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Public libraries are one of our most important community resources. They house literature, educational materials, and entertainment, not only physical hardback and paperback books but also DVDs, audiobooks, magazines, and electronic books. Libraries provide computers, printers and copiers, and access to the internet. Some libraries have puzzles, toys, tools, crafts for kids, busy bags for babies and toddlers, fishing poles, ukuleles and lunar telescopes available for checkout. What library rental have you been surprised and gratified to find available through your local library?
The Saline County Library has a Costume Closet that rents costumes for Halloween for its patrons on a first-come, first-serve basis. A costume can be checked out for approximately the month of October and returned after Halloween, allowing people of all ages and sizes—and even some pets—to enjoy the costume on whichever date they celebrate, free of charge. The Costume Closet can be shopped in person at either branch or virtually on the library’s Facebook page.
The Central Arkansas Library System, in partnership with the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society and with funding from the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, has Orion telescopes available to its cardholders. My own Baxter County Library has three Orion Telescopes, provided by the Arkansas Natural Sky Association. I checked one out with my daughters ahead of a full moon. The librarian gave me a contract to sign. The main point was the directive to be careful with the sensitive lens and not view the sun.
As a companion to the telescope, my older daughter borrowed books about the moon and our night sky. The night of the full moon, my husband and I used the telescope to zoom in on the moon. Our daughters refused to wake up for the moon gazing, but our cat joined us. We watched the moon for a few hours as it trekked across the sky until it disappeared from our sight behind a distant line of trees. Even if my daughters slept through it, it was a fun evening, and I appreciated the library making the telescope available.
Gardening has recently seen a rise in popularity. A shared collection of seeds at the McMath Library in the Central Arkansas Library System helps people grow plants of their own. The Seed Library was started with donations from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Ann Green with Healing Waters. It seeks to enable communities to feed themselves. People can both “check out” and donate seeds of their own; the only requirement is that all seeds be heirloom or non-GMO.
In a similar vein to the Seed Library, some libraries, such as the Baxter County Library, organize plant swaps every spring to allow people to meet and share extra seedlings or cuttings.
A range of musical instruments is available in the Central Arkansas Library System. The Baxter County Library has ukuleles available as a great beginner instrument for anyone interested in learning music. Since musical instruments can be expensive to buy or rent from a shop, borrowing one from a library is an excellent opportunity to try without making a big investment.
Teach a man, or a child, to fish—right? Thanks to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s Tackle Loaner program, many libraries and state parks offer fishing poles; check this list to see where you can rent one. Some libraries, such as the Baxter County Library, even loan entire fishing kits, including tackle.
The Central Arkansas Library System’s Dee Brown branch has a tool library for its patrons. The library keeps various tools, from power and electrical tools to car, lawn, and garden tools, with a bicycle repair area. These community tools make it easy to complete projects around their homes without investing in a costly tool. A similar program, the Ozarkansas Tool Library by Feed Communities in conjunction with the Fayetteville Public Library, has been available in the past but is not currently active; the library anticipates it will reopen in 2022 and advises patrons to keep an eye on their website for updates.
Across the Central Arkansas Library System, about 30 birdwatching kits are available for rental. The kit includes an identification book for Arkansas birds and Celestron binoculars. The kits were provided by the Alan Ross Kumpe Memorial Fund, which also funded the creation of a birdwatching area at the Fletcher Library.
Many libraries have jigsaw puzzles available for use on-site, though admittedly less often in recent times. Some also allow patrons to rent puzzles. Coronado Library in Hot Springs is one such library.
An extensive collection of games and toys is available at the Central Library System’s Toy Library, provided by a private donation from Liza Wilson. The selection includes puzzles, blocks and building sets, balls, cars and trucks, marble runs, and food and cooking sets. My own Baxter County Library has activity kits for children available for checkout. The kits are designed for different ages and include activities and toys for sensory play and learning shapes and movement.
Check with your library to find what special items might be available for patrons. Remember that special rental collections often have their own set of rules for checkout, use, and return. This may include abbreviated or extended rental periods. If the idea of special collections appeals to you, or if you have a collection you think a library system could use, talk to your local library about possibilities.
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