“They were gathering tax information and taking English lessons, watching movies and tracing their family history. They sat in the library, just because it was a nice place to sit, and sometimes they did things that had nothing to do with the library. – Susan Orlean, “The Library Book”
In his ode to downtown LA’s fire-ravaged old library (and to libraries in general), Orlean points out something that’s easy to forget: these beloved literary repositories offer so much more than simple books. And at the same low price of zero dollars. All you need is a library card. If you don’t have one, well, they’re also free.
Orlean was writing about the first Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), which today has 73 branches. These hubs, along with the many independent library locations in LA County and the city, can offer you nifty items like power sanders, telescopes, and free zoo passes. (But as any librarian will tell you – in a solemn tone as they lower their glasses – reference books should stay put).
Here are eight little-known things you can check out at LA libraries. Remember to return them in one to three weeks.
1. A ukulele
The LAPL has received a fairly favorable response to the recent TikTok Video he published an article on lending ukuleles. Each instrument comes with a case, chord book and tuner. They are available at 17 of LAPL’s 73 locations.
Marc Horton, the San Pedro branch librarian who came up with the idea, told me in an email that ukuleles are the only instruments offered by the library. He chose Hawaiian mini-guitars because they are small, inexpensive, and low maintenance, “as opposed to, say, trumpets”, and because they are a “bridge instrument…one piece forgiving and non-intimidating” that can spark interest in other ways of making music.
Horton’s main inspiration, however, was Beatles legend George Harrison, who once called ukuleles “the one instrument you can’t play and laugh about!”
Details: THE PL
2. A virtual reality headset
Altadena’s two library branches feature a ‘library of things’, including VR headsets, which kids will love for games (such as ‘Star Wars Vader Immortal’) and adults will dig through National Geographic Explore, which allows wearers to discover Machu Picchu or Antarctica. Among Altadena’s “things” you can also borrow: Orion telescopes and hiking backpacks, which include local trail guides, a first aid kit and a flashlight.
Details: Altadena Library
3. A state park pass
Thinking of a day trip to the sapphire waters of Crystal Cove (near Newport Beach)? Heading to Big Sur and the cliffs at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park? Your local library can facilitate both trips with a pass for “a passenger vehicle with a capacity of nine people or less, or a motorcycle with a highway permit”.
There’s usually a waiting list for these, so plan ahead. Some state parks do not participate in this program, but the vast majority do. here is a full list of bothand a handy map.
4. Admission to the museum
The LAPL and LA County Library’s “Discover & Go” program allows cardholders to make reservations online at select museums and attractions, up to three months in advance.
Participating partners include The Broad, La Brea Tar Pits, LA Zoo, LA County Museum of Natural History, and the brand new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where, for an additional fee, guests can strut their stuff on the stage at the (simulated) Dolby Theater and accept a (replica) Oscar.
Five LA County Library branches (Compton, Lancaster, Norwalk, Rosemead, and San Fernando) offer tools “to help our customers learn new skills and complete new and existing projects.”
Kitchen utensils, sewing machines, gardening tools, power tools, bicycle repair tools, extension cords of various lengths. If you need it, they probably have it. There are over 100 pieces available. (A library spokesperson declined to say whether its “light bulb changing kit” was popular among politicians.)
Cardholders must be 18 years old and be prepared to return what they borrow within seven days.
Details: LA County Library
6. A laptop Where ipad mini
The LAPL and LA County Library offer Chromebooks and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for payment. Each laptop is equipped with tools such as Adobe Acrobat Reader and Google programs such as Calendar, Docs and Drive.
Both libraries offer training and information on using computers for job search. The “Work Ready” program allows borrowers to keep the devices for six weeks.
For young web browsers, the City Library offers mini iPads at four locations (Chatsworth, Sylmar, Vernon, and the RL Stevenson branch in Boyle Heights) that are packed with activities, games, and learning tools for kids.
Whatever device you borrow, librarians ask you to return it in person instead of dropping it in the book chute.
7. A US citizenship kit
The county library folks call it “citizenship in a bag,” and the very idea of it makes this stubborn proponent of the American experience a little foggy.
Inside each kit is “a variety of educational materials” to help American aspirants prepare for the naturalization exam, including flash cards and multimedia tools.
The best part is what borrowers keep, with no expiration date: “detailed instructions on the U.S. naturalization process, reference documents on the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens, and official citizenship forms, including applying for naturalization.”
Details: LA County Library
8. Nature Exploration Equipment
Summer is almost over, but it’s still a great time for the kids to embark on an outdoor adventure. Offered in partnership with the LA County Museum of Natural History, the Nature Exploration Bags “include science tools like a magnifying glass and specimen jars, plus a field guide with tips and tricks for help you discover animals and plants”.
Available at five county library branches (San Fernando, City Terrace, Quartz Hill, South Whittier and Compton), the kits can be borrowed for up to three weeks.
Details: LA County Library