Amazing Libraries in All 50 States
Perhaps nowhere do consumers get more for free than the local library. Wi-Fi and computer access, books, magazines, movies, and music are just the start.
Many branches offer classes on everything from art to technology, as well as lectures, concerts, movie screenings, game nights, tax help, nutrition and cooking programs, and more for free or a nominal fee. While children's areas and story time are library traditions, teen-only spaces and programs have become another must. Lately it's hard to find a good library without a "maker space" for sewing, sawing, or producing parts with a 3D printer, not to mention reading, meeting, and study rooms. Common free digital resources include Hoopla, Freegal for music, Freading and OverDrive for ebooks, OneClickDigital for audiobooks, Zinio for magazines, and TumbleBooks for children's music and games. At many libraries, members can check out passes for free or greatly reduced admission to area museums and other cultural attractions.
These 50 libraries across the country boast even more amenities. Non-residents can partake at most libraries for a small yearly fee.
The Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix features easy access from mass transit and free parking. From the art gallery and Open Book Café on the first floor to panoramic views of the city from the top floor, this is a destination for reading, relaxing, or hanging out.
The Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library & Learning Center in Little Rock is enough to make an adult envious. The 30,000-square-foot space includes a computer lab, a large teaching kitchen, and a 165-seat theater, as well as more than 21,000 items geared toward preschool, elementary, and middle-school students. The library hosts magic shows, jazz concerts, gardening, crafts, after-school and adventure clubs, and yoga.
In Chicago's South Loop, within walking distance of Millennium Park and the Art Institute, the Harold Washington Library Center is itself a work of art, with a 52-foot glass-paneled Winter Garden dome and works by more than 50 local and internationally known artists featured on free monthly walks. The catalog contains more than 1.2 million items (including the Thomas Hughes Children's Library collection) and the city's only free public-access music practice rooms, with pianos and more than 40,000 volumes of printed music.
Related: 38 Tasty Places to Eat for Cheap in Chicago
The redesigned Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library opened in 2002, a $23 million expansion and renovation that made room for more than 500,000 books, as well as a café and used bookstore. Services include free computer training, homework help, career assistance, and a bookmobile. The Alice C. Sabatini Gallery features traveling exhibits and free art classes. May through October, there's a Monday farmers market in the parking lot.
The New Orleans Public Library system's Main Library lets cardholders check out 30 items at a time. There's a Technology Center, an extensive genealogy collection, and an African American Resource Center. YMCA Educational Services, the adult literacy branch of the YMCA of Greater New Orleans, has an outpost here, as does the City Archives.
Related: 20 Cheap or Free Things to Do in New Orleans
Just 20 minutes northwest of the Las Vegas Strip, the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center has a catalog of more than 130,000 items, from DVDs and CDs to large-print and children's books. In addition to the 284-seat performing arts center, the library has a used bookstore and a gallery. Programs and events include scrapbooking and toddler crafts.
Related: 25 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Vegas
The New York Public Library has 88 branches, but the Main Library on Fifth Avenue, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is the most iconic -- it's the one with the lions out front. It holds nearly 15 million items (of the system's 53 million) and docents lead free daily tours of the building's highlights and exhibits. Amy's Bread Café offers caffeine and snacks and a shop sells souvenirs such as lion bookends.
Related: 50 Free and Cheap Things to Do in New York City
The Rosenberg Library in the laid-back Gulf Coast town of Galveston was dedicated in 1904 to replace a library founded in 1871, making it the state's oldest public library in continuous operation. (Check out a 47-foot photographic mural of Galveston in 1904 on the second floor.) It's home to the Galveston Texas History Center and a free museum. Another benefit of holding a library card: unlimited access to The New York Times online.
Related: 13 Cities Where It Pays to Get in the Vacation Rental Game