Free stuff at the library

“Collection of books” is the root of the word library in the original Anglo-French, so you’re forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with just how many other free things and services you’re likely to discover at your local branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. “We’re so proud to have so many wonderful things to offer the community,” says new director Mary Jean Jakubowski. “It’s an exciting time.” With over 8 million total items borrowed in 2010 (including books, e-books, DVDs, and other resources), it would take you several lifetimes to exhaust the treasures on hand. All you need is a library card—and those are free, too. The main website——is the obvious place to start, but here’s a quick intro to some of the handiest freebies.

MP3 Music Downloads: Available through Freegal Music (, requiring just your library card number and PIN. You can download up to three items per week, and the library itself can hit a cap, but you’re generally free to search, grab, and keep.

Audiobooks and full online videos: The library currently offers more than 9,000 downloadable e-books and other items you can read on your Sony e-reader or Nook. (A Kindle version is on its way this fall.) Audiobooks offered for free “rental” (embedded with autoexpiring signatures) include some good car ride fodder, like Freakonomics, Eat Pray Love, and Catch Me If You Can. The device-friendly videos are a mixed bag, but include some decent rare flicks and music instruction. Look for the e-content link on the BECPL site.

The next best thing to home delivery: You can order any book, CD, or movie from anywhere in the system (the collection in the Central Library alone is vast), have it delivered to the branch of your choice, and pick it up there—all for a buck or less.

Full Consumer Reports content: Get discerning reviews to inform your next appliance, car, or other notable purchase. Look in the “Research Databases” section of the library’s web site. For a full how-to, search “Consumer reports buffalo erie library” on YouTube.

Training: Peek around the library schedule, and you’ll see free workshops and seminars on gardening, specialty skills, and lots of computer topics. Take the mystery out of, for example, Twitter in a no-pressure environment.

One on one consultation: Got a question for a librarian? Try the website’s chat feature. Look for the “Ask Us 24-7” button, enter some basic contact info, along with your particular request, and within minutes you’ll hear from a trained professional who can either tell you what you want to know or point you in the right direction. (It’s an international service, so you won’t necessarily be reaching someone in WNY.) Need more personal attention, perhaps in the field of grantwriting, investment, or patents (among others)? Call and schedule a one-on-one appointment with a local staffer. (See “Book a Librarian” on the site.) It’s like having your own personal research assistant!

Language lessons: The library offers “Mango Languages” online, which will take you through lessons and track your progress. From Arabic to Vietnamese (including Dari and Urdu), you can expand your horizons without spending a dime.

Movie screenings and kids’ activities: Bring the little ones for a safe film pick or “Fun Hour,” and give yourself a precious hour to, say, read a book.

Test prep materials and job search help: Before you drop a whole lot of cash on one of those big books with the DVD tucked into the cover, check out your library’s test prep offerings. Buffalo/Erie provides free, instant online testing for GED, SATs and other exams, along with skills courses (public speaking, personal finance, etc.) and other exam help.

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