Do you find yourself in need of a chainsaw for some pandemic-inspired home improvement?
Does it seem like a good time to learn to play guitar?
Need board games for bored kids?
And how does “free” sound to you?
Turns out your local library isn’t all about books.
Across Tampa Bay, library patrons are discovering an array of surprising items available for check-out at select branches — from seeds for starting vegetable gardens to telescopes to WiFi hot spots.
What’s available where, and how long items can be checked out, varies from library to library. But it’s fair to say that in Tampa Bay, this is not your grandma’s library anymore.
At the Hugh Embry Branch Library in Dade City, Tara Wood checked out a ukulele to see how she’d like it. She cheerfully rated herself “really bad at it.”
“But it was fun to try it out and to not have to pay for it,” Wood said.
The big surprise offering at the Safety Harbor Public Library: A tool library with rakes and shovels, as well as serious tools including power drills, saws, a carpet cleaner, jumper cables, bolt cutters and very popular pressure washers.
“The nail gun goes out a lot,” said library director Lisa Kothe.
June was the biggest circulation month for the library’s tools since they started lending them in late 2016. “People have a little bit more time on their hands,” she said.
The tool inventory numbers 381. Last week, a man came in looking for a clamp so he could glue a broken cutting board back together. Another patron needed a sander to refinish a dresser.
“You only use something like that once, so why go out and buy it?” Kothe said. “The average electric drill is used four or five times a year, maybe. Why have it collecting dust in your garage if you can get it here?”
And do they really have a chainsaw?
“Two, actually,” she said. Borrowers sign waivers.
An old-school wooden card catalog at the Dunedin Public Library holds about 300 packets of seeds for growing herbs, wildflowers and vegetables. Patrons can check out five packets at a time. And unlike books and chainsaws, you do not have to return them.
“Beans. Corn. Lettuce was huge,” said library director Phyllis Gorshe. “I think a lot of people took up gardening while they were home, which is wonderful.”
The Clearwater Public Library System calls its collection of non-traditional items the Thingamabrary. It includes telescopes, bicycle locks and yes, ukuleles. (Ukuleles are a thing around here.)
Rino Landa, Clearwater’s interactive services manager, says he’s particularly proud of their board game collection, which goes way beyond Monopoly.
“Fury of Dracula is a fun one,” he said. Another offering: Sushi Go Party!
The Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative just launched a program to lend out more than 100 WiFi hot spots, mobile internet access points that can be checked out for two weeks at a time.
“We’re going to have a lot of e-learners in the future,” said Hillsborough’s brand innovation officer Chely Cantrell. “We knew this would be a service the community would need and enjoy. We knew it was also something not accessible to everybody, that there would be people in our community that would definitely benefit from it.”
At the Palm Harbor Library, residents can check out musical instruments, including violins, keyboards and snare drums, for up to 28 days.
“And if no one has it on hold, you can renew,” said Marisa Steuer, head of youth services. The library also offers a turntable and LP records.
“Sometimes, it’s a kid who says ‘I want a guitar and my mom doesn’t want to buy me one yet,' so we’ll try this,‘” Steuer said.
At the Oldsmar Public Library, patrons can check out disc golf equipment, a pickleball set complete with paddles and balls, and equipment for bocce ball.
The Manatee County library system lists cake pans and fishing poles among the items available for check-out.
Some other odd but useful offerings at Tampa Bay area libraries: Jigsaw puzzles. Playing cards and dice. Launchpad learning tablets for kids. Sewing machines to be used onsite at the library.
“Libraries are really great — they do a lot with limited funding,” said Wood, the library patron who tried the ukulele. “They’re always trying to find different things to get people in the door.”
“You need to know libraries have all kinds of things,” said Steuer.
Library offerings, services and hours vary, with open libraries closing regularly for cleaning and limiting the number of patrons. Please contact your local library, library system or cooperative for more information on what’s available.