Five things you didn’t know you could get for free at the library

Did you know you can borrow instruments?

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
Editor, Time Out New York
Photograph: Shutterstock

NYC's libraries are a treasure trove of free resources from books to digital files and photos, but there's much more you can actually get for free from the New York, Queens and Brooklyn Public Libraries.

Sure, you can download some 30,000 books from the NYPL, rent movies on DVD, and check out their respective free exhibits like the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library's Treasures, but you can also access lesser-known benefits and perks like telescopes and board games at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Below, we’ve rounded up five things you didn’t know you could get for free at NYC’s libraries:

1. Access to museums

Brooklyn Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Kolin Mendez/Brooklyn Museum

With your library card, you can reserve a Culture Pass and get free admission to some major art museums, historical societies, public gardens and more including the American Museum of Natural HistoryIntrepid Sea, Air & Space MuseumThe Jewish MuseumThe Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe Morgan Library & Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn MuseumWave Hill and the New York Botanical Garden. Information on the exact institutions and how to use the pass is here.

2. Instruments

Brooklyn Public Library recording studio
Photograph: Gregg Richards, courtesy of BPL

You can actually rent musical instruments from the library! Brooklyn Public Library cardholders who want to learn to play the guitar or need a piano for their next composition can borrow them from the library for one month. Thanks to a partnership with the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, you can rent out percussion instruments, including steel drums, string instruments, such as a banjo, a guitar, a ukulele, and violin, and electric string instruments, from an electric guitar and bass guitar with an amplifier to an electronic keyboard. You can reserve yours here. Even cooler, you can rent out time in the library's amateur recording studio located in the Info Commons if you're working on a project.

BPL also has a new vinyl lending library!

Over at NYPL, teens can head over to the Teen Recording Studio & Media Lab at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library to record music and also use 3D printers, design and editing software for multimedia projects—for free.

3. Seeds

The Seed Library at the NYPL
Photograph: courtesy of the NYPL | The Seed Library at the NYPL

The library is not just about nurturing minds but also plants! The Seed Library at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library offers free non-GMO, heirloom, and/or organic seeds for patrons to grow vegetables, flowers, or herbs including lemon balm, basil, thyme, marigolds, zinnias, and peppers and more. Those with an NYPL card can get up to three seed packets during one visit and will also get instructions on how to grow the seeds. (Books on related topics can also be found in Room 67 and are available to borrow.)

4. Language lessons

NYPL’s free language courses
Photograph: Jonathan Blanc, courtesy of the NYPL

Taking language classes can cost you, but the libraries offer language classes for free with their cards. Through Mango Languages (via each of the libraries), you have an interactive database that provides step-by-step lesson plans for 71 different languages—Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Vietnamese as well as 17 English courses for speakers new to English. There is also a mobile app you can use to learn on the go and also feature films that complement select courses.

5. A tablet or high-speed internet

NYPL tablet rental
Photograph: Jonathan Blanc, courtesy of the NYPL

Everyone knows you can use the computers and Wi-Fi at the city’s libraries, but you can also borrow tablets and hotspots for free for your personal use. All three public library systems have a tablet and hotspot borrowing program. There are, of course, some caveats—these free resources are meant for those without internet at home so you’ll have to be ready to provide some information. 

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