Beyond Books: Five Other Things Libraries Are Lending

by ParentCo. November 15, 2017

curious little boy looking out of the window

Gone are the silent stacks of out-of-date reference materials with cracking spines, guarded by the militant shushing patrol. They’ve been replaced by bustling community centers where teens can relax and read graphic novels and parents can join knitting clubs, or vice versa.

Public libraries have evolved as hubs of information and relevant community resources. While literacy remains an important focus of public libraries, there’s an effort by librarians to rebrand and expand their institutions. By reaching out to the communities they serve, librarians regularly tailor their services to meet patron needs.

This has also resulted in librarians reexamining the types of materials they’re circulating. Books will always be a staple, but listed below are five other items libraries are lending. (If anything here sounds like something you’d like in your own public library, then definitely reach out to your local librarians. They would love to hear how their collections can help you.)

Prom dresses

Prom is a big deal for a lot of teens, and finding the right outfit can be instrumental in alleviating stress for that special evening. However, the price tag can cause anxiety in parents. That’s why the Anderson Public Library collects prom dresses throughout the year, saving them for a bash held right before prom season. All students need is their student ID and they have access to dresses, shoes, accessories, hair and makeup tutorials, as well as an onsite tailor for alterations.

Museum passes

Through partnerships with other organizations, many libraries offer free passes to museums and local attractions. The Museum Adventure Pass in Chicago provides discounts to 17 museums for seven days, including the Bronzeville Children’s Museum and the Brookfield Zoo.

The Fairfield Public Library in Connecticut maintains passes to 46 museums in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts, allowing families to check out two passes at a time. Even better, when families return their passes, they can use the libraries to find supplemental information over what they experienced.

American Girl Dolls

Many libraries put together educational kits, especially science kits where everything is provided for budding scientists to conduct experiments. However, the Arlington Public Library is unique in its devotion to historical kits in the form of American Girl dolls. Parents just place an online hold for a specific doll, which is then transferred to the library branch of their choosing. Each kit contains one doll, a change of clothes, a book in the American Girl series, and a journal to record the doll’s experiences. What's more, the library designs materials to explain what life was like in Arlington during the era each doll is from, hopefully sparking some interest in future historians.

Cake pans

Most people don't have the equipment on hand to sculpt a birthday cake like a pro on the Food Network, and it can be hard to justify buying specialty pans for a one-time use. The Akron-Summit County Library in Ohio understands this plight, and so they offer a collection of cake pans. Though they carry traditional sizes and shapes, they also have those in the shape of popular characters like Cookie Monster and Darth Vadar. They just ask patrons to wash them before returning.


Gardening is a deceptively simple hobby. At its base form, it requires gardeners to provide seeds and soil, making it the perfect family activity. However, the Pima County Public Library in Arizona understands it’s a bit more complicated than that. They provide their patrons with a seed library, which consists of a whopping 400 individual items. At the end of each growing season, they ask patrons to return some of the new seeds they’ve accumulated. In this way, they hope to create a new stock that is more accustomed to local growing conditions, creating better plants each cycle.



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