11 Things You Can Borrow From Libraries Besides Books

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iStock

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. The Brewerton, New York branch of the Northern Onondaga Public Library, for example, loans out fishing poles and other fishing tools, along with several branches of other New York State library locations. Libraries in four counties in Maryland also have rods available for patrons.

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, Illinois, and Braddock, Pennsylvania. 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 (nicknamed Monty), a certified therapy dog, 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. 

Experts Say Storytime Can Help Children Recover From Trauma

Jordan Pix, Getty Images
Jordan Pix, Getty Images

The lives of millions of Syrian children have been disrupted by their country's ongoing civil war. As a result of this crisis, refugees from Syria have poured into camps in neighboring countries like Jordan, where children might not have an outlet to process their feelings or painful experiences.

According to The New York Times, an innovative reading program in Jordan is helping to heal some of these emotional wounds. The non-profit organization is called We Love Reading, and it has trained adult volunteers to read aloud to refugee children. It also designs and supplies the books, which have been written in such a way to include scenarios that are relevant to the children’s personal experiences.

For example, one book titled Above the Roof explains everyday weather events like wind and rain in an effort to alleviate fears among children who become frightened by sudden, loud noises. It appears to be working, too. Anecdotally, there have been reports of children starting to talk more freely about their fears after sitting through storytime. One child who had been wetting the bed because he was too afraid to use the bathroom by himself stopped doing so after a few reading sessions with a volunteer.

There has also been some scientific evidence of its efficacy, according to neuroscientist and Brown University associate professor Dima Amso. As part of a pilot study, she traveled to Jordan to assess the cognitive development of 30 to 40 children who had participated in the program. She and other researchers collected data before the children’s participation as well as three months into the program, then compared the results in the lab. Their findings reveal that the program appeared to improve the children's mental health and cognitive development.

“We can’t change [the children’s] political climate but what we can do is say, ‘Here are the resilience and risk factors that are going to make them most likely to benefit,’” Amso told The Brown Daily Herald last year.

The We Love Reading program was founded in 2006 by a Jordanian molecular biologist named Rana Dajani, who also spent some time in the U.S. as a Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. More than 152,000 reading sessions have been held so far, and the program has since expanded to Africa, where volunteers work with South Sudanese refugees at the Kule Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia.

[h/t The New York Times]

Springer Nature Has Published the First AI-Written Textbook

iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto
iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto

The first AI-written textbook is here, and its tech-heavy subject is exactly what you might expect from a machine-learning algorithm. As Smithsonian reports, the book, published by Springer Nature, is a 247-page guide titled Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research.

While it doesn’t exactly make for light reading, the fact that it was written entirely by Beta Writer—an algorithm designed by researchers in Germany—is a game changer. Sure, AI has dabbled with writing before, helping journalists pen articles and even crafting entire chapters for the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series. (We highly recommend the riveting tale of Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.) But this is the first time AI has authored an entire research book, complete with a table of contents, introductions, and linked references.

The information was pulled from Springer Nature’s online database. While the grammar and syntax are a little clunky, the book manages to get the point across. (Here’s one sample sentence: “Respectively, safety issue is apparently challengeable till now even after the first commercialization of lithium-ion battery.”)

With the exception of an introduction to the book that was written by Henning Schoenenberger, Springer Nature's director of product data and metadata, the finished product was left unedited and unpolished. This was done “to highlight the current status and remaining boundaries of machine-generated content,” according to Schoenenberger. The publisher hopes to experiment with AI-powered textbooks on other subjects in the future.

Artificial intelligence has certainly come a long way in recent years, and algorithms have been trained to carry out a number of oddly specific tasks. They can design beer, figure out the ingredients in your meal, find Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo” picture, and remake the music video of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” In one of the more meta developments in tech news, Google’s AI even learned to make its own AI in 2017.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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