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11 Things You Can Borrow From Libraries Besides Books

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There’s more to libraries than just plain old books. Many, if not most, also have movies, music, and audio and ebooks to lend out. But what about a parking pass for a Civil War fort? Or a circular saw? Well, depending on where you live, you can borrow those, too. Here are just a few odds and ends that some libraries lend out.  

1. Fishing Poles 

If you’re not ready to commit to buying your own fishing gear, your local library might have you covered. Erie, Pennsylvania’s Blasco Library, for example, loans out fishing poles and tackle boxes, while several branches of the Chicago Public Library run a “Rods and Reads” program that provides poles and tackle sets for adults and kids.

2. Museum Passes 

A bunch of libraries lend out passes for free or discounted admission to museums and other institutions. Chicago libraries have “Museum Passports” good for admission for families of four to 15 different area attractions like the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. The Fairfield Public Library in Connecticut lends admission passes for 42 different museums in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. In Michigan, the Library Network provides “Michigan Activity Passes” [PDF] for admission or discounts at more than 100 museums, galleries, and other institutions across the state. Georgia libraries have passes for Georgia State Parks and historic sites that provide admission for four people and cover parking fees.

3. Art

Need something pretty to hang on your wall, or a conversation piece for your mantle? Libraries in Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Iowa City, Aurora, Ill., and Braddock, Penn. have original artwork, prints, posters, and even sculptures that you can take home and display.

4. Internet Access

The Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library both loan out mobile hotspots so patrons can have mobile broadband Internet access at home or on the go. 

5. A Book Club 

At the Ann Arbor District Library, you can borrow a Book Club To Go, with 10 copies of a featured book (the selections range from best-sellers to the obscure, and include fiction and non-fiction), a DVD if a movie adaptation exists, and a packet that contains discussion questions and tips for running a book club. The Edwardsville Public Library in Illinois has a similar service called Book Club in a Box.

6. Seeds 

Arizona’s Pima County Public Library has seeds for hundreds of types of vegetables, herbs, and flowers that patrons can take home and plant in their gardens. You can’t return them like books, of course, but the library encourages borrowers to save and donate seeds from their grown plants. 

7. Power Tools 

Have a home project you wanna do yourself? The Berkeley and Oakland public libraries both have a variety of carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical, and landscaping tools to lend out. The Ann Arbor library also has a tool collection, but focuses on “uncommon tools that you might not have lying about,” like thermal leak detectors and air quality meters. 

8. Musical Instruments 

The Ann Arbor library’s instrument collection also centers around the uncommon and unusual. You can borrow everything from guitar effects pedals to theremins and voice transformers. If you’re going for a different sound, the Forbes Library in Northampton, Mass. has banjos, bongos, and ukuleles. 

9. A Green Screen

Take your home movies to the next level with help from the Skokie, Ill. public library’s digital media lab. They’ve got computers loaded with video editing software, microphones and mic stands and, for those digital effects-heavy scenes, a green screen.

10. A Dog 

Stressed out Yalies can stop by the Lillian Goldman Law Library and “check out” General Montgomery, a certified therapy dog owned by one of the librarians, for a 30-minute petting session. 

11. A Person

Libraries around the world host “human library” programs where visitors can sit down with human “books” and learn about their different cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences. 

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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The Library of Congress Wants Your Help Identifying World War I-Era Political Cartoons
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s official library wants your help. And it involves cartoons.

The Library of Congress just debuted its new digital innovation lab, an initiative that aims to improve upon its massive archives and use them in creative ways. Its first project is Beyond Words, a digitization effort designed to make the research library’s historical newspaper collection more search-friendly. It aims to classify and tag historical images from World War I-era newspapers, identifying political cartoons, comics, illustrations, and photos within old news archives. The images come from newspapers included in Chronicling America, the library’s existing newspaper digitization project.

The tasks involved in Beyond Words are simple, even if you know nothing about the illustrations involved going into it. The Library of Congress just needs people to help mark all the illustrations and cartoons in the scanned newspaper pages, a task that only involves drawing boxes to differentiate the image from the articles around it.

Then there’s transcription, involving typing in the title of the image, the caption, the author, and whether it’s an editorial cartoon, an illustration, a photo, a map, or a comic. The library also needs people to verify the work of others, since it’s a crowd-sourced effort—you just need to make sure the images have been transcribed consistently and accurately.

A pop-up window below an early 20th century newspaper illustration prompts the user to pick the most accurate caption.

Screenshot via labs.loc.gov

The data will eventually be available for download by researchers, and you can explore the already-transcribed images on the Beyond Words site. Everything is in the public domain, so you can remix and use it however you want.

With the new labs.loc.gov, “we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” Carla Hayden, the library’s head, said in a press release.

Other government archives regularly look to ordinary people to help with the monstrous task of digitizing and categorizing their collections. The National Archives and Records Administration, for instance, has recently crowd-sourced data entry and transcription for vintage photos of life on Native American reservations and declassified government documents to help make their collections more accessible online.

Want to contribute to the Library of Congress’s latest effort? Visit labs.loc.gov.

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