The Public Library: Unlock a Vault of Free Entertainment

The public library: unlock a vault of free entertainmentI love the library. My family used to make weekly trips to the library when I was a kid. We would spend the whole afternoon scouring the rows upon rows of books in search of our next literary adventure; I travelled to the moon with Tintin, got tangled in a web making friends with “some pig” and shot down TIE fighters with the elite Rogue Squadron.

Somewhere between solving crime at 221b Baker Street and prepping for the next barrage of finals during university, I began to associate the library with dusty reference books and tedious study. But let’s take a moment to dispel those ill-conceived misconceptions. The library isn’t a stuffy place filled with dated texts; rather it’s a place to find escape and be entertained. Your public library is the best kept secret to an endless supply of quality entertainment for the right price: free.

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Traditional Print and Media

The modern public circulation library has long been lending works accessible to the general public dating as far back as the middle of the 19th century. In the early days, as Lady Mary Montagu succinctly noted, “No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.” Some hundred years later, the same still applies today. The library continues to provide traditional materials such as books and magazines while having expanded their collections to include movies, music and television shows.


With cover prices starting at $10 per paper back, building your own personal library is expensive. Instead of buying, why not make your tax dollars work for you. Call, check online, or take a quick trip to your local branch to see if they carry a particular title; in most cases, they will. Libraries house a repository of thousands of fiction and nonfiction books on almost every imaginable subject, including books on current bestselling lists. Debate the finer points of western philosophy or find out for yourself where the HBO’s Game of Thrones differs from the George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. There are literally books for everyone.

Magazines and Newspapers

Libraries have long since stocked the latest magazines and periodicals. You can read the news, you can read interesting articles, and you can do it without having to pay for the subscription cost. Note the following caveat: Current issues generally need to stay at the library but previous issues can be borrowed.


The library is a great place to get your hands on your favorite artist’s full album to listen to, ad-free. They have everything from Beethoven to Beyoncé and definitely something for every mood and occasion whether it be jazz for a dinner party or Christmas carols for the holidays. Borrowing music is also a great way to preview music if you’re contemplating the purchase of a particular album. Stumble on new sounds and genres while you rediscover the art of browsing. You don’t need a music discovery service, a prediction algorithm or “experts” to pick your next playlist; take back control of your music and find your own tune.

Related: The Top 3 Free Music Streaming Services For Canadians

Movies and Television Shows

Once upon a time, libraries were just a place for books, but since the days of Blockbuster (remember them?), libraries have been stocking VHS and DVD’s for its patrons to “rent” for free. Not only do they have the latest blockbusters, but also a rich back catalogue of classic and foreign films. They even stock entire seasons of many popular TV shows. There are a few advantages of borrowing a movie or TV show over subscribing to popular online streaming services.

It may be easier to find popular titles from the library. Libraries purchase several copies of the same movie and circulate them fast enough that new titles are likely available to borrow before they’re available on demand from streaming services like CraveTV or ShoMi. Libraries also carry shows that span multiple networks and premium channels meaning you save on the cost of subscribing from multiple providers. Where else can you find the latest season of Showtime’s Homeland, Netflix’s House of Cards or AMC’s The Walking Dead in the same place?

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Digital Content

The library is not limited to a physical inventory. Digital content has been introduced in recent years and is the fastest growing area of circulation given the added convenience. Library card holders don’t need to make a trip to their local branch in order to borrow materials; obtaining material can done from the comfort of the living room couch. Better yet, digital items do not have to be returned as they automatically expire at the end of the checkout period. Naturally, late fees do not apply. To access the digital content, all you need is your library card and a downloadable app using a compatible IOS or Android device; et voila, you have on demand access to an all you can eat buffet of entertainment.

Digital Content Partners

Libraries are able to offer online content through partnering with third-party companies to provide eBooks, Audiobooks, Movies, and Music. As such, accessing some of this digital content will require users to create service-specific personal accounts. Also, the actual digital selection is determined by the licensing agreements in place between the library and the third-party providers. Visit your local library’s website for more details and to see which types of content services are offered in your area.

eBooks and Audiobooks

OverDrive, Inc., a digital distributor, is a choice provider of eBooks and Audiobooks for libraries. Their digital selection boasts the latest new releases and bestsellers: over 2 million titles from more than 5000 publishers. Find a library that uses OverDrive and explore the online collection on their website.

Safari Books Online is a digital library, including eBooks and video content, with a focus on the subject of business and technology. Their catalogue contains over 200,000 hours of learning material suitable for students of all ages.

TumbleBook Library is a provider of interactive eBooks for children. Tumblebooks are animated, talking picture books with sound, music and narration that you can read, or have read to you.

OneClick Digital is an audiobook service that provides access to more than 5000 titles including a collection of award-winning Children’s and Young Adult titles. The content is available to download and listen via the mobile app or on your computer using the desktop app.

