If you haven’t been to a public library in a while, prepare to be surprised. From 3D printing stations to streaming video services to free museum passes, Long Island’s libraries are going well beyond the books. Here are some programs that may surprise you.

Use a 3D printer

Credit: Marisol Diaz

More and more libraries are installing “maker stations” equipped with computers, 3D printers and other gadgets that inspire patrons to create tangible items. Merrick’s library was the first on Long Island to have a digital media center, says director Ellen Firer. These days, the space has three 3D printers, 3D pens and a Cricut electronic cutting machine that draws “a lot of kids with their parents,” Firer says. Visitors — the space is open to the public — can choose from preloaded items to print or scan/design their own creation, paying 50 cents per half-hour of print time.
Levittown library’s expansive Innovation Station includes sewing and embroidery machines and a button maker (nonprofit groups also can book cooking time in the updated kitchen that shares the space).
Public libraries in Jericho, Centereach/Selden, Smithtown and Holbrook are among those that also offer 3D printing, although some locations may restrict use to their own cardholders or require appointments.

Pictured: Kohana Bloom, 7, waits for her Stretch Cat to be created at the Walter Mintz Digital Media Center at the Merrick Public Library on Jan. 12, 2016.

Borrow a museum pass

Credit: Jeff Bachner

Most public libraries lend patrons free admission passes to the Long Island Children’s Museum, Cradle of Aviation, Old Westbury Gardens and Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Passes typically cover admission for up to four people and generally can be borrowed for up to three days. It’s a popular perk — so you’ll want to reserve your pass up to 60 days ahead of time. 

Pictured: Kalia Fecu, 6, makes a huge bubble at the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City on Oct. 12, 2016. 

Download free music

Credit: Tuff Gong

From Adele and Carrie Underwood to Bob Marley and Miles Davis, Freegal is a digital music service that offers access to 11 million songs — old and new. Available through Garden City, West Babylon and a dozen or so other libraries, cardholders can stream and even download to keep a certain number of titles each week.

Borrow household items and toys

Credit: Margaret Utset

Beyond books, DVDs and video games, some public libraries have a stash of popular toys, sports equipment or niche kitchen items cardholders can borrow.

Brentwood’s library has 12 American Girl dolls that can be checked out for two weeks at a time. Each has a carrying case, period-specific clothing, a book and some accessories. “They’re always out,” says children’s librarian Margaret Utset. The library also lends toddler toys with an educational bent, like Lincoln Logs.

Borrow cartoon-shaped baking pans

Credit: East Rockaway Public Library

Making a special birthday cake? Comsewogue and East Rockaway libraries recently began circulating Wilton pans shaped like cartoon characters. Pans can be rented at Comsewogue for seven days and from East Rockaway for 14 days, and all pans must be washed before they are returned.

Try out a telescope

Credit: Fotolia/Dmitriy Sandratsky

Stargazing equipment can be a pricey — if not fleeting — investment, so Port Washington’s library has two telescopes patrons can check out to use at home; Lynbrook circulates one. At the Port Washington library, telescopes can be rented for two weeks and can be checked out online (adult library cards preferable). A range of apps are suggested to use with the telescopes, such as SkyView and GoSkyWatch. The Lynbrook Library requires visitors over the age of 18 to check the telescope out on a Wednesday, which is then due the following Monday.

Borrow beach chairs and toys

Credit: Fotolia

East End beachgoers who need gear can borrow beach chairs and sand toy kits for up to three days from Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. There is a limit of two chairs per card, which can be held for up to three days. A $10 fee will be placed on the account for each tardy day.

Borrow electronics

Credit: Fotolia

Middle Country Library loans electronics to cardholders ranging from mobile hot spots and Bluetooth speakers to VHS-to-DVD converters. Reservations can be made in person, by phone or online to cardholders only. Each cardholder can borrow up to two items at a time for two weeks.

Plant flowers, herbs or vegetables

Credit: Fotolia

Shelter Island’s library, meanwhile, offers a catalog of heirloom flower, herb and vegetable seeds that anyone can take to plant at home through a new program run with the island’s longtime farm, Sylvester Manor, says library director Terry Lucas. More than 243 packets have been "borrowed" so far in 2018. "Some people have come in to show their produce," Lucas said.

Use a streaming service

Credit: Disney/Pixar/Pixar

A handful of Nassau County libraries lend Roku sticks, Wi-Fi-powered devices that plug into newer televisions, so patrons can watch recent films (think “Peter Rabbit” and “Finding Dory”). Find them at Farmingdale, Massapequa, Oceanside, Port Washington and Westbury.
Several other libraries including Deer Park, Roosevelt and West Hempstead offer free access to Hoopla, an app that works on computers and mobile devices to borrow digital audiobooks, movies and niche-interest TV series.

Try a kid-friendly tablet

Credit: Playaway

Lindenhurst and Massapequa libraries are among those that circulate a collection of Launchpads, kid-friendly tablets preloaded with ad-free, Internet-free learning apps geared toward elementary and preschool kids. Patrons get a carrying case, charger and use of the device for seven days.

Learn a foreign language

Credit: Patchogue-Medford Public Library

Pronunciator is an interactive software program available online or as audio downloads from many libraries — it’s designed to help native English and English-as-a-second-language speakers alike learn a staggering range of lingo from around the world.

Read magazines — digitally

Credit: Dreamstime

From Time, People and Sports Illustrated to Gluten-Free Living and Cruising World, cardholders can download free, current issues of popular and niche magazines to read on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Participating libraries use Flipster or Zinio for this service, potentially saving patrons hundreds of dollars in annual magazine subscriptions.

Research your family history

Credit: Fotolia

Ancestry.com is a popular genealogy resource for people trying to figure out their family tree — but monthly membership to the site starts at $19.99. Libraries including Uniondale, Mattituck-Laurel and Long Beach offer free in-library access to a pared-down version of the site that can help patrons just starting to trace their roots. For a heavier hit, West Hempstead’s library has more robust resources including a genealogy librarian who does one-on-one sit-downs and programs tailored to ancestry.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months