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I've been a public library fan since I reached seven years old. (Lying in the bed for several years with Polio, reading was the most – and often only - enjoyable entertainment during that period.) Of course, back then, books and a few magazines were pretty much the only focus of local libraries but, boy, how that's evolved!

A public library's purpose today is much more than simply to provide access to books; these days, they enrich their communities and truly improve quality of life for its citizens by offering all kinds of resources. After thorough investigation and to my great surprise, I discovered an entire encyclopedia of offerings – some of which I hadn't a clue about previously. However, because different communities have different needs, all these provisions aren't available at every library; nevertheless, many of these deals should be available through at least one library in each local system.

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Ellen Phillips

Movies. Like they do with books, many libraries now offer movies for checkout. The selection often matches that of a Redbox, with the difference being that you can check out movies for multiple nights for free. The selection isn't limited to dry documentaries, either; copies of newly released blockbusters, comedies, romances, dramas – anything you would find at your local Redbox or on Netflix – minus the cost are waiting for you.

Audiobooks. Most libraries have great audiobook selections, which is a super option if you're about to leave on a road trip. They provide entertainment while allowing you to keep your eyes on the road.

As with their book selection, most libraries offer a wide variety of audiobooks of all kinds. You'll find exciting fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, literary fiction, mystery and romance, as well as loads of nonfiction, including biographies, military histories, business books, personal finance books and many others

Community groups. Libraries often provide a meeting place for community groups of all types, not just for those centered around books. While the selection might be limited at smaller libraries, larger libraries typically offer meetings for many kinds of groups, from political groups and discussion forums to youth groups and special-interest groups. As a matter of fact, I've presented talks for the public in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee – all held in separate meeting rooms set aside for just this purpose. For instance, visiting authors will present on the topic of their books, politicians will hold public forums, and local experts will talk about their specific area of expertise. Most libraries keep a schedule of their free presentations on their websites.

Attraction passes. Many libraries have arrangements with local attractions, such as zoos, museums and theaters that allow patrons these passes that can be "checked out" from the library. Just pop into the library, check out a "pass," then utilize it to visit the specific venue, such as the former ones, plus historic sights and homes, and other attractions without the expense.

Internet access. The local library in any area is great for internet retrieval. If we're traveling, for example, or if we don't have access at home, check this spot. Don't forget that most (if not all) offer free high-speed access to the community as well as computers available for public use. Many larger libraries even offer a service whereby staff both answers questions and helps folks with internet-related glitches.

Tools. A new feature in many libraries is, believe it or not, tool and machine rental and the ability to check out items for use in building or repairing things at home. Many larger libraries even have small spaces where volunteers offer classes on how to use various tools for making and repairing items.

E-books. In this digital age, modern libraries are, of course, giving us e-books for check-out. Whether reading on your phone, tablet or home computer, the checkout process for e-books is processed by an app or a website.

New languages. Many libraries present programs to help patrons learn a (free!) language. My research shows that most library systems have a license for Mango, a language-learning software program that lets library patrons learn a language at their own pace. And other libraries even permit conversation groups where library card-holders can get together and practice their new language.

Unique events. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw many libraries' special events calendars. Take "The Human Library," as an example: patrons may "borrow" an actual person and learn from his knowledge, expertise, and experiences. On the other extreme, some libraries offer seed banks, where card-holders can borrow seeds to grow vegetables and flowers in their own gardens.

Subscriptions. One of the best ways to get the most out of any library card is to take advantage of digital subscriptions through apps like Overdrive (and related app, Libby), Hoopla and RbDigital. With these apps, library borrowers can nab the latest audiobooks, e-books and movies without leaving the couch. Furthermore, why pay money for magazine subscriptions when members can also obtain issues of their favorite magazines and newspapers delivered to their devices each month?

Regardless of where you live, I urge readers to visit your local libraries and explore all the amazing projects and developments found at each. Enjoy!

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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