From borrowing books to downloading newspapers, ebooks and magazines, 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, even before lockdown closed them temporarily I hardly used them. I’ve tended to buy titles I want to read – whether 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 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, I just don’t consider borrowing a book for free. But now they’re reopening that’s going to change.
I live around the corner from my local library and it’s pretty big with a huge selection. Yes I’ll still buy some books (though not from Amazon as part of my “Year Without Amazon” challenge). But this is going to be a decent money saver.
And books aren’t all that libraries have to offer. In this article I’ve shared eight other ways you can save some cash by signing up to your local library, my favourite being the free digital magazines – something I’ve previously written about.
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.
So here you go, nine ways your library can save you money:
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) costs £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 compare 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 depend on where you live.
I tend to read Empire Magazine and Becky often checks out Vogue and Good Housekeeping. You can read them on your computer or view 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 also has magazines too. I can access back issues too.
Another discovery at my new 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 in the summer 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
My library normally runs a book sale three or four times a year to clear out older titles.
I last went to one before lockdowns began 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 Becky picked up a couple of cookbooks at £1 each. All were in really good nick.
There were also a few DVDs available, also at 50p. Yes you can buy most older movies for this price from CEX, but as an experiment, I bought three box sets and then took them down to CEX. They refused one (The Walking Dead) as one disc had a small scratch, but took the other two for £9, giving me a £1.50 profit.
Now, I won’t do this again as I’d rather the money went to the library than my pocket, but it gives you an idea of the retail value of some discs on sale.
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.
Listen to Cash Chats, Andy’s twice-weekly podcast. Episodes every Tuesday and Friday.
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 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.