There’s so much more to libraries than books and storytimes. Visit your local branch for some amazing checkouts and free offerings—from power tools and baking pans to telescopes and cameras. You can even walk away with a free museum outing. Here’s a roundup of 16 of the coolest things to check out from our East Bay libraries. And I bet there’s even more!
Get Free Museum Passes
Several East Bay library systems participate in Discover and Go, a program that offers free admission to popular museums and attractions. It’s a great way to sample a museum before purchasing a membership or use to plan a special outing on a budget.
Borrow Bulky Toys
Oakland Public Library loans a variety of toys for added fun at playtime. The library has options for kids 0-6 years old: trucks, trains, blocks, dolls, musical instruments, and Magnatiles to name a few. Rent a toy based on a specific age group, skill development, or interest. This is a great option for families living with limited toy storage space. And yes, all toys are thoroughly cleaned between loans. The Richmond Library also has a toy lending program for children ages 3-6. Reserve online and keep the toy checkout for a few weeks.
Check Out All Kinds of Tools
Need a power tool to complete a DIY project, a trowel for planting a garden, or maybe a longer ladder? Several East Bay library systems lend tools to resident cardholders. Newer additions to these programs include tools for bike, car, or smartphone repair. I’ve rented tools from Oakland and Berkeley’s programs over the years and it’s such a great resource – much easier than purchasing a tool or spending time tracking one down from a neighbor or over NextDoor.
Reserve Telescopes and Cameras
Berkeley Public Library has five telescopes available for loan. Explore the Universe from your backyard or patio. The tabletop telescopes are easy to transport and have features to help novices find celestial objects. My family was able to view craters of the moon and a few moons of Jupiter with ease.
Alameda Free Library rents out GoPro camera kits to library cardholders. Each kit comes in a camera case and includes the Hero3+ camera, waterproof housing, a number of different mounts, HDMI cables, 64GB memory card, and a selfie stick. Adventure awaits!
Seek Out Seasonal Seeds
A handful of East Bay libraries partner with local gardening groups to offer free seeds to cardholders. Offerings change seasonally, so you’ll be able to plant something that’s likely to grow. The seed libraries can also provide helpful gardening tips and advice. Even if you don’t have gardening space, little ones can use the seeds for art projects, DIY music shakers, sorting games, or basic observation. No need to return the seeds.
Reserve Specialty Kitchen Tools
Berkeley lends kitchen tools and baking equipment to aspiring bakers and chefs (or those who just want to try a fancy kitchen tool without dealing with paying for it or storing it). Think pasta makers, cookie cutters, baking pans, KitchenAid mixers, ice and cream makers. If you have a Berkeley library card, turn to this program to elevate your dinner game, for seasonal/holiday dishes (thank you, turkey roasting pan), or if you’re looking for a fun culinary project on a rainy day.
Try Board Games and Puzzles Without Buying
Alameda Free Library rents board games and puzzles — perfect for an old-school game night. Visit the main library to see your options. Oakland Public Library also loans board games for use inside its branches.
Check Out Devices and Wifi Hotspots
Libraries offer computers and internet access inside the building. But, you can also rent these items to use anywhere. Check out a laptop, Chromebook, or wifi hotspot from Contra Costa library branches, Oakland Public Library, or Richmond Public Library. Some items can be borrowed for up to three weeks!
Download Digital Resources (eBooks, music, movies, crafts)
When I want to entertain my kids without a screen, I turn to audiobooks. They make quiet time and travel in the car so much more enjoyable for my family. Hoopla and Overdrive are standard offerings from most East Bay libraries and let you download audiobooks, music, movies, and eBooks for free. Other offered collections include Enki, Kanopy, BiblioBoard, and TumbleBooks.
Another fun digital resource is Creativebug. The database has thousands of crafting videos so kids and adults can learn various new skills or complete crafting projects. Sounds like just the thing to keep kids busy while they are stuck inside during the rainy season.
Borrow DVDs for $0
With Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, and all the other streaming platforms, DVDs feel less relevant. But, I still rent (for free!) movies from my local library for my kids. Visit your local branch for cinematic classics that aren’t available or not worth the added video subscription costs like Charlie Brown specials or The Land Before Time.
Leverage Language Learning Resources
Learn a new language as a family or improve second language skills with language resources from the library. Across the East Bay, you can find old-school resources like CD kits, foreign language DVDs, or online programs like Rosetta Stone, MakeMake, and Pronunciator. Plus, there’s always an option to check out books in a range of languages across all ages and reading levels.
Find Genealogy and History Research Tools
Explore your family’s history with your kids by using genealogy tools like Ancestry or HeritageQuest. Libraries also have newspaper searches to find articles or obituaries so you can learn more about your family’s past. Skip the membership fees to genealogy websites and use the library’s free services.
Get Tutoring and Homework Help
Kids who have library cards can tap into learning resources like ABCmouse, Brainfuse, or ProQuest for live tutoring or learning assistance. Teens and college students may benefit from test prep tools for everything from college admissions tests, driving tests, or professional licensing exams.
Pick up Free Meals
Some library sites offer free meals and snacks to children under 18, including the Oakland Public Library, San Lorenzo Library, and San Pablo Library. These healthy meals keep kids nourished and powered for their day. It’s a great resource especially as food prices are ever-increasing.
Use Printers and Scanners
My family ditched our printer and scanner years ago, but I still find myself needing to print or scan an item every once in a while. The library has become a life-saver for these tasks. Some locations even have mobile printing to save even more time.
Listen to Storytime for Littles
Most public libraries have storytimes for children, even during the everlasting pandemic. While some popular events have been canceled or gone virtual, others are being held on nearby patches of lawn or at parks. Leave it to the librarians to get creative. We have put many of the in-person events on our events calendar or our Free Storytime Guide because letting someone else read to your child is a good excuse to get out of the house. There are also virtual storytimes available on most libraries’ Facebook or Youtube pages. Most include songs, fingerplay, and sometimes puppets.
Interested in learning more about what your local library offers? Just talk to a librarian. They are all so helpful and encouraging when it comes to using services. Some library systems even host special events so you can be introduced to special programs, offerings, and checkouts like the Hayward Library. Keep in mind that some listed programs may only be available to residents, but many libraries allow any cardholder to borrow special checkout items.