 participating state park units. 

Have you used your local library’s Library of Things to borrow more than books? Let us know!

You might also like to read: “See a Gutenberg Bible – the Printed Book that Changed the World – at The Huntington Library

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