8 Librarians Who Lend Out More Than Books

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Libraries would be nothing without the librarians who run them. Most of us know them as the people who check out our books or help us navigate the Dewey Decimal System, but not all librarians are limited to working with the printed word. Whether they’re lending out ties or larger-than-life puppets, these are the heroic men and women behind some of the world’s most unique library collections.


Libraries offer tremendous resources to people searching for employment, but that could all be for nothing without a proper interview outfit to wear. In Queens, New York, library members can check out a tie with interview tips and tie-tying instructions printed inside the box it comes in. Queens librarian Lauren Comito launched the “tie-brary” as one of her many initiatives dedicated to providing services to the borough’s homeless population. After founding WhereinQueens.org, a website that directs users to career services and other resources in the area, she realized that some of her patrons didn’t own a tie or even know they should be wearing one to interviews. She met this need by building the racks to hold a library of ties herself.


The Kitchen Library

After borrowing a cookbook from a public library in Toronto, citizens can stop by the city’s Kitchen Library and check out the equipment they need to make the recipes. Dayna Boyer (second from left above) was volunteering at the Toronto Tool Library when she was inspired to start a similar service that specialized in lending out cooking supplies rather than power tools. As an avid cook and baker herself, she knew how difficult it was to maintain a fully-equipped kitchen in a cramped, city apartment. Today the library’s inventory includes 75 less-than-essential kitchen tools, including a crepe maker, a chocolate fountain, a meat slicer, and a pierogi press. Members can check out items for one week at a time for a fee of $9 a month—just don’t forget to wash everything before bringing it back.


In addition to books, members of the Licking County Library in Ohio have the option to take a musical instrument home with them. The Guitar Lending Collection was the brainchild of Barbary Sanderson, a teen services assistant at the library. A guitarist herself, she received inspiration for the concept while browsing through a guitar shop in town. The library’s director was on board with the idea, and Sanderson immediately started reaching out to local businesses and building the collection. In addition to acoustic and electric guitars, Licking County Library members can check out banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles for four weeks at a time.


Looking for a way to use the land in front of their building, the Northern Onondaga Public Library Cicero, New York eventually decided to share it with the community. LibraryFarm aims to promote organic farming practices by lending out plots of land to garden members. Jill Youngs, the library branch manager, is also in charge of managing the property’s 58 4-by-8 foot land plots and 900 square feet of pantry gardens. She told Central New York Community Foundation News, "It’s very organic, in both senses of the word." Since it launched over five years ago, LibraryFarm has been the site of everything from a community herb garden to an "insect hotel" constructed by a junior gardeners club.


Interested in borrowing a 20-foot-tall puppet to spice up your next event? Puppet librarian Theresa Linnihan maintains a collection of over 100 semi-retired giant puppets that can be lent out for plays, parties, parades, and films. For years, the Puppet Free Lending Library could be found beneath the arch in Grand Army Plaza outside of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A water leak forced Linnihan to relocate her operation to Brooklyn College in 2008, and today both aspiring and seasoned puppeteers are free to check out materials from the library by appointment.


For kids, science equipment can mean the difference between a successful learning experience and a forgettable one. Science kit lending libraries offer a way for educators to get exciting materials into the hands of their students regardless of the limitations of their budgets. Catalina Achim, a chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon, helped found the Lending Library of Science Classroom Kits for teachers throughout the Pittsburgh public school system to borrow from for free. Pre-assembled kits available for checkout include "Chemistry of Color: Pigments in Art," "Kitchen Chemistry: Edible Emulsions," and "Origami Geometry." Local classes can request a science kit online.


Franklin Heijnen via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 

The Brooklyn Art Library doesn’t lend out typical books. Instead of stories, these books contain sketches by artists from around the world. In 2012, head librarian Chris Heuberger told the Library as Incubator Project the art library was home to "22,000 sketchbooks from 130 countries and all 50 states." For a small fee, anyone can sign up to fill a blank notebook of their own and submit it to be part of the library’s vast collection. Sketchbooks are cataloged under categories like format, mood, and material as well as random themes like "Dirigibles and Submersibles" and "Things Found on Restaurant Napkins." And just like at a regular library, all the books are available to borrow for free after signing up for a library card. The Brooklyn Art Library is closed for the time being but will reopen later this spring in a new location in the borough's Williamsburg neighborhood.


It’s not too unusual for traditional libraries to have a few telescopes available to check out, but Rose City Astronomers is the place to go if you're serious about your stargazing. According to official telescope librarian David Horne, members are allowed to borrow telescopes, eyepieces, and astronomical binoculars from the library free of charge. Some of the notable items in their collection include solar telescopes designed for viewing activity on the sun and Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes capable of tracking objects as they move across the sky. Much of the equipment requires some basic astronomy knowledge to operate, but luckily the RCA also hosts telescope workshops and star parties on a regular basis.