More than books: 9 ways your library can save you money

Libraries offer a great free alternative to buying things you’ll only read once.

I like libraries. I even got married at one. Ok, it just happened that the registry office we used in Mayfair was in some lovely rooms above a library. But still. Libraries are cool.

The problem is, I hardly use them and have always tended to buy the titles I want to read – – whether they’re actual books or digital downloads. 

But unless it’s an absolute classic I’m unlikely to reread anything. So the books sit on a shelf. Read once, then go unloved for months, if not years, before I try to sell them or give them away.

So why don’t I get my books from my library? The answer is very simple. I forget. Yup, the prospect of a free book just completely slips my mind! And books aren’t all that libraries have to offer including e-books, audiobooks and (my personal favourite) the free digital magazines.

The more we use libraries, the more we support them against cuts, then the more likely they’ll survive. Which really is a good thing.

Of course, all libraries are different – and offer different services. The best way to find out is to visit your local or look at their website. So do check out what is going on at your library and join up while you’re there. You’ll probably just need some ID and proof of address.

Read on to find out, nine ways your library can save you money.

Books in a library

1. Borrow free books

Right, an obvious one to start. You can borrow books. For free. You literally can’t get your literature any cheaper.

Of course, your library won’t have every book going, but you can always reserve or order books. There’s usually a cost associated with this. Reservations from within your library’s area (so for me that’s all the branches in North Yorkshire) cost £1. 

If a new title is going to be very popular, libraries tend to get a few copies in, and at my local library, you can reserve future releases for £1. Even so, be prepared for a wait if everyone else wants a copy.

It’s a pricier £10 to order books from other districts via an inter-library loan, though that cost may differ where you live. At that price, you’re possibly only going to benefit if you’re after some rare, out-of-print or an expensive textbook.

2. Download free e-books and audiobooks

Most libraries also now lend digital books and audiobooks. It’s a natural modernisation as we consume content digitally. Again this is free. FREE.

Sadly at the moment, you can’t download books for Kindles, but you can read them on most other devices. Often you need an app, which means you can read it on your tablet or smartphone. A couple of common services are BorrowBox and Libby by Overdrive.

You use the same apps for audiobooks. If you were paying for a similar service – say Amazon’s Audible – you’d be paying £7.99 a month (though you can get a 30-day free trial with Audible).

There’s also a music streaming service called Freegal. It looks a bit limited but, once more, it won’t cost you anything compared to other ad-free services like Spotify Premium. It’s not going to be on offer everywhere but it’s worth a look.

3. Get free digital newspapers, magazines and comics

This has been one of my biggest money savers. I discovered that you can download hundreds of magazines a few years back. Exactly which titles you can get depends on where you live.

Though I now get it for free via my Club Lloyds current account, I used to read Empire Magazine this way, and my wife often checks out Vogue and Good Housekeeping. You can read them on your computer or view them via an app on tablets and phones.

Some libraries also have a service where you can read today’s newspapers online. Yes, you can obviously head to the papers’ websites. But if you like reading a paper in the layout you’d get in print, then this is a nice option and cheaper than forking out £2 to £3 at the newsagent.

Plus you can read international titles, or those which are normally behind a firewall, such as The Telegraph (but not the Times or FT). The service I’ve got access to is Press Reader, which includes magazines too. I can access back issues too.

The Observer newspaper on Press Reader

Another discovery at my library was access to the Comic Plus app. This isn’t just great for kids – there are also lots for big kids, including plenty of graphic novels.  I had a brief nostalgia-filled spell a few summers ago where I devoured dozens of issues of Transformers comics – harking back to my childhood! 

If your local authority doesn’t offer any or some of these, a few libraries will let you sign-up online to access these services without proving you live in the area.

4. Borrow DVDs, games and CDs

With faster broadband, it’s pretty easy to stream your music and films via the internet. But if you want to have a physical DVD then lots of libraries still rent them out, including new releases. This can be a pretty cheap way of watching box sets as you’re often charged per box, not per disc.

Less libraries offer CDs now, and any games are probably for older consoles. You’ll also be charged for these. But it’s certainly worth a look.

5. Buy old books & DVDs

If you still like to own books, then it’s worth seeing if your library sells off old titles. My library normally runs them three or four times a year, with the money going towards other library activities.

I last went to one earlier this year and some of the stock had dated – travel guidebooks for example, but there was plenty to choose from. I came home with the Alan Partridge biography for 50p, and a couple of cookbooks at £1 each. All were in really good nick.

6. Attend free or cheap classes

Libraries are great for learning. In researching this article I’ve randomly looked at half a dozen regions in the UK and seen classes as diverse as yoga, coding, gardening, self-publishing, chess, drumming and knitting.

Many of these were free, or a nominal couple of quid. Far cheaper than the equivalent elsewhere. Most library websites list what’s going on.

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7. Access online resources

That learning can also be done at home. If you join your library you should get access to some online tools.

For example, my local gives free access to the genealogy website Ancestry. This normally costs £13.99 a month. There are also all sorts of databases and other memberships you could take advantage of.

8. Entertain the kids

There are also loads of activities for children at libraries. Reading is such an important part of developing kids that it’s great to surround them with so many books from a young age, plus over school holidays there are bound to be events taking place.

And the fact that they are free can be a huge boost. Again, look at your local library’s website, or pop in to see what’s advertised.

9. Work at home, but not at home

Finally, one that could be useful if you need a change of scenery when working from home. I’ve got a decent office set up at home, but I know lots of people like to get out of the house. Yes, you can go to a coffee shop and plug into free wi-fi, but you’ll probably need to keep buying cups of coffee.

For some variety, you can head to your library. Yes some of the computers will be pretty old and you need to be careful with log-ins and passwords, but it’s a free or cheap alternative. And a quiet space to work if it’s noisy at home.

Many libraries also offer meeting rooms to hire, often at far cheaper rates than hotels or other venues. Look out for reduced rates if you’re running a community event.

7 thoughts on “More than books: 9 ways your library can save you money

  1. Fab article. I’ve spent a lot of books this year and when I’ve finished my pile of books I’ve decided to only use library books next year.
    Spent many hours when the kids were little accessing the library.

  2. If you like reading ebooks on a proper eReader it might be worth buying a Kobo. It works in exactly the same way as a Kindle but allows you to read ebooks borrowed from public libraries. You download them to your computer and use the free app Adobe Digital Editions to send them to your Kobo.

  3. Being using the library service for years now and in particular the ‘free’ daily newspaper. Unfortunately Rupert Murdoch rags don’t subscribe to PressReader but nevertheless there is a wide range of national and local newspapers on offer. Furthermore the papers are a facsimile of the printed version and therefore I think better than the pay for on online equivalents.
    We should all use the libraries as much as possible as they are an excellent resource for all ages – ‘use it or lose it’.

  4. Great article. We use our library a lot and have really missed it while in lockdown. Luckily I managed to nip in between lockdowns and picked up books to keep us going, and returned them only yesterday – we filled a full box as they go into quarantine!

    I’ve been to lots of classes, learned lots of arts and crafts and made some new friends. The kids groups are good too and have encouraged new skills and getting to know other people from different schools.

    I can’t wait to get back and pick up some new titles!

    For a lot of people who don’t have access to IT they are a lifeline

  5. Yes! More people need to use these resources, I’ve saved myself a lot by using the libary RB digital app to read New Scientist and The Economist for free! And Ancestry is great to know.

  6. great article andy. i already know and utilise these things but am constantly trying to tell others!


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