Movies and Music

HooplaDigital allows you to borrow digital music and video from their vault of 10,000 films and 250,000 albums. The service allows you to either stream content in a web browser or to download it onto mobile devices to enjoy on the go. This Netflix-like service includes feature films, documentaries, TV shows, programs for children and even fitness videos. The music selection has got you covered if you’re itching for that tune from Pitch Perfect 2.

Related: Why Netflix Doesn’t Suck And Never Did Suck In Canada


Zinio, a digital newsstand provider, allows users to borrow current issues from a selection their 5,500 magazine catalogue for free. Instead of subscribing to different magazines from a variety of outlets or picking one up at a convenient store, members get have access to publications like The Economist, Martha Stewart Living, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone and Vogue all at their fingertips. There are no limits on the number of magazines that can be checked at a time. Once a magazine is downloaded, it remains permanently on your device until deleted.

Programs and Technology

Libraries aren’t just limited to consumable media. Libraries offer patrons programs and technology that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible. It is a good way to explore a new hobby, access expensive equipment, or test something out before making a purchase decision.


The library is a great way to find free regularly scheduled programs. Different interest groups meet regularly over a variety of different topics; maybe your library has Scrabble, Video Game or Quilting clubs in addition to conventional book clubs. The library also hosts workshops, such as photography and personal finance run by local experts. There are programs geared towards children, like storytelling time and song and rhymes hour. Some libraries even offer free programs during March break and the summer holidays to keep children occupied.


Your library will likely have free wifi for you to hop online, but did you know you can also borrow laptops and use 3D printers at certain locations? Some libraries also lend out video cameras and green screens for budding directors to experiment with their own production. The selection will vary by region, but loanable items can include pedometers, sewing machines, musical instruments and power tools. You won’t know if you don’t ask!

Related: Complete List Of Canadian Technology Stores

Make the Library Work for You

Long gone are the days of the yellow canvas pouch stuck to the back of books. All libraries have their entire catalog and reservation system online. This means you can put a hold on any item at any time from any computer. When it becomes available, the library will contact you to come pick it up. Even if the item isn’t at your local branch, have it shipped over from another one. The library will contact you when it arrives. Or skip the hassle of picking up material entirely and borrow the title from the digital collection.

Consider a month’s worth of entertainment: one book, two movie rentals, a full season of a tv show, a couple magazines and maybe an album to listen through could easily run a tab upwards of $100. Why spend money on something that you can borrow for free? It’s hard to argue with free. The library has a huge archive of content just waiting to be consumed in any format of your choosing. Once you discover the depth of their offerings, you’ll be wishing everyday was a rainy day.

What unexpected discoveries have you made at your library?

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paul's picture

Great article I always use my local library for free entertainment.
When a new book is featured in my local newspaper ( yes I read the local paper and enjoy it) I just order the book from the library and a few weeks later it arrives. No cost to me.

July 28, 2015 @ 8:23 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

A simple easy and cheap process like that can't be beat. The library really is a fantastic resource for book worms.

July 29, 2015 @ 1:07 pm
Christine's picture

We make much good use of our local library!! I used to borrow cd's and load them on my laptop until I got a new one that doesn't have a digital reader slot in it. Must talk to my son and see what my options are to correct that!! I look over all the newest craft, cooking, and gardening books!! Our biggest thrill is going to the semi-annual book sales to score some great deals and help them afford more books and such for all. I have scored some of my favourite gardening and cook books at the sale! We love the place!!

July 28, 2015 @ 10:34 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

That might run a little outside the law but it's definitely a cheap way to get music. You can get an external CD/DVD drive that plugs into a USB port pretty cheaply. Check out my list of Canadian computer and electronics stores to find a good price.

July 29, 2015 @ 1:09 pm
Gary's picture

PressDisplay is also available on most Libraries online that gives you access to hundreds of the day's newspapers from all over the world as well as archive issues. Not possible to download copy to computer for offline reading though.

July 29, 2015 @ 1:18 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Great tip, thanks Gary!

July 29, 2015 @ 1:09 pm
Michael's picture

Zinio free with a library card, amazing! Thanks for the tip

July 29, 2015 @ 8:03 pm
Beth's picture

Great list! I tried one of those library calculators once -- It was really eye-opening how much money I was saving! Some of my friends with kids have also borrowed passes to local museums and attractions too. The local colleges and universities also host lectures at library branches.

Another thing I love about our local library system is it connects people to the community. For instance, every winter the libraries collect new socks for the homeless and in the spring they collect knitting for local "yarn bombing" art.

August 04, 2015 @ 9:44 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Fantastic information Beth, thanks. I had no idea that you could borrow passes to local attractions. That's really awesome!

August 05, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

